Music notation representing middle C, in a minimalist contemporary photo frame.I’m thrilled to announce that, starting this month, all of my students will be invited to participate in a new program I call “Note of the Month.”  Because we all—whether we’re singers, pianists, songwriters, or actors—use the same spectrum of sound as the medium for our art-making, it’s important that we gain confidence and skill at using all of the pitches we have at our disposal.  What better way to do that than giving each note its own special month?

This month, to get the program started, we’ll be looking at Middle C (handsomely framed in the embedded image)—using this pitch exclusively in our warm-ups, fingering exercises, and monologues, rewriting all vocal melodies to include only this pitch… the possibilities are virtually limitless (except that they’ll be limited to this single pitch)!  I promise you, after 30 days of focusing on this pitch, you’ll never see (or hear) it the same way again!

We’ll talk more about this exciting program together in lessons, but as always, don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

Happy April Fool’s, everyone!

Twitter post reading, Every year the day I get the “testimonial” interviews back from the videographers takes me by surprise.  It’s been a few weeks, by then, since the frenzy of preparations for DMGS3 reached its zenith and quickly subsided and I crashed into bed with a huge, relieved sigh of “DONE!” and fell deeply asleep with a smile of gratitude on my face.  So to have this reminder of the day arrive in my inbox is a pleasant surprise in itself.  And to watch what my students have to say about their work with me is always both humbling and gratifying.

And then today, coincidentally, after the videos arrived, a Twitter screenshot started making the rounds of social media today with the following characteristically concise message:

2005: Study STEM. The Humanities are worthless.
2010: Study STEM. The Humanities are worthless.
2015: Study STEM. The Humanities are worthless.

The tweet just underscored for me a common thread that I saw in my students’ testimonials, and that I had earlier reflected on as I was preparing the program book for this year’s event.  Here’s what I said in my introduction to that book:

Some people work every day to make the world a better place.  Doctors and lawyers, novelists and journalists, ministers and folks who run non-profit service agencies. They cure disease and feed the hungry and promote intelligent discourse in a world that badly needs it.  The things they accomplish every week are enviably important.

Me?  I teach music.  I tell pianists to curl their fingers more and loosen their wrists.  I tell singers to raise their soft palates and engage their abs.  If you get stuck focusing on the “what” and the “how” of music-making, it can seem… unimportant.

That’s why today is such an important day for me.

Today is about the “why.”  Today I get to be present as my students—the finger-curlers and wrist-looseners and soft-palate-raisers and ab-engagers—bravely put themselves before a group of strangers, and they make them feel things.

How often are policy decisions made based on cold-facts profit-and-loss statements?  Heartless laws written—and compassionate laws blocked—because the people they impact are safely ensconced in statistics, stereotypes, and anonymity?  What would our world look like if our society valued and prioritized the universal humanness of delighted laughter and sympathetic tears… of contented sighs and compassionate groans… the universal humanness of feeling?

The folks who make music for you today may never end up at Carnegie or on Broadway.  They may spend their days as mathematicians or chemists, office workers or executives.  Their careers may not have anything to do with music.  But as long as they continue to practice and model the courage it takes to feel, and they help others to do the same, I believe to my core that every day of their lives, they will make the world a better place.

I am so proud of the feelings my students discover during their work, and evoke in others.  It’s a tremendous honor to be present when students expand their boundaries of vulnerability and summon the courage to reveal their deep-seated human-ness, whether it’s in the safe privacy of the lesson studio or in the public space of the stage.  Artists are brave, brave people, and their bravery is the best kind: the artist’s bravery is the kind that, rather than threatening or insisting or boasting, invites the rest of the world to join in, to take a risk, and to be brave together.

Honestly, I think that kind of bravery is the only hope our world has right now.

So, what brave art have you made today?

After last year’s Christmas post, one could be forgiven for responding to this news with a bit of (good-natured, I’d hope) ribbing, but:

I’ve just written a new Christmas song.

The world, you see, is full of un-beautiful stuff right now.  And while I do still firmly believe that the contemporary American approach to Christmas is largely a manifestation of—if not even a source of—that stuff, I also think that the heart of the Christmas story points us toward truths that are beautiful—that that story can serve as an antitoxin, if you will, for what is poisoning our society today.

Sometimes I just need reminders to practice seeking beauty in unexpected places, I guess.  So here’s my latest attempt.  Take it to heart, if you like.  (And if you really love it, you can purchase print music for this piece.)

“The Kind of Christmas”

A quiet time with ones you love,
without a thought for what’s beneath the tree….
It’s dark outside. The earth is cold.
But in this house, you’re safe with family.
Around the room you see all your favorite faces,
though they don’t all resemble your own.
And in the still of this silent night,
you know for more than sure you’re not alone.

Bundled up in mismatched clothes,
and singing songs whose words you don’t quite know….
Nothing here is perfect, but
there’s no place else on earth you’d rather go.
The fairy tales about angels, kings, and shepherds
fill those younger than you with delight.
And somehow the tale of that little town
works magic on your jaded heart tonight.

Immanuel: Even here, even now, you’re not alone.
Not a place, but a presence, makes this home.
And though sometimes you forget,
Immanuel: Something greater than the lies you’ve heard is true.
You have a home no matter what you do.
And you know it, too.
That’s the kind of Christmas I wish for you.

You share a glance, a bashful smile,
and yesterday’s regrets dissolve away.
Wounded pride and hurtful words,
they matter less than family today.
You start to see the full value of forgiveness,
and you promise to do, or to try.
And with those words, you find, in the bleak midwinter,
that the stars all shine brighter in the sky.

Immanuel: Even here, even now, you’re not alone.
Not a place, but a presence, makes this home.
And though sometimes you forget,
Immanuel: Something greater than the lies you’ve told is true.
You have a home no matter what you do.
And you know it, too.
That’s the kind of Christmas—
a holy kind of Christmas—
that’s the kind of Christmas I wish for you.

Ladybug Psst.

Y’all know already that I hate Christmas*, and that I’m not a fan of calendar-based gift-giving.  But I know that I represent a (vocal but lovable) minority in holding those positions—and anyway, the news I’m about to share with you kinda takes the idea of calendar-based giving and flips it on its head.  So with only reluctant acknowledgment that “Black Friday” is hurtling our way.…

I’ve just launched a new page on my website that allows you to purchase gift lessons for your friends and loved ones, right online!  You can purchase single ad-hoc lessons for the “list price” of $40 each, or save money by purchasing lessons in “packs”:

  • The Baker’s Month gives your student five ad-hoc lessons for the price of four—or you could think of it as $32 per lesson.
  • With the Season of Music package, your student can study weekly for 15 weeks—three months worth of lessons—for $450.  That’s less than the price of 12 ad-hoc sessions bought separately!  (This package works out to $30 per lesson.)
  • And if you’re feeling particularly benevolent (and feel like getting a great deal)—you can purchase the School Days package: 40 lessons for just $1120.  It’s like getting 12 free lessons over the course of the year, or paying only $28 per lesson!

Whichever package you choose, you’ll pay online using your PayPal balance or credit card, and immediately receive a confirmation email (from with the Certificate Code that your recipient will use on my Gift Session scheduling page to schedule their sessions.  You’ll also receive a link to a Gift Certificate that can be printed and/or emailed to the recipient.  (They’re quite sharp-looking, if I say so myself.)

You can compare those packages and purchase one (or more…) on this page, found under the “Teaching” tab of my website.  And as always, I hope you’ll feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

Senior yearbook photo, Dickinson College, 1993. Who’d’a thunk?

I am not good at holidays. I lack that (honorable, healthy, and near-universal) human characteristic that motivates people to schedule time off, to pause from daily routines, and to take special note of historical events on their anniversaries. So National Coming Out Day takes me by surprise when it rolls around on October 11 of each year.

In my (half-hearted) defense, I “came out,” at least in my own mind, on May 8, 1993 at a concert I’d put together just after graduating from college. When one plans such an event (at least when “one” is I), one tends to have “once-and-done” expectations of the fête. So when I realized that today was “the day,” I jokingly posted a three-word announcement on Facebook:

“Psst. I’m gay.”

Most of the comments were of the sort I expected:

  • “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?” (from my sister)
  • “What the HELL?” (from my very sarcastic, very aware seminary advisor, a specialist in apocalyptic literature and staunch ally to LGBTQ causes)
  • “Does your husband know?” (from a friend with whom we just had dinner recently)

When people who know me well take “the gay thing” as an unsurprising part of who I am, the tongue-in-cheek responses are understandable. And it might seem… odd… that when just about anyone who knows me as more than an in-passing acquaintance knows that I’m married to a man, I feel a need to keep “coming out” publicly on October 11 each year.

Why bother, really? What’s the point? There are a few possibilities:

One possibility is that I crave ego-fueling, plain & simple. As with many of my public posts, my “I’m gay” post was intended at first to bring a chuckle. But scrolling through the comments has been, frankly, deeply meaningful to me. There’s something profoundly affirming to see so many expressions of solidarity and support, especially at a time in history when LGBT existence is losing its grip as a “socially acceptable identity” (and if you’re not sure what that means, count yourself lucky).

I can also hope that part of me is seeking practice at being brave. The other day I read a post by Robin Sokoloff that blew my socks off. To read about the no-effs-given bravery of a woman who’d had enough of male privilege… of society’s blind-eye, head-down, don’t-interfere acceptance of atrocious, violent, inhuman sexism… put me, quite frankly, in my place. I’m embarrassed to say that I saw myself in the pasta-focused onlookers in her story, and that my presence at that scene would probably not have made a difference. And it’s no wonder, really—I still feel my body tensing with fight-or-flight preparations when I use the phrase “my husband” with a new acquaintance for the first time. As an educated, English-fluent, currently physically enabled cis white male of comfortable socioeconomic status, I have a lot of privilege cards to play, and I want to be better at making waves when it’s called for, and better at recognizing immediately when it is called for.

But I think, most of all, I make offhand, off-the-cuff, (apparently) effortless “coming-out” gestures because I remember being a closeted teenager, and I’ve known plenty of closeted adults, and, in a nutshell, the closet is deadly. Trying to hide, to minimize, to excise a part of one’s identity leads to crippling self-hatred and deep, painful shame. But at least as bad as the damage we do to ourselves are the consequences to others of the poor choices we make when we’re hiding in closets, whether we’re trying to prove to others (or ourselves) that we’re “not really like this,” or whether we’re turning our backs on our values and our wisdom, and seeking outlets for desires we’ve been locking inside like a pressure cooker.

Someday, I trust, a gay kid will be able to say the words “I’m gay” for the first time without fearing that his family will disown him, that his faith community will try to “cure” him, that his employer will find a reason to terminate him, or that his government will demote him to a less-respected class of citizen. We’re not there yet. But I know that, even now, even in the midst of all the… stuff… that’s going on in America right now, no one needs to feel alone.

You are not alone.

Psst. I’m gay.

Resources you may find useful

  • The Trevor Project, a lifeline of phone, chat, and TXT resources for LGBT youth considering suicide
  • GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”), a national organization that works to improve an education system that too frequently allows its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) students to be bullied, discriminated against, or fall through the cracks
  • LGBT Center of Central PA
  • PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians And Gays)