Searching for a voice: Music Historian’s first year

Early in life, finding my own voice proved a challenge. English was not my first language. When I attended school in the early nineties, ESL programs had yet to reach momentum in inner-city schools, especially in the kindergarten where I was enrolled. Then, a few months later, my parents would move my little sister and me out to the suburbs of Long Island. Somewhere here, a seasoned professional with a Ph.D. in education saw my potential. After providing me with a few tests, she evaluated my results decided that I could continue my education with peers in my age group. At this new public elementary school, I attended an ESL program that brought me up to speed. I learned English properly and had fun in the process.

I parallel this life story to learning the language of blogging. While I knew very well what a blog was before starting Music Historian on the WordPress platform, I still searched for my writer’s voice. The only posts I published in 2010 involved a funny but rather superfluous criticism of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” and then a critique of choral pieces – something which I could personally relate to. It then became clear that I had a voice, but what exactly held me back from expressing it fully? Reflecting after 10 years of blogging, I can say it was the following: 1) Being an authoritative voice on music in a world saturated with music critics who thought of themselves as experts; 2) Trying to understand my blog’s unique value proposition – what could I bring to the world of music blogging that was different from others; and 3) Uncovering a way to bring readers to the site – getting them genuinely excited.

Just like my language development, I had to reach these three milestones. Of course, this did not happen in a day. It takes nine months to a year and sometimes even longer to bring a successful idea to fruition. The key to doing this was consistency, which I touch upon tomorrow in my reflective journey.


Putting Faces to Names, and Coverage on Performances: Baby Robot Media’s Set at Pianos

On Saturday, October 7th, I went to Pianos (on the Lower East Side) to meet the crew of Baby Robot Media, a media service agency that has been introducing me to new and independent artists and arranging interview opportunities. I had met the founder, Steve Albertson, John Graffo, the Director of Music Publicity, John Riccitelli, Director of Sales and Artist Relations, and a few others. Then, of course, I also went to Pianos to see the set that Baby Robot had put together with the help of their partnership with Glide Magazine for the city-wide event, Mondo NYC 2017.

The set was divided into two floors. I started watching the performance on the top floor. The first singer-songwriter I saw was Gabriel Mayers. Steve described Gabriel as a troubadour on guitar. After hearing this description, I made a parallel to Gypsy George, another troubadour. Traditionally, troubadours wrote songs about courtly love.

Gabriel Mayers performs on acoustic guitar at Pianos, Oct. 2017

Gabriel Mayers performs on acoustic guitar at Pianos, Oct. 2017

In one of his songs, “Cocoon,” Gabriel sings, “How much can your lover take, before it all comes crashing down?” This song is composed of 3-5 chords on the acoustic guitar. The melody includes a few embellishments such as hammer-ons and hammer-offs, the technique which adds the trills the listeners hear. His next song, “Philando,” did not resemble “Cocoon” lyrically. This song would take Gabriel out of that description of a troubadour, as it addressed the case of Philando Castile, a 32-year old civilian who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota last year.

Although I cannot decide whether the song “Philando” classifies Gabriel as a political artist, he did appear in the documentary How to let go of the world (and love all the things climate can’t change) directed by Oscar nominee, Josh Fox ( I would suggest you read more about Gabriel on his website and check him out performing solo on acoustic guitar sometimes.

After Gabriel’s set, I went downstairs to see another artist, Ava Raiin, whose music was composed of a synthesizer, pre-recorded loops, and her voice. Ava’s first song easily stands out with a synthesized drum beat that sounds like a distorted heartbeat. When I was a student in high school, studying music theory, my teacher told me that Disco beats typically imitate heartbeats.

Ava’s rhythm in her first song though seems to deconstruct disco into something that you would not imagine your parents listening to if they were into that genre in the 1970’s (while it enjoyed its run). Her songs do not stick, and the lyrics do not seem to represent a story or create any imagery. She sings, “It is time to move the world/It is time to paint the world.” I did not get the name of this song.

Ava Raiin performing at Pianos, Oct. 2017

Ava Raiin performing at Pianos, Oct. 2017

I am now trying to guess the name of Ava’s next song, and I believe it is “Eagle Eye.” In this song, the melody created by the vocalizations and the harmonies that cannot be classified as either major or minor. Based on what I have heard, Ava seems more interested creating space with sounds, even atmospheres, as they do not seem grounded in a structure that is detectable to a listener who does not spend too much time with the electronic music genre.

My concern with this artist is how much she showcases her voice, which comes in only for brief periods of time throughout her songs. I feel that within any performance that involves a vocalist and a synth player, the typical listener will be more likely to walk out of a performance commenting on the singer’s vocal abilities rather than the sound capabilities of a machine.

I want to talk about another band I would watch later in the day at 5 pm, Radiator King. The frontman, Adam met Steve of Baby Robot through a mutual friend who plays in another band. Adam took time to get acquainted with Steve before signing onto the company’s roster of musicians.

Adam prefers to write songs about historical events such as world wars, traditional American stories, especially ones about the underdog. Like many musicians, Adam never starts writing songs with a specific intent. The singer says that as a former history undergraduate, he approaches music by researching like a musicologist. During his years studying history, Adam has taken what he has investigated into his songwriting.

“You pick up certain things in a certain way, and put it into what you are imagining.” Adam would think, “I really like Jimmy Hendrix, I wonder who he liked?”

He continues, “Bob Dylan would listen to blues music from the south and try to recreate it. He played it like a boy from the mid-west, which he is, not like a poor man from the south. He listened to other artists and then replayed the songs in a way that made sense to him. It is very hard to find your own voice, but Dylan did.”

As I listened to Adam speak, I got the feeling that if he were to sing, he would have a range of a tenor, just based on his timbre. As I briefly spoke to Adam, it was only 3 pm. I would have some time before I would get the chance to hear Radiator King perform at 5 pm. I decided to continue my concert viewing downstairs.

On the stage on the first floor, the four-piece band, Oginalii started to play; the first rock band I had heard at the Baby Robot Media set. This group’s sound could have easily felt like a combination of Sound Garden and Stone Temple Pilots. If you are a rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast like I am, yes, Oginalii’s music is filled with riffs composed of power chords, and drumming that is perfectly synchronized with the guitars and the bass. According to John Riccitelli, the band is from Nashville, and they are alumni of Belmont University.

Oginalii performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Oginalii performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

One of Oginalii’s songs, “Red” sounds like a cross between “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age and “Black Math,” a track on the 2003 album Elephant by the White Stripes. If you should have the chance to see Oginalii live, do expect a sound of rock ‘n’ roll from the early 2000’s and amazing solos from the lead guitarist – something else I miss from today’s mainstream music. Expect a timbre from the frontwoman that reminds you of Gwen Stefani’s voice. If I could paint a clearer picture of this singer’s timbre, imagine Stefani getting stepping into a genre that was opposite the mellowness in the pop songs she has performed recently. Oginalii may be a refreshing group for those who are looking for new and exciting rock music from Nashville.

Hayley Thompson-King performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Hayley Thompson-King performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

After Oginalii, came Hayley Thompson-King and her band. According to Riccitelli, Hayley is also an opera singer and she recently wrote a concept album. I will have to look back at a press release Riccitelli had sent me about this artist, because I was impressed with her energy on stage. The music Hayley plays resemble country, and she too is also based in Nashville.

Radiator Kings (Adam, right), playing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Radiator Kings (Adam, right), playing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Some singers sound very different when they perform versus when they talk, and I discovered that this was the case with the frontman of Radiator King, Adam. When he spoke to me, he sounded like a tenor. When he sang with his band, I heard a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but I felt that onstage, his timbre seems forced. Further, while Adam had explained to me that he (unintentionally) tells stories through songs, I could not hear the lyrics. The inaudible lyrics might have resulted from either the lack of volume in the microphone, an excessive degree in the Strat guitar Adam played, or both.

Trumpeteer playing with Radiator Kings at Pianos, Oct 2017

Trumpeter playing with Radiator Kings at Pianos, Oct 2017

In one song, “So Long Charlie,” Adam explained the story behind the song to the audience before playing. “This song is about the crazy characters you meet in your life. You don’t want them to be your roommates, but you don’t forget them.” For me, the most memorable part of this song was the guest trumpet player who performed a solo.

Baby Robot Media’s set finished at 6:00 pm. I appreciate the opportunity I got to review several performances in one location. I then recalled my first experience at Pianos, and had a brief flashback.

One evening in March 2012, I went to pianos to see Imagine Dragons play. That night, following their show, I met the band’s manager, and had told him that I was interested in writing a story about the band for my blog. I had a lot of competition from more established media channels in getting this band’s attention. New York media from all channels – television, radio, magazines – had been rushing up to the frontman, Daniel, hoping to get a story with the band. A few emails later with the band’s manager and the members of Imagine Dragons, I had a telephone interview scheduled with the bass player, Ben McKee. I consider myself lucky for the chance to talk to Ben. My interview with him is still one of the most popular articles on Music Historian.

Returning to the present, I realized that up until now, I had only seen Pianos at night, and I could not get a clear picture of the space like I did that day; it is beautiful. Most importantly, since Baby Robot Media arranged the performances, I felt so happy that I met the people whom I had been in contact with over the last few years. I saw the faces of this boutique music publicity firm and put them to names. I got to know the human beings behind the emails, press releases, and LinkedIn profiles.

I certainly hope to meet this crew again in person. I hope to continue the professional relationship and learn more about independent artists who might be writing gems that for the moment remain unnoticed by the mainstream, or maybe try their hand at showcasing their talent to various communities, or perhaps have a story to tell about their journey with music. Although I may not be interviewing as much, I will try to prioritize quality research and write about a few artists.

Connecting the Dots (Part 2): Leah Speckhard talks Female Empowerment and Coming-of-Age on her second EP, Sleepwalker

Leah Speckhard, Press Photo Although Leah changed her mind about her university major, she always made sure to remember music and make that a part of her life. The singer-songwriter reflected on the transition between recording of her first album Pour Your Heart Out Like Water, and her newest one, Sleepwalker.

“I recorded my first album in Greece. When I signed with the label, Legend Records, they had me record a full album, which they put out with full press coverage. But the follow up coincided with the downturn, and  the album came out during the whole economic crash.

“The record label was very supportive of the album and me as an artist, but everybody was tightening their pockets. I saw that it wouldn’t be easy for a new artist to break through in this environment.”

While Leah felt satisfied with the completion of her first record, she also admitted that it did not build up into what she expected. In addition, the young artist realized the market for Greek music showed a greater affinity for club music, which did not suit her lyrics-driven songs. Leah asserts, “I felt it did not make sense to keep pushing in Greece, so I decided to come to New York to see if I could make it happen here.”

Leah describes her first experience as a recording artist as invaluable. When she made her first EP, Leah listened to a lot of folk music, and she was relatively inexperienced at recording. She says:

“In Greece, the label was very supportive of me, but I did not understand how the whole process of making an album would play out.. I am a fairly assertive person in general, but in the studio, in that element, I did not feel that assertive. I had a hard time articulating what I wanted the arrangements to sound like.

“In the second record, I felt more involved in the process – which I think is just part of the indie experience versus the label experience. I worked with a producer in Brooklyn and within a different environment. You just naturally have more control over things.

“Many artists I talked to have a similar experience with their first album. You don’t know how to assert yourself and sometimes, you feel that you shouldn’t, because the label is paying for everything and they bring in people with a lot more experience to work on the music, too. The record was also the label’s investment, and I wanted to be respectful of that.”

“On Sleepwalker, I was more sure of what I wanted, and I’d evolved as an artist. I also worked with someone younger, so the collaboration felt easier and more intimate. I knew I was working with someone who believed in me and who brought a lot to the table – we co-wrote most of the songs, and he listened to me about what I wanted production-wise and we really vibed as far as finding a direction that reflected who I am as a person and the dance influence that I liked.”

A great lesson Leah learned was to be assertive on the second album. She would agree that learning assertiveness without acting rude, and finding that fine line, is also a process of growing up creatively, personally and professionally.

“When I was younger,” Leah recalled, “I wanted to be easygoing. I did not want to come across as difficult, but now I realize, you must be to a certain extent if you want your creative vision to come to life. You don’t have to be rude, but you have to be straightforward if something is not the way you want it, and that can be very awkward and uncomfortable. While I love to hear suggestions from other co-writers or producers, as an artist I have to be the ultimate decision-maker and ask myself “Is this what I want my sound to be or not?””

As an indie artist, Leah funded this album herself. Some people might think that an artist paying for their album defeats the purpose of making money with music. Leah says that having her music pay for itself would be a dream. At the moment though, she tries to separate money from music.

“I know some people to think about the connection between them [money and music] when they make music their full-time job. I realized that apart from the money piece of it, I want music to be a big part of my life. I try not to focus specifically on the money because it is really more about the emotions and the feelings for me.

“I try to organize my goals more around questions like  “Do I want to play for bigger audiences, make a music video, or get the music out?” To put it out, you want to have the audience.

“There are so many emerging artists now. To charge people right off the bat for your songs seems foolish – very few people will want to pay $10 or $15 for your album when they can get everything for free on Spotify. I know as a consumer, I am the same way. I’d rather pay to go see a concert, so as an artist, I try to keep that in mind. I think people have grown unaccustomed to paying for recorded music. It’s more about the audience now. I feel like my investment will pay itself off someday with a bigger audience, which is more important to me.”

Listening to Leah talk about her music and her experiences, I realize that growing up for twenty-something’s is not reflected so much how frequently they change their minds until they make a decision most people find logical. Maturing comes from the valuable lessons twenty-something-year-olds learn within their development and apply that to make better choices in the future. I then wondered whether Leah had a song on her album that reflected a coming-of-age theme. She talked about another song on Sleepwalker called “Time Machine.” Leah Speckhard Album Cover

“I was delving into relationship issues with my songs – examining all of the heartbreaks, trying to figure out what was happening, and getting into all of this philosophical questioning about what really mattered to me. In looking at my emotions more closely, I realized that a lot of my fears circled around  getting older, and I put that into my song “Time Machine”.

“I started having this strong urge to be young again and have all of this time again to do things over. Aside from the social pressure to have a “real job” and career, there is also pressure to be young from wanting to be part of an industry that emphasizes youth and beauty. I started feeling like I needed to make choices, and fast. With so many options, though I was blessed to have them, I felt overwhelmed. In “Time Machine,” I thought, “I just want to go back in time and be young and not have to make any of these decisions.”

Leah is not afraid to expose her feelings in her songs – though they may come across as hyperbolic sometimes, she thinks hat many people can relate to strong feelings like this popping up from time to time. If you are wondering whether to listen to Leah’s music, this is definitely one reason; but it is not the only reason. In today’s popular music, there is a disconnection about the definition of female empowerment. Major performing artists talk about being female within their pop tunes without emphasizing empowerment.

Leah addresses female empowerment by expressing the injustice, the dissatisfaction with it, and then taking responsibility for entering that disappointing situation in the first place all within her music. “Loser”, a bonus song on her website, is the track that beautifully introduces this concept. As for the rest of the songs, listeners will have to attend the launch of Sleepwalker on February 23 at 8:30 pm at The Bowery Electric, which she will do in partnership with Tinderbox Arts PR.


More than Meets the Eye: Fiona Silver discusses her music, career success and building confidence

12/20/13 Fiona Silver In her music video for the song “Sandcastle,” which she just premiered last Thursday live at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, Fiona Silver frolics on the beach while sporting a 1950’s inspired bathing suit – with beautiful make-up to match – while building (wouldn’t you guess it) a sandcastle. Listen to the song, and you hear a heavy bass coupled with a sweet yet depressing sound of minor 7th chords on the ukulele. Then, Fiona releases her smoky voice. Some would say they are surprised to hear a big voice come from such a petite woman.

Fiona says, “Because I have played with many styles of music, the thread that kind of ties it all together is my voice. So, people comment a lot on my voice and the thing they often say is, “I can’t believe that gigantic voice comes out of that tiny body.” I’ve probably heard that about 100 times. Your outside doesn’t always reflect your inside, and I love that.”

The second sentence in Fiona’s quote then got me thinking about how often times in music, listeners and players focus too heavily on aesthetics – the artist’s physical appearance, what they wear, and the make-up. Now, I am guilty of doing this as well, at FIRST glance. Vision is our primary sense, not hearing. When we listen though, we find there is so much more to an artist and their music than meets the eye.

In this interview, Fiona shows me that even a talented, beautiful and imaginative musician still needs to humble themselves, keep their sight on the art they create, and focus on building confidence from the inside. More importantly, music can help with all of this. I am happy to welcome Fiona Silver to Music Historian.

I asked Fiona about the solemn tone of “Sandcastle” and the lyrics. There is a specific line which Fiona describes water rising on the shore and knocks down towers made of sand. I wondered what message she wanted to convey.

“This song is pretty unique and different in composition and vibe from the rest of my songs,” she explains. “It doesn’t have a lot of hooks. It really is a story, or a poem, about how you can be so focused on something that you really don’t see the big picture. It is the water, the image of a child, or me, building a sandcastle and trying to get all of the details right; being in a state of perfectionism and not noticing that the tides are changing and time is passing. The tide rolls in and knocks down the sandcastle. It is definitely a metaphor.”

While Fiona poeticizes her lyrics and keeps them vague so that they are relatable to anybody; the songwriter and singer also writes from her own experiences. One such experience that the lyrical theme of “Sandcastle” would fit within her own life include dealing with the dilemma many independent musicians have when they are presented with a possible record deal. Fiona Silver (on guitar)_1

“I would like to be signed to a record label if it makes sense for me. I don’t want to be so focused on getting a deal and everything around making music, that I miss out on really being an artist. Ironically, this goes back to the song, “Sandcastle.” I have met a lot of people who are just very focused on my look, and because I can also be versatile with genres – my voice has this range where it can be soft, then raspy, and then can also be belting and loud – they really wanted to push me into pop. For me, as an artist, I want to focus on my expression and creation. I think that if I focus on what I am actually making, things will fall into place as they should.

“The industry is in an interesting place. It used to be that this [a record deal] was the goal [for a musician]. Now, things are shifting. Artistic development is crucial and it is wild how [many labels within] the industry has dropped that.

“I am not interested in being boxed-in so that someone else can make money. I would love to have a record deal with a company that could nurture my talent and help me move to the next level. I am thoroughly confident this will happen one way or another.”

Although Fiona continues to simultaneously develop her own music and keep an open eye and mind for a possible record deal opportunity, she has experienced success independently. Fiona has collaborated with producer and owner of the Shabby Road Recording Studio, Roger Greenawalt on the annual Beatles Complete on Ukulele Compilation. In addition, she received an endorsement from Luna Guitars and has become the representing artist for their ukulele line.

“Someone just gave me a ukulele randomly years ago, and I loved it; and who doesn’t? The ukulele is one of the sweetest instruments on the planet.

“When I toured in Austin for South by South West, I stayed down there for a while with my ex-boyfriend who was a BMX biker. I made a video with him at the dirt trails, he rode the trails and I played one of my songs on the ukulele. A fellow BMX biker happened to also be a filmmaker, and he works for Luna Guitars. He told me, “We are just about to launch a ukulele line, and you would be the perfect artist to represent that. That’s how I got sponsored by Luna Guitars for ukulele.”

While sponsorships help with monetary needs, Luna has also helped Fiona connect with more artists around the world, including Pipo Torres, a guitarist and songwriter in Puerto Rico who played on “Sandcastle.”

“I would have never known him if not for my sponsorship with Luna Guitars,” says Fiona humbly. “After I got sponsored, I learned about the different artists on Luna’s roster. He [Pipo] immediately reached out to me. I eventually went down to Puerto Rico for a vacation, and then met with Pipo. I jammed with him and some other great musicians he plays with and kept our connection strong since then. Now, we have this collaboration together. It is beautiful when you can connect with more musicians and people.”

Fiona has also received attention from the press. Curve Magazine named the musician one of the most desirable women next to P!NK and Tegan and Sara. In addition to feeling “honored” by the recognition, Fiona is also grateful for Curve’s support in helping give back to the New York City community that supports artists. Fiona explains:

“Curve Magazine is great. I got placed between P!NK and Tegan and Sara. Those are pretty big names in music now. Then, they featured me again in a full article in a later issue, where they talked about my music.

“They even sponsored an event I did to raise money for the Ali Forney Center – an organization that provides assistance to gay teenagers who are homeless. I put on an event where I played music, collaborated with other bands and DJ’s. We tried to raise awareness and funds for the center and have fun. Curve Magazine helped put the word out through social media.”

Fiona’s accomplishments reflect her ambitions as a young artist. Yet, all musicians in her positions who receive this great recognition all come from humble beginnings. Fiona kindly shares how she first became involved in music and how she decided to pursue music as a full-time career and lifestyle.

“My history with music is a bit varied,” she begins. “I started playing piano as a child. When I was a kid, I lived in a place that had a piano, so it worked out. Then, I moved and did not have the piano anymore. I would love to get back to that. I play around on the keyboard sometimes, but I haven’t really played anything in years.

“ I have an older brother who plays guitar, so I took his guitar and started jamming one night. I probably made the worst ruckus ever, but I felt amazing. So when I was about 13, I moved over to guitar and started taking lessons.

Fiona Silver_ukulele “When I picked up guitar, I started writing songs. My guitar teacher would record songs with me, then later on, I played bass in the rock band I had called Little Body and The Big Sound. Then, I picked up the ukulele.”

Fiona has always described herself as a creator. Fiona also claims that from a very early age, a tender 7 to be exact, she was determined to make a living with music.

“It really wasn’t a question throughout any of my adulthood or anytime through my teenage years,” she recounts. “I always just knew that this is what I wanted to do.”

Fiona was also born and raised in New York City, a place that is filled with opportunities, communities and audiences for music. On one hand, the saturation of culture and art sometimes proves a challenge. On the other hand, with the challenges also come rewards.

“Being in New York in particular, is kind of a double-edged sword,” explains Fiona. “The rewards come from having so many great places to play. There are many avenues where you can get your music out. But, there is also so much going on. It is really difficult to grow in a natural process without getting sidetracked by the concerns of image, marketing and business.

“In this day and age, artists before they make it big, really have to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” You have to do your own promotions, make your own flyers, social media, and all of these tasks that have nothing to do with the music you create. Those are challenges.

“A personal challenge is to have a solid band. There are so many incredible musicians in the city, and I played with great musicians, but they are also in 10 other groups. This makes scheduling difficult, but I go with the flow and keep meeting new people and play with them. In other places, like Austin, for example, where it is not so chaotic, people have more time to jam and live in the process of creating as opposed to hustling around it.

“The reward is working with so many artists and gaining inspiration. This city is very eclectic and I get exposed to so many styles.”

Our artist definitely absorbs the variety of musical styles in her own work. At the moment, she focuses on making a music video for another song, “Medicine Man.” This track differs greatly from the straightforward yet challenging “Sandcastle.” “Medicine Man” literally takes a person on a journey both musically and visually.

“I co-wrote this song with Roger Greenawalt, whom I have known for many years. It really is an example of everything I love about music. It really blends genres from disco to psychedelic to reggae.

“The video [reflects] the journey happening in the song. I wrote all of the scenes which play like a wild dream sequence. We shot in various locations like Ithaca, we shot in the basement of a gay bar in Williamsburg, and we shot in one of my favorite venues, Pete’s Candy Store, and even the studio I recorded the song in. I have so many friends in the video, and some really talented friends who helped create the video with me.  I feel if I worked with anyone else, they would have said “you are crazy.” These guys just worked with me and made it happen.

“Everything [in this video] comes back to this sense of community and other artists I respect who have a lot of imagination and just want to create. The director, Leslie Van Stelton, who also worked on “Sandcastle” and the make-up artist for that music video, DNicole also showcase their range of talents here.”

Fiona does not currently have a release date for this video. When the public does see it though, they will observe the same grace, beauty and personality of the artist with great confidence. And, of course, listeners can expect to hear that voice that travels great physical distances. Reader, I encourage you to see Fiona’s video for the song “Tonight” as well as her promo video for Luna Guitars in which she sings “Sweet Escape.” While you are on her website, click on the “about” tab and you will learn about her vocal inspirations.

As I researched Fiona’s website and learned about the singers she admired, I wondered whether she tried to emulate any of these influences through her voice or music.

“Actually, I don’t,” responds the artist. “I feel like certain characters can come through, different sides of my voice. The genres which change from soul to rock ‘n’ roll to indie, all bring out different sides of my character but I don’t think like an actor. I never think I’m going to channel a specific person. I think the energy and influences, like Billie Holiday – who is one of my favorite singers without a doubt – and Aretha Franklin, are infused together to help create my sound.”

Armed with her sense of autonomy in her musical style, the songs she creates and the strong belief in what she does and represents, one will definitely see Fiona as a confident woman. Lastly, I wanted to know whether she is always this confident as a musician and person. If she is not, I wonder how Fiona builds up that confidence.   Fiona_Silver-3

“There are times when I don’t feel as confident as other times,” says Fiona. “I think I do walk with a sense of confidence in general. Part of that comes from the love my parents gave me as a child. Part of that also comes from growing up in a tough city and needing to toughen up. Sometimes, as expressive as I am, as much as I sing and dance and do all of these outward expressions, it is also important for me to get quiet. I love to do yoga and meditate, and also watch the sun set from my roof top.

“When I don’t feel as good, I definitely reach out to people who I love for support. I have an amazing community of friends and that’s huge in life. I express myself through song and poetry, and that really helps me process any pain. When I can move through the pain, it sort of transforms it from something that hurts me to something that helps me.”

An artist’s beauty, talent and imagination can certainly help in attracting the right people who will help them with their endeavors and career path. Yet, even with all the support in the world, a young artist must also toughen up and realize that not everyone in the music industry has his or her best interest at heart. Fiona shows me a musician does not have to change their demeanor, appearance or beliefs in order to experience success through their work. One must, however, persevere in periods of difficulty.

Transforming disappointment, pain or challenges into stepping stones towards success is definitely a stride in the right direction to building confidence as an artist. This is the lesson I learn from Fiona. Further, confidence has helped Fiona focus on staying true to her style and voice, while keeping out any distractions that might be counterproductive to her art. As she continues to sculpt a career that works best for her, Fiona continues to watch her environment. She is a creative soul who has experienced so many beautiful moments in the music world, while also having seen and acknowledging the challenges that knock at her door. Fiona will continue to build her castle, but when the tides roll in, she will be ready.

Alyson Greenfield Releases “Uncharted Places” on May 30th

Alyson Greenfield is one of those artists who are everywhere, both behind the scenes and center stage. Now she returns to the scene with new music and debuting her single “Uncharted Places.” Greenfield will release the track at the Roc-Elle Records’ curated Brooklyn Night Bazaar on May 30th at 8pm, performing alongside Hearts revolution, Ninjasonik and Demetra. See event details here.

Greenfield recorded “Uncharted places” at the Converse Rubber Tracks Studio with engineer Alex McKenzie, and then mixed the track with Roger Greenawalt. Watch some of her experience right here:

“I’m so excited to finally release Uncharted Places,” says the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. “I’m also very excited about the new direction my live performance is taking. With the help of collaborators Interroben and Nate Morgan, we are able to produce a more dancey vice, which I hope translates into a more communal and vibrant feel.”

Alyson Greenfield performing at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Brooklyn on May 30th


Throughout the indie music scene in NYC, Alyson has become known for partaking in multiple projects. In the Fall of 2013, she directed and performed in the Tinderbox Music Festival. Earlier this year, she worked with film director Michael Carr to score a feature film The American Templars, and also had placements in the film SuperSleuths which premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. During this time, Alyson also formed a new synth-pop side project, Polyvox, with collaborator Joe McGinty, who also collaborated with Psychadelic Furs, and The Ramones. Additional highlights include becoming a regular at the Loser’s Lounge series at Joe’s Pub, and a featured performer at the 4th Annual Brooklyn Rock Lottery alongside band members of Oneida, Bad Girlfriend, Superhuman Happiness, and Rainer Maria.

Alyson is also known for participating in various musical communities throughout New York City. She talks about some of her experiences in this clip.

The right place, the right time: Alyson Greenfield Talks about how Music is calling to her

A few hours prior to her music video debut of “Mama Said Knock You Out” at the Church for All Nations on the Upper West Side, Alyson Greenfield works with music engineers and her drummer, Van Alexander on a sound check. Afterward, Alyson, Van, her make-up artist Seevon Chau, hair-stylist Gloria Espinoza, and I travel downstairs below the church to an educational playroom. Here Seevon and Gloria help Alyson get ready while I interview her for my Music Historian blog, Hear; Don’t Listen. 

Surrounded by baby blue walls and preschool décor, Alyson multitasked on a few things like communicating with her industry representatives on her cell phone; cooperating with her stylists as they prepare her for the show; and answering my questions.

I personally know individuals who would get frustrated with this kind of hype, but not Alyson. During my interview, I learned that Alyson has years of experience working several jobs as an artist; and I initially assumed it was this experience that taught her to be comfortable in these situations. Slowly however, I realized that her kindness and flexibility might be the result of her personal development rather than professional.

“I NEVER said to myself “music is the only thing I want to do in my life.”

Alyson Greenfield is a woman of several talents and she happens to be a musician. For Alyson, music is not just a career. It is also plays a great part in her journey to discover her full potential as an individual artist and a member of a collective artistic community.

“I have never said to myself “this [music] is the only thing I want to do in my life.” Nor did I think “If I don’t do this, I’m going to crumble!” I just feel that right now, being a musician is calling to me,” explains Alyson.

“I moved to New York City three years ago to focus on music. In addition to composing and performing music, I started an organization called Tinderbox Arts, and my other jobs included being a teaching artist in drama and dance at different elementary schools. It wasn’t until May of last year that I realized I didn’t have the time or energy for several jobs, and that’s when I decided to only run Tinderbox Arts and perform music.”

Alyson proves that working in the music and performing arts industry can be trying. Working multiple jobs is an obstacle – one which can overwhelm even the most organized and talented worker. So how does Alyson keep going when the going got tough? She says:

“I ask myself questions like ‘do I still want to do this’; ‘do I have something to say’; ‘do I have something different to offer’; ‘do I have time for this’?

“At the moment, I am focusing on meditation and yoga to really help me find a sense of calm and peace within myself, and ultimately help transform whatever I am doing into something that will help me become a whole person.”

These words really struck a chord with me and raised these questions: what did Alyson mean by being a whole person, and how could music help? I found my answers as I listened to Alyson talk about her greatest musical influences and her attraction to electronic music.

“Their songs are about fear and seeing love from different angles…” 

“Tori Amos was the first person to really influence me. Her original compositions and her passion for music touched me. I also liked Radiohead, Bjork, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush for their use of electronic sounds in their music, which I found really epic and moving.

“Their songs are also about fear and seeing love from different angles. Their songs deviate from the storybook love and heartbreaks. For example, in his song, “Digging in the Dirt,” Peter Gabriel reflects on the feelings he has about his past: he puts his feelings upfront and addresses them.”

Alyson continues, “In this instance, some of the emotions you bring out in music are not always going to be pretty, but expressing them is part of being human.”

One of her songs in which I can detect this openness and fearlessness is “Understand the Sky.” In this song, Alyson openly reveals her curiosities about the physical world. She sings, Get it into your head that I live in a bubble globe… Get it into your head that I am an adventurer… ‘Cause I think I touch you like the sky touches the ocean… but up close, I know I’d have to keep swimming to try and touch the sky. Alyson tells her story behind this song.

“While I was living in Alabama, I had discovered my Casio keyboard could make dreamy sounds. One day, I was in my studio in my apartment, and I just started playing a few chords. The melody simultaneously seemed to come right out of me.

“I wrote about the sky because one day, I was looking up at it and I realized there’s so much I don’t understand about the realm I live in, like where it beings and ends. I also thought the subject of the lyrics would fit very well with the chords I composed.”

“I think electronic instruments transcend time and space in a certain way.”

One can easily interpret “Understand the Sky” as an acceptance or an understanding of how we might never understand the mysteries of the space in which we exist. The electronic harmonies and her immaculate vocals help transform Alyson’s thoughts and words into complete songs.

“I think electronic instruments transcend time and space in a certain way. I also think they help me get over my fear of things I don’t understand, and just help me push forward and get into making music.

“As for singing, I don’t think I’ve ever lived a day without singing. I’ve been writing melodies since I was a kid, and I feel like I always have to write something.”

This inner need for singing enabled Alyson to create a cover of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise.”

“I feel the covers kind of pick me. I just start singing these songs in my home and then sing them in my own way.

“I’ve always loved “Gangster’s Paradise,” and always found it very moving. When I sung it in my own head, I realized I wanted to turn it into a cover song. So, I tried several instruments for the cover like piano, the guitar, a few synths, and then, I found the glockenspiel, which seemed to be the best instrument.”

Anybody can listen to or watch the music video of “Gangster’s Paradise” on Alyson Greenfield’s website. What you will not find on her website are the songs she performed this past Saturday on the stage at The Church for All Nations.

“All the songs I am playing tonight are all new and they’re not recorded. So, that will be one of my projects. I am also releasing a single of a song I recorded at the Converse Studio in Brooklyn last spring, and I will start work on a music video for that single too. My overall goals are to record music and share it with people.”

“I look forward to sharing more spaces like this with people and other musicians.”

Aside from sharing her music with her listeners, Alyson also looks forward to sharing her performance space with musicians, as well as work with other artists.

“One of my favorite parts of being a musician is interacting and collaborating with other musicians. I have collaborated with people on music videos as well as artists in other realms. I enjoy this work because I learn a lot and I feel like I am part of a community.”

While Alyson will still write songs and perform them by herself, she is more excited about the communal experiences that arise with being a musician; like performing with musicians in a space like The Church for All Nations.

“It’s important for me to perform in a space like this, and I am looking forward to sharing more spaces like this with people and other musicians.”

The right place, the right time

 Leaving the Church of All Nations that night, I reflected on my interview with Alyson and realized the following: We all too often hear that a composer’s or musician’s success is based on being in the right place at the right time within the industry. Yet, several musicians rarely think about whether music is calling to them at the right time and place in their lives. Alyson is one musician that carefully examined her circumstances, and listened to her reasoning and her inner voice before fully-pursuing a career in both music and the performing arts.

Alyson is definitely not a musician that acts without thinking or out of pure impulse. Making music is perhaps the only instance where she surrenders her mental toughness, logic and control. The end result includes intriguing instrumentation and harmonies; whimsical and sometimes existential messages; and a voice that anchors all these elements down into one song.

Just In: New Video and Sound Cloud from Radiation City!

Earlier today, I interviewed Radiation City’s drummer, Randy Bemrose for the December band feature on Hear; Don’t Listen. In my interview with Randy, I learned about a lot of exciting projects coming up for the band in 2012. However, you’ll have to standby on Music Historian’s blog to learn about them. In the meantime, listen to Radiation City’s sound cloud and watch their video of their song, Babies.

The Portland-based band, Radiation City will kick off their west coast tour tomorrow in Eugene, OR. Visit the link above to see their tour schedule.

CMJ Music Marathon 2011: NYC’s Cornucopia of “New Music”

College Music Journal Marathon, the largest and longest-running music industry event of its kind, dominated the performance scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn this past week. Up and coming bands on the independent music scene, were the focal point of this massive 5-day city-wide festival. CMJ traditionally attracts college students, young professionals from all walks of life and members of the music industry and press. As a young professional and a ringer in today’s “new music” scene, I was sucked into CMJ and now, I have a new happy concert memory.

Avi Wisnia: “Something New” at Rockwood Music Hall

(From left to right) Toru, Avi, and Gil

My CMJ celebration started at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City last Friday afternoon. I came to this rustic, cozy and bohemian bar to see Avi Wisnia – an artist from the independent record label, MPress Records. Although they’re a new band, Avi Wisnia blends musical elements common in older genres like the blues and 1950’s west-coast jazz. The song “Rabbit Hole” is an ode to the 12 bar blues style and American jazz.

The acoustic bassist, Gil Smuskowitz, opens “Rabbit Hole” with a syncopated melody; which is repeatedly improvised on both the piano and guitar throughout the entire song. “Rabbit Hole” also makes a great anthem for those cold and nippy autumn days. Avi sings you know it’s a good thing we’re in here it’s starting to pour/… we’re in these close quarters but somehow we’ll make due/ well it looks like I’m stuck in this rabbit hole with you.

This funny song of young and foolish love will warm your insides, especially when you’re consuming your favorite cocktail. On the other hand, “Something New” – the title track on the band’s newest album – is far more riveting and upbeat.

Audience at Rockwood Music Hall

“Something New” quotes 4 different songs: “Smooth Operator” (Sade); “Eleanor Rigby” (The Beatles), “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor), and “Pumped-up Kicks” (Foster The People). “Something New” was the perfect ending to Avi Wisnia’s set. Everyone in the audience, including myself, was curious about the singer’s next improvisational surprise but before we all knew it, the song was over. “Something New” is the single on Avi Wisnia’s newest album, which is now available on iTunes.

Purity Ring Steals the Webster Hall Show

That night, I came to a larger performance space, NYU’s Webster Hall. Here, the experimental electronic group, Purity Ring opened the 7pm line up. Purity Ring’s sound is undefined; their songs chill me to the core. Though the band is a duo; they together created a performance of theatrical proportions. Singer, Megan James and sythesizer player and automator, Josh Kolenik stole the show.

Nobody in the audience ever saw James’s and Kolenik’s faces, only their silhouettes, which were outlined by flashes of colored lights. James and Kolenik purposely programmed these lights to flash along with the

Webster Hall reception for Purity Ring's show

down beats in their songs. In addition to an eccentric lighting effect, Purity Ring’s clever use of automated and synthesized rhythms and incomprehensible sounds in tracks like “Belispeak” and “Ungirthed” transcended listeners to a deep dark abyss of nonsensical musical ambiance. Purity Ring’s performance was out of this world!

Britain’s Emmy the Great hooks Brooklynites at Spike Hill

On Saturday, I took the L train to Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn to a pub called Spike Hill. Here, music video distributor, BaebleMusic lined up bands to perform throughout the day and evening. One of the first artists in the line-up included the up and coming singer-songwriting duo from England, Emmy the Great.

Emma Moss and Euan Hinshelwood tune up at Spike Hill

Emma-Lee Moss sings beautifully with a clear and crisp pronunciation. The one track in which she exhibits this vocal skill is “Paper Forest” – a song that celebrates living in the moment, whether it be joyful or somber. In this song’s last verse, Emma sings, Oh come and we will celebrate the things that make us real/ the things that break us open and the things that make us feel/ like these accidental meetings and the partings of our ways/ that are not so much our choice but in the blood that we are made… . Those who gathered at Spike Hill to hear Emmy the Great were hooked by Emma’s bold and poetic storytelling.

Spike Hill in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Select 5-7 bands each day, and personally chat with them!

One can describe CMJ Marathon as a cornucopia of new music; but the abundance of bands and performance venues can be overwhelming for first timers. If you plan on attending the next CMJ, I suggest you research a few bands you’d really like to see and, if time permits, select 5-7 for each day. Unless you are Hermoine Granger from Harry Potter, there is no way you can attend every CMJ concert; so take your time in deciding!

I also discovered CMJ is an intimate festival where attendees are in close physical proximity of every band. In addition, bands are excited to talk about their music with attendees, and I can attest that every musician I met at CMJ was welcoming and open to conversation. I look forward to continuing my conversations with a few of them. I hope to learn as much as possible and I can’t wait to record and share these conversations with readers right here on Music Historian’s Hear; Don’t Listen.

Opera Night’s 7th Anniversary!

Like any modern day music historian, I talk about music during our generation in the 21st century. I also like to examine the role of classical music in today’s society. Although classical music is not on the top 10 list of popular genres, it is still used to educate and help young musicians, school children and professionals further their performance skills.

 Northport – a New York City suburb on Long Island – is one such artistic community where classical musicians and music teachers dedicate their time to building new talent. My former classical piano teacher, Isabella Eredita-Johnson has not only developed young artists as a teacher, but she has also created an organization called Opera Night.

Since its beginning, the series grew 

Since its first gathering at Café Portofino in Northport village on Friday, July 1st, 2004; Isabella and her sister, Maddalena Harris, have been inviting singers to perform arias and vocal duets on a monthly basis. They both named this gathering, Opera Night. As the series grew and began attracting larger audiences, the little café with the bistro charm couldn’t accommodate crowds.

Two years later, Opera Night relocated to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church across the street. Along with more seating space, the church provided an upright Steinway piano to accompany the singers and greater performance space. While moving to St. Paul’s greatly benefited audiences and singers, Isabella, also faced challenges. Some of them involved focusing on professional singing and musicianship while accommodating local audiences. I personally talked to Isabella about how Opera Night evolved from a monthly gathering to an actual venue, and the challenges that arose.

Opera Night is still as fresh and exciting as when it started

Isabella explained, “The caliber of the audience has grown and the presentation is now more formal than from Opera Night’s beginnings in 2004. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the spontaneity.” The performance program is determined by which singers show up that night. Isabella claims, “we do this to keep the performances fresh and exciting. After a performance, people come up to me and say, “this was the most exciting Opera Night to date!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would be very rich.”

 This spontaneity helps Opera Night stand out amongst the competing performance venues that heavily rely on structure in their programming.

Another aspect of Opera Night that hasn’t changed is the immediate delivery of famous arias and duets. Isabella started Opera Night to bring the most exciting and popular parts of great operas to opera lovers instead of performing full operatic works. Some musicians might find this hodgepodge of music overwhelming, but for Isabella, it comes naturally. Isabella claims, “For me, it’s easy because good, finely trained singers have come to me. The nature of inviting 20 different singers is they will most likely sing 20 different songs.”

Opera Night now focuses on furthering singers’ performing repertoire and skills

Focusing on the singers is fairly new general goal at Opera Night. Isabella explained, “The reasons a singer would want to sing at Opera Night are: they sing in front of a large audience; they get a free accompanist provided by Opera Night; and they increase the quality of their performances.” These benefits naturally encourage singers to spread the word about Opera Night to opera lovers and potential future Opera Night performers.  

If a free accompanist and a full house is not enough to attract singers to Opera Night, the success story of some regular performers will perhaps change prospective singers’ minds.

Bringing professionals back to the music and putting their voices in films

Bruce Solomon initially had a successful singing career. However; supporting a family while performing as a concert artist was challenging. So he went into sales.

Years later, he heard about Opera Night, which helped satisfy his passion for singing and helped make up for the years he was out of the musical scene. Thanks to Opera Night, Solomon can now easily step back into singing.

In the beginning years, Frances Fascetti was an Opera Night regular. Chris Garvey, an audience member, taped and recorded all of Fascetti’s performances and distributed them on a digital music platform.

One faithful day, independent film director, David Campfield, found Fascetti’s recording of “Ave Maria.” Isabella was thrilled to hear Campfield wanted to use Fascetti’s recording in his upcoming film, Cesar & Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre. Fascetti was doubly excited to learn that out of all the “Ave Maria” tracks available for download on the worldwide web, Campfield chose hers.

Opera lovers are all around and they are coming out to Opera Night

Aside from helping young professionals develop their skill and performance repertoire, Opera Night reinforces the communities love for one of the most classical performing arts.

Isabella says, “Opera lovers are out there and they’re coming out of the woodwork. We see the audience turn out, and it is growing. You meet these people who love Opera and want to know if there is anywhere they can listen to it… and you tell them about Opera Night.”

The minute Isabella meets an Opera lover looking for a good performance; she puts them on the email list and sends them reminders about upcoming performances.

Opera Night also reinforces Isabella’s life-long drive and passion for opera and classical performing arts.

Isabella’s performance experience during college encouraged her to take on Opera endeavors

 Isabella’s mother and father were the first opera lovers she ever knew. Their love of music fostered Isabella’s talent for classical piano, and soon, her years of dedication and performing eventually resulted in a degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Her greatest inspiration for opera however, was a “fine” bass/ baritone singer and enthusiastic voice teacher named Peter Maravell.

Isabella became Maravell’s piano accompanist at his studios. What Isabella thought would be a summer job that paid more than what her peers were making at McDonalds, turned into an assistantship and apprenticeship under a great singer. Maravell taught Isabella the music from the operas by some of the greats – Mozart and Puccini.

Maravell helped give Isabella a job that enhanced her experience as a concert pianist. Working under Maravell also expanded her musical world.

Isabella’s performance experience outside of academia encouraged her to teach music and take on projects and musical endeavors that would attract large audiences. For her, these projects and endeavors would revolve around opera.

Isabella encourages communities to help keep opera afloat

As Isabella continues in her musical endeavors and projects, she is constantly reminded of the hard economic times currently affecting many opera companies – even large ones in the neighboring metropolis, New York City. Isabella has taken the initiative in promoting New York City Opera’s Chairman Challenge, a fundraiser that will help City Opera continue producing full operas. More importantly; this challenge will help New York City Opera improve their opera education and professional development programs. This is why Isabella encourages community members to take an active interest in keeping opera afloat by attending a performance; spreading the word about a company; or donating.

Tonight is Opera Night’s 7th Year Anniversary!

Tonight’s celebration of Opera Night’s 7th year in Northport will remind community members of how much people love Opera. People want to have it and need to have it. “And for a good reason too,” Isabella says, “it is just wonderful!”

Hear People Listen, Part 1

Hello again. It is my first entry of 2011 and I feel I have to explain myself a little. The New Year started with a busy communications job in Brooklyn and evening classes at NYU. At the end of March and beginning of April, I found myself in Romania interviewing family members and friends about their histories and pasts.

Now that you know what has happened to me, the Music Historian brings you a special first entry of the year.

Throughout my experience with a non-profit called StoryCorps, I learned that sometimes, the greatest soundtracks of our lives are without music.

Dave Isay, Founder of StoryCorps

Dave Isay, a former radio producer and recipient of the MacArthur’s “Genius” Fellowship, started this non-profit in 2003, recording and preserving the stories of everyday Americans from all walks of life. Today, StoryCorps has recorded and archived more than 30,000 interviews from over 60,000 Americans. In addition to preserving these stories at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, StoryCorps also broadcasts stories on NPR’s Morning Edition every Friday and animations on PBS. Dave also published people’s stories in his original bestsellers – Listening is an Act of Love and Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps.

The big question is – why do people find others’ life stories so intriguing? One reason might reside in the fact we are all individuals or a collective group of individuals who come from different backgrounds and are interested in learning about “ways of living” that are unfamiliar to us.

One StoryCorps recording that struck this chord with me is the story of “Danny and Annie”— a couple who had a late-life romance and happy marriage.

Danny and Annie

Judging from the number of views this animation received – about 1 million – it has struck a chord with other listeners as well.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many people like it when strangers, close friends or family listen to their stories. I discovered this after I was interviewed by StoryCorps in January. I then decided to share the gift of recording and interviewing by taking StoryCorps’ portable interview kit abroad to family members in my parent’s native Bucharest in Romania.

My mother’s life-long friend in Bucharest fell gravely ill and was spending her time in Bucharest’s oncology center. My Mother planned to go to Romania to visit her friend and then I suggested the idea of going with my Mother to record their conversations and preserving them for her friend’s family. Excited by the idea, my Mom agreed to bring me along.

When we got to Bucharest however; we discovered the branch of the oncology center where my Mother’s friend was placed was completely quarantined and recording devices were not permitted in her room. Luckily, my father and his life-long friends wanted to record their story and two of my Mother’s other close friends also wanted a chance to tell their stories.

On April 7th, I returned to the United States with great stories from my parents’ native country, Romania.  I cannot wait to translate these stories into English and share them with readers.

Until then, I invite you to hear people listen at StoryCorps.