Tag Archives: Singing


For immediate release through November 20th, 2011
Liz Bacon
(971) 212-8034





The Julians present:  “He Said/She Said”
at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Parish
Sunday November 20th at 2 pm

Join Portland’s genre-defying lady vocal quartet as they pioneer their own gender study through music as part of the 2011-2012 St. Stephen’s Episcopal Parish concert series. Female and male composers’ takes on topics will be performed side by side in a variety of styles including: classical, indie, jazz, and pop. Composers as diverse as Björk, Johannes Brahms, Regina Spektor, Michael Adamis, Joni Mitchell, Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service, Kristina Vasiliauskaitė, John Lennon, and local composer Renée Favand-See will be featured. You’ll experience new and old favorites in a brand new way through the bioptic lens of “He Said/She Said.”
The Julians will be joined by Chris Fotinakis on violin, viola and guitar.

WHEN:  Sunday, November 20th at 2 pm
WHERE:  St. Stephen’s Episcopal Parish 1432 SW 13th Portland, OR (on the corner of SW 13th & Clay)
TICKETS:  $10 cash/check suggested donation at the door or tickets can be purchased at: 503-227-5783 or e-mail music@stst.org


Tooth and Nail

When I was 4, I was painfully shy.

I was the kid that hid behind Mom or Dad’s leg when introduced to somebody new. My first day of pre-school had me full of anxiety to say the least. I distinctly remember walking into the classroom/playroom of my pre-school class and bursting into tears out of fear. My teacher walked over to me and took my hand. Giant tears rolling down my cheeks. There are probably 20 kids sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle, facing the chalkboard. Everyone was wiggling, giggling, and whispering. The teacher sits in front of the group of tiny gawkers and has me stand right next to her. “This is Maria” the teacher says. “Hi Maria” the class shouts back. She says, “We were just about to sing some songs, but we need to warm up first.” she addresses the class, “Can everybody show Maria how we warm up our voices?” And all the kids pinch a little bit of skin on the front of their tiny necks and start singing in their tiny, high-pitched voices, “mi, mi, mi, mi, mi!” I stopped crying at the sight of this and joined right in with the class. This was my first “choir.”

I’ve learned a few things since then.

What makes great ensemble? So many things can factor into this process. There’s the individual study and practice of the music. Digging into a piece and finding not only the meter and pitch, but divining personal meaning in every word so that it can truly be said that, “she was getting her message across”.  There’s also the intense work with the other members of the ensemble.

“Wood shedding”

Ack!  That dreaded word makes many a musician shudder. It’s a process by which a piece of music is analyzed by a group of musicians together. Each note, phrase, word, dynamic, and rhythm is given meaning and motivation in a public setting. Often there is unanimous agreement, but fierce debate also ensues. Not many people actually like the process of wood shedding. Especially professional musicians who are usually expected to know their music when they arrive to rehearsal and should be able to perform close to performance worthy at that first rehearsal. Most look upon this process as frustrating for many reasons. Not the least of which is that it exposes those who have learned their music well, those who have not, as well as those who are struggling.

To those who are the most prepared, it sends the message that their time is about to be wasted while other people learn notes/pitches/text that they already should know. To those who didn’t prepare, it’s a humbling, excruciating, embarrassing moment when they must concede to the fact that yes, we’re sitting down and doing this now…right now…in front of all these people…and they’re not happy about it…

Let’s not forget about those who struggle. Those who have put in the hours of learning text, rhythm, pitches. Who have listened to recordings over and over and over. Who have sat at the piano, possibly found outside help and are still struggling. These people are no less skilled than the other singers. They require some time with the ensemble. They require a bigger picture than they can paint on their own. In fact, all of these singers need that bigger picture. Wood shedding in this case can become the great commonality that brings musicians of all types and learning levels/styles together. There’s no doubt that by the end of this painful but careful preparation, all will be on the same page.

I have been all three of these singers: Prepared, unprepared, struggling. I’ve also been doing this for many years and have been all three people many times over. I have found that I am fiercely loyal to this particular process for the way it brings together a group of individuals. We are all fighting this tooth and nail. We’ll come out bloodied and bruised on the other side, but the test of will power and the strength simply to keep going will ensure that we will survive and be satisfied with our work. Sharing this group struggle is just as important to me if not more so, than making the pretty sounds culminating at our final performance.

There’s at least one more important part of the fabulous ensemble. It’s how we treat each other. Ideally, everyone’s opinions are respected. There’s lot’s of listening going on, no matter how whack the idea sounds. There’s also no bullshit. Everyone should be able to trust themselves and each other to tell the truth–as kindly as they know how. These are the people that will tell me if I have something stuck between my teeth rather than let me show that off to the world. They won’t let me look like an idiot and I’ll do the same for them.

So, today, I am not 4, I am not so shy and – in addition to all my other singing commitments – I sing with the Julians. When I walk into a Julians rehearsal, I don’t burst into tears, yet we still wiggle and giggle. Each time we rehearse, I’m reminded of the ‘Three Singers’ in all of us – equally prepared, unprepared or struggling. Still, we dig into each piece, we woodshed until we’re all satisfied – and we continue to learn.

Love, Maria

For those brave souls who powered through my rambling, or just simply didn’t fall asleep, here’s a present for your viewing pleasure. A gift for you

Summer of Yes

At a cruising altitude of
37,000 feet my life feels different. Time stands still in a cell phone free vortex. Intermittent turbulence is the only reminder that I’m defying gravity in a large metal Tylenol capsule…by choice. I feel alive, creative, and dreamy. It may be the lack of oxygen coupled with the subtle threat of potential death that fuels this creativity but I’ll take it where I can get it. I guess I just want to get it all out before I die and in an airplane, mortality somehow seems more imminent than normal.

I’ve been on 10 different planes this summer and have 4 more to go before I return to my more routine autumnal life where I am an itinerant braille teacher by day and professional singer by night. This increased travel is a welcome change to my usual low-key summer. It’s been my summer of saying yes to exciting opportunities and I don’t regret a single one.

In addition to the planes, I’ve also been on 1 cruise ship, 1 old timey steam ship, 2 sky trams, 4 scary Bermudian buses, innumerable equally scary NYC cabs, 2 subways, 2 ferries, a tandem bicycle with my blind students (I drove), a cranky alpha-type horse named Cheerio, 3 large vans, 1 Dodge Charger, and my trusty 2002 Honda Accord named Hugo. All of these vehicles brought me to some place that caused me to view the world differently because I had more information about it and for that, I’m grateful.

Here are some things I’ve learned during my travels thus far:
-The coffee in Louisville, New York, Bermuda, and Michigan does not compare to Portland (I’ll let you know about Greek coffee when I get back from Paros in September).
-The color of the sky during a tornado is indescribable and terrifying.
-I burn even with SPF 55 sunscreen on.
-Writing stories for 2nd graders is a good way to get in touch with your inner child and a great side job.
-Collective audience sobbing in a Broadway theater is a powerful experience.
-New Yorkers are resilient.
-The water surrounding Bermuda is as indescribable as the Louisville tornado sky, but much more inviting.
-I may not be able to pull off hats.
-Lake Michigan is warm, sandy, and lovely to swim in.
-Being up close to New York City Ballet dancers while they perform is breathtaking.
-Flying back home to PDX when it’s swathed in sunlight is stunning. You can almost touch Mt. Hood.
-New York bagels are incomparable. I believe it’s the 2:1 cream cheese to bagel ratio.

Perhaps my favorite part of traveling is witnessing the gamut of human emotion from strangers. I see this raw emotion particularly in airports and on planes because people are too stressed,tired, and cranky to edit so their vulnerability shows like a neon bra strap. I’ve seen random acts of kindness, ugly tantrums (by both adults and children), crying, laughing, loving, hating, spilling, sleeping, but most of all, living. This is the gritty good stuff of life and the kinds of experiences that inform a lot of the programming choices I make for The Julians.

Given the nature of my jobs, I do much of my heavy Julians thinking/planning while in transit so it was especially helpful to have the extra vehicular time this summer given our transition as a group. Much of my preliminary arranging takes place in Hugo the car as I listen to songs that I like, and think about various voicings, harmonies, instrumentation, and programming of them for our concerts. It’s fortunate for others that share the road with me that my multi-tasking skills are above average.

All of these travels have left me feeling more well-rounded and refreshed. I look forward to where we Julians are headed and mostly feel lucky to have such a vibrant creative outlet and such lovely and talented women to make music with.

So this summer of yes, (despite my recurring nightmare of driving off a bridge and drowning in a car) I salute the myriad of vehicles in my life for transporting me out of my routine and expanding my world. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Singing, as we do.

Singing with a small group of classically trained female musicians is a tenuous thing.  A blended sound takes time.  Singers need that time to build trust with one another, to become accustomed to the sound and weight of each other’s voices.   It’s not always easy, and it’s often something the best of musicians have a hard time finding.

We Julians formed in February of 2010 and at the first rehearsal, five women — Tuesday Rupp, Mel Downie, Kristen Buhler, Maria Karlin and Liz Bacon — started something pretty fantastic. We had found it.

Throughout this past year and a half we have performed successful, standing-room-only concerts, guest-starred with others musicians – both in the classical and indy world.  We’ve played private parties and public events and developed a pretty respectable fan base.  In the meantime, we have watched each other live our lives.

Tuesday Rupp, our dear friend and the founding Artistic Director of The Julians had to leave us to pursue her dream and last summer she headed off to Yale University.  We wiped away tears at our ‘Case of You’ concert as the audience rose to their feet and we hugged her tightly and said farewell.

…and then…we kept singing.

Maria Karlin continues multi-tasking her precious time between making music with us and rocking out with her cowboy band, Federale.  Getting out of a touring van after days on the road Maria rushes to rehearsal to be with us — and we sing on.  Kristen Buhler performs all over the world.  Her talent and time gets split between gobs of opportunities as a professional singer (she’s packing for Greece as I type this sentence) and her amazing job as a teacher to blind students.  Still,  she shows up with her creative, talented spirit, and the Julians tra-la-la-la.  Mel Downie Robinson fell in love, celebrated her son Paul going to Kindergarten and decided to tie the knot with the light of her life, Roger,  Though Mel felt called to sing other songs, and walk other paths we are grateful for the time we got to sing.  With her.

Last night with Tuesday and Mel in our hearts, The Julians sang again. This time with a new voice. Another vibrant, ALIVE soul has joined us – Vakarė. This gorgeous, talented woman from Illinois has somehow graced us with her amazing self in between trips to Belize and fighting off other singing offers – she sings with us.  All that we have shared about our excitement for our new ‘bandmate’ pales in comparison to the real, juicy JOY we feel for the possibility that lies ahead on our path with this new, evolving group.  We sound good, ladies and gentlemen…really good.

As I write this, I have my laptop in front of me, my daughter’s college dorm room shopping list on the table next to me,  and a folder full of music I must learn waits for me at the piano. This is a RICH, FULL life and I smile as I imagine all of us – juggling all that we do and yet still managing to work in such quality time for this group.

Singing, as we do.