Monday, September 25, 2023

...the meaning of atonement

Today is the holiday that Jews the world over refer to as the “Day of Atonement.” It’s a solemn day of fasting and prayer, with the fervent hope that we’ve not erred so greatly as to be offed, either individually or collectively, in the coming year. 


I’ve been thinking about this ultra fear-based interpretation, and I am a believer in evolution, especially spiritual evolution.


Last week, on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, there was one sentence during the service that jumped out at me so profoundly, that I had to write it down.


“These are the days of reflection and hope.”


If ever there was something this angry world could use right now, it’s reflection and hope. 


Time to put the phone down, turn the streaming shows off, the constant busyness of life, and stop. Stop to reflect. Stop to ask ourselves how we’ve shown up in the past year and if that’s really served us.


I read the word “atonement” as “at-one-ment.” To me, this day begs us to find our center again, to ground ourselves in whatever it is we believe, and to resurrect within us – hope.


Atonement means to align ourselves with where we come from, and to honor that in how we live our lives. 


I believe we do that, not by cowering in the corner, but by owning our God-given power. 


For too long, we have seen ourselves as small and powerless. I don’t believe the voices of hate outnumber the voices of love. I just think hate screams louder, like the schoolyard bully, and it’s time for love to stop being silent.


There is a ripple effect for goodness, for kindness, for compassion. It’s time to stop distracting ourselves and get busy with what matters. 


That person you’ve lost touch with, call them. 

The hard conversation you’ve been avoiding, have it.

The change you’ve been meaning to make, start now.


There is no “big reveal” like in reality television. Mountains get climbed one baby step at a time. Accomplishment happens when you make an agreement with yourself not to stop. Not to stop when it’s inconvenient. Not to stop when it gets hard. Not to stop because you can’t see the view from the top yet. Not to stop just because you don’t know how. 


It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to look at our world and lament, “What could poor little ol’ me do about it? I’m just one person.”


But our atonement, regardless of religion, is individual, and it is as individuals that we will save the world. One good deed at a time. One meal for the hungry. One visit to the relative in a nursing home or hospital. One kindness shown to a stranger. One helping hand at a time.


There was one Rosa Parks. One Abraham Lincoln. There was also one Adolph Hitler. 


To ask for forgiveness without a change in behavior is meaningless. It doesn’t serve us to beg for something when we are unwilling to change ourselves. God is not some magician, waving a magic wand just because we don’t want to clean up our own messes.


I have been told my unhappiness stems from my expectations not being met. That may be true, but I can’t help but believe we have the potential for peace and expect us to figure that out. 


I can’t help but hope that humanity will wake up to the fact that what happens to one of us, happens to all of us, and expect us to behave accordingly. And I am unwilling to let go of the belief that we are our brother’s keeper. 


It’s true, I expect a lot. And I’m heartbroken when I look at a world that doesn’t seem to grasp even the simplest idea of treating others the way we want to be treated. 


But my job isn’t to tell everyone what to do, much as I'd really enjoy that. It’s not even to get it all done myself. 


My job is to live my life and make my reach such that the kind of world I want to live in becomes inevitable. 


It’s big. It’s bold. It’s doable. 


It requires changing only one person – me. 


What does “at-one-ment” mean to you? What could we all sacrifice to be "at-one?"


These are the days of reflection and hope.


May they also be the days we reawaken to our potential and become the best versions of ourselves. 



Monday, September 11, 2023

The Day We Were All New Yorkers

Even if I hadn’t looked at a calendar, I would have known today was 9/11. I get a heavy, somber feeling each year, when I wake up on this day. 

This year feels sadder to me than most. Not because I’ve been back in New York for thirteen years, but because 9/11 united a country that is now sorely divided.

It seems sacrilegious to say that 9/11 was a good moment for our country in any way, but in some ways, it was.

I was living in Tennessee in 2001, and prior to that day, I had been referred to as a Yankee, a Northerner, and on occasion, “you people.” 

The division in attitude came as a shock to me, when I moved to Nashville, because, in all honesty, I had never grown up thinking of any part of the United States as separate or different, other than in dialect, from another.

The five years I was in Nashville prior to 9/11 taught me otherwise. The South has more than its own dialect, it has its own culture, and in consciousness at least, it was very much its own separate entity.

Then 9/11 happened, and for one brief, beautiful moment, we were all Americans. That day, everyone was a New Yorker. And the people around me cared very much if my family was okay, my friends, everyone I knew back home.

For one instant, all the things that made me different didn’t matter.

On that day, we were united in our grief and our steadfastness. And being attacked as a democracy, we were reminded how very precious and sacred our freedom was. It was something our enemies would kill for and our citizens would die for.

I have been pondering that moment a lot lately. There is so much separation and discord now, that I don’t know if faced with the same kind of attack today, if we would come together or fall apart entirely. 

I would like to think that neighbor would stand shoulder to should with neighbor, sifting through rubble and donating blood.

I would like to think that we might remember that the great experiment of our democracy is worth resurrecting from its current state of hanging on by a thread.

I would like to think that out of the ashes, our former greatness could rise once more, that we still have it in us.

I would like to think these things, but I don’t know for sure. I don’t know if we can salvage our air and water, or voting rights, or autonomy over our individual bodies, or equality, whether racial, marital, or gender.

I don’t know whether the rule of law can survive the vast disparity between how it is applied to different citizens, or the unregulated media masquerading as news, untethered to truth, and unyielding in its vitriol.

I just don’t know.

And in my darker moments, I’m not sure a society is worth saving if it is devoid of common decency and any shred of compassion.

But in my brighter moments, I still have hope. I have to, because as I listen to the annual reading of the names that perished on this day, I do not want their sacrifice to have been in vain. 


So I press on, knowing that those of us who remember 9/11 vividly, have a responsibility to try and preserve democracy. We have the difficult task before us of loving one another amid the differing views and beliefs, amid the varying cultures and demographics, amid the voices screaming for our attention and our division. 


I press on, knowing that our survival is dependent on me seeing you, whomever you are, as more like me than not. And at the end of the day, I press on for the sake of generations to follow, in the hopes that they will put down the guns that so many cherish more than life, and come to the table with an open heart and willing spirit. 


So on this 22nd anniversary of 9/11, I want to offer up a thought AND a prayer – that we may unclench our fists and lend a hand, that we may forfeit our separation for unity, and heed the voice of our better angels when they ask us to choose love.


Monday, June 5, 2023

A Barry Manilow Blog...

Photo by Renato Rufino

I was not a cool kid. I wore glasses, had curly hair, zero athletic ability, and studied classical piano. I was a walking recipe for schoolyard ostracizing. 


Music was my refuge and songs, the place where I took solace. 

My brother, four years older, was listening to The Beatles and Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and a plethora of doo-wop groups. But this was the 70’s and I was listening to WABC radio and Cousin Brucie, when I wasn’t practicing Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. 

When I was still in single digits, the song “Mandy” came out. But it wasn’t until a year later, in 1975 that a song opening and closing with a Chopin Prelude I was learning at the time, emerged on pop radio and forever changed my life.

First of all, I would like to repeat that a song opening and closing with a Chopin Prelude was a SINGLE ON POP RADIO. If you want to know why I am the way I am musically, there’s your first clue right there – the melding of pop and classical as marketable, commercial and even, sigh, popular.

By the time “I Write the Songs” hit the airwaves, I had started writing songs, and whether mine would make the whole world sing or not, the trajectory of my life was set. I was ten. 

I spent hours at the piano learning to play and sing the songs on the albums I was listening to, the sadder the better. 

The soundtrack of my New York youth was forged by Barry Manilow melodies, whether his own or the others he made famous. 

Youth eventually transitions to adulthood, landscapes change, and tastes evolve. The sound of acoustic guitars and pianos gave way to synthesizers. And the sweeping melodies I had come to know and love were replaced by the much more limited ones needed for dancers who could barely sing to perform in MTV videos. 

Barry’s sound changed, too in the 80’s, and it’s possible there might have even been eyeliner detected on an album cover, I can’t say for certain. What I can say is no matter what murky musical waters the 80’s saw artists wade into, when it came to Barry, I went willingly.

It wasn’t until the 90’s Showstoppers album that I first got to go to a Manilow concert with my friend, Anthony. And so it would be with him, again, and his husband now, that I went last week, 30+ years later. 

When you’re young, you have no sense of how fleeting life is. It seemed I had forever before me, at that first concert of his. I was in the moment, but I hadn’t yet learned to savor it, because there would always be another concert, another tour.

By the mid-90’s, I found my songwriting mecca in Nashville, where the country music of the day hearkened back to the pop music of the 70’s, with melodies and meaningful lyrics. I was all in and moved there.

Not long after, I went with my friend, Beth to hear Barry at Starwood Amphitheatre in Tennessee.

In Nashville, both my writing and performing blossomed. But it wouldn’t be a country or even a straight ahead adult pop song that would be my big break. It would be a Radio Disney tween confection called "I Don't Think About It" that finally gave me a #1 song in Billboard. (My collaborator, Sue Fabisch…also a keyboard-playing Barry fan, not coincidentally.)

Time has a funny way of slipping away when you’re not looking, and as the years passed, Barry stayed out west more and toured less. Me, I moved back to New York, where I can curse freely and maintain my bodily autonomy.

The pandemic arrived, and with each horrible loss came an awakening as to how much can be gone in an instant. 

Suddenly, I became aware of what I still wanted to do and how much time had already vanished. 

There is no longer forever in front of me. And there won’t always be another tour for every artist I love. 

I entered what I like to call my “one last time” phase of concert going, just in case either one of us doesn’t get another shot at it.

So when I saw that Barry Manilow would be at Radio City for five nights, I asked Anthony if he wanted to go with me again now.

It was a Thursday, June 1st, 2023 as we neared Radio City on foot. The pedicabs were blasting Barry Manilow music in the streets. The entrepreneurial types were selling Manilow t-shirts outside for $20 going in and $10 going out.

Lest the nostalgia lull me into thinking this was any time other than present day, we had to go through metal detectors and bag searches to enter, but once we did, the excitement was palpable. 

We were handed glow sticks on the way to our seats with no instructions as to how to activate them. Not rocket science, I know, but still, snapping it in half did not seem intuitive to me.

Glow sticks aside, there was something about six thousand Barry Manilow fans under one roof that enveloped me like a soothing blanket. I can only imagine what it was like from Barry’s perspective.

A fifty-piece orchestra added to the grandeur. When Barry emerged, the crowd leapt to its feet, where we remained for the better part of the evening. 

This wasn’t just a concert, it was an event. There was no hit left unsung, no ounce of love left unexpressed by the audience for Barry or by Barry for the audience. 

The two and a half hour show was seamlessly woven together with gentle banter infused between songs that gave us a glimpse of the man and not just the showman.

There was the charity he started to buy instruments for school children. The teacher he honored in the audience. The story about his grandfather, who encouraged his musicality from early childhood. The show, Harmony, that took him decades, but is finally coming to Broadway this fall. 

It was more than just a guy singing a string of hit songs back to back. It was six thousand people singing every word of every song with him, and oddly in tune, I might add. 

We are the amalgam of everything we experience in life, songs included. They shape us, keep us company, remind us of first love, and maybe walk us home. 

Lyrics become more poignant with age. Singing, “All the time, all the wasted time…” doesn’t hit the same in your twenties as it does in your fifties. Neither does “This One’s for You” or “I Made it through the Rain.” 

It felt like all of us wanted this one more time to revisit collectively the music that shaped us. 

I can’t know what Barry took from the night, but I hope he got the colossal “thank you” that it felt like from the audience.

Exiting Radio City, no one seemed in a hurry. The glow sticks were petering out as the crowd dissipated. 

Pedicabs were still blasting Manilow music throughout the streets of New York as we walked to the garage where my car was parked.

There, on 51st Street, between 7th Avenue and Broadway, the mass of concertgoers were either in line to pay or waiting patiently for their cars to be brought out. It started somewhere in the back, the sea of voices wafting its way toward the entrance, singing…

            “Even now, when I have come so far

              I wonder where you are

             I wonder why it’s still so hard without you…”

More voices joined, ours included, until everyone was singing…

            “Even now, when I come shining through

             I swear I think of you

            And how I wish you knew, even now.”

There was something about the sound of our voices singing this song in a New York City parking garage at 11pm on a Thursday night in 2023 that brought me to tears. 

It was as if everyone wanted the night to continue just a little bit longer.


The five shows at Radio City are over now. But I hope the magic of them lingers as long in Barry’s heart as it will in mine.

…with great affection from this songwriter.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Why wouldn't you?

A memory came up on my Facebook page that was a picture of a painting by my friend, the late artist, Brian Nash. The painting wrote out the words, “Why wouldn’t you?” And I could hear Brian saying it.


It stopped me cold and forced me to consider. 


Why wouldn’t I what?


-       Learn to fold a fitted sheet? 

-       Visit Italy?

-       Run a marathon?

-       What???


I knew the fact that I was seeing this question now wasn’t a coincidence. It was begging me to go deeper than fitted sheets. And just to be clear, there are no marathons in my future. At the heart of “Why wouldn’t you?” is the question of what is possible.


It’s easy for me to say, “Anything is possible.” I’ve said it for most of my life. But am I living my life as if I believe that?


What risks am I taking? What fears am I willing to face head on? How committed am I to my biggest dreams? Would I sacrifice the known for the unknown to get there? What does happy look like at this point in my life?


Why wouldn’t I what?


I write a lot about taking a leap of faith and jumping, or flying or whatever rhymes with the particular line I need in a song. I’m very bold on paper. But where does the rubber meet the road?


The thing I know for sure is there will never be a point when I feel certain or ready. 


It’s easy for me to say, “I’m gonna…” It’s hard to say, “Now. I will not wait a minute longer.”


But “why wouldn’t you?” conjures an “oh, what the hell” feeling in me, too. I’m tempted to follow it with “what’s the worst that could happen?”


I’ve grown weary of being apprehensive from past experiences and forgotten that those experiences were crafted by an older version of me that doesn’t exist anymore. 


It would behoove me to take the current version of me out for a spin, the one who has prevailed, the one who knows, somewhere deep within me, resides the victor, the one who defies the odds, who rises up no matter how many falls and lives to tell the tale of how daring greatly is always worth the risk, how there are unexpected thrills awaiting that depend solely on one thing – a moment’s courage.


And why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I take one moment to make the call I’ve been putting off, or to start learning the skill I’ve been procrastinating about, or to visualize a larger life than my current one?


If we speak our lives into existence, then surely it’s time to say, “This is what I want.” Surely there’s power in someone else knowing, if for no other reason than that we hold ourselves accountable for our own dreams. And maybe we even get a little help along the way.


I think the Universe has waited very patiently for me to get out of my own way. And I can hear Brian saying, “Why wouldn’t you?” as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 


I hope whatever your dreams, you ask the question. And I hope all of us give ourselves the gift of that one moment of courage that changes everything.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

...Pieces of a Life


I’ve been on a mission lately to clean out and get rid of things, and I have availed myself of various books on tidying and decluttering to aid in my quest to overhaul and simplify my life. 


For a while, I have had no issue with doing it, no stumbling blocks to tossing, no hesitative moments. But there was bound to come a point or a category where I would be stopped cold.


It’s never what you think it’s going to be. For me, the recent conundrum has been about classical music. 


For the first twenty-two or twenty-three years of my life, much of what I did centered on it. But by the time I neared my mid-twenties, I made peace with leaving it behind. It was never my greatest love or my passion, though I liked it well enough. 


I had gotten my bachelor’s degree in classical piano performance at Northwestern, had studied opera at Juilliard and sung on the stages of Carnegie and Alice Tully Halls. Whatever I was going to do with it, I had already done. And whatever I had done, never stopped me from writing songs and stoking the fire of that greatest of my loves.


It was easy for me to tuck it away. Studying piano was the means to an end of writing and playing my own songs and it was a great way to go. But classical singing, well, that was a huge mistake in the long run, because trying to undo that has been the challenge of all the years since. 


But back to the decluttering discussion. 


I managed to tuck away all the classical music, both vocal and piano, in a lovely decorative chest underneath my piano. I went through it once, a number of years ago, and got rid of a lot of it. But here it is, years later, and it has remained unopened since, with all the classical music safely stowed inside.


Do I really need to keep this?  I pondered.


I pulled out the chest with every intention of ridding myself of most of its contents. 


I pulled out score after score, and book after book, holding each in my hands. I looked at the handwritten notes on them, some of them dated, some of them with piano fingerings. All of a sudden, I remembered who I was when I sang or played each piece, and though I know I’ll never be her again, I couldn’t help but wonder if getting rid of these pieces of my history, wasn’t also throwing away a piece of who I am now. 


I cannot begin to guess how many years it’s been since I sang an aria or played a sonata. I’m not even sure I could do either anymore, frankly, but I do know that the person who did those things still lives inside me, and those achievements weren’t nothing. They took years of work. 


So do I pass these physical remnants of my former life on to music students who could use them now, or do I hold onto them myself? And what else am I holding onto that maybe I should release? What pieces of my life are over and done with and ready to be set free? What new aspects of my life would I be making room for if I decided to part with them? Who was I? Who am I? Who will I become?


No matter how I envision revisiting the past, even briefly, it is over. These days, my piano is covered with the songs that I write. I’ve run out of time to do anything other than what lights me up and fulfills me. 


For the moment, I’ve decided to tidy and/or part with other things that are less angst-ridden. There is no shortage of them. As for Beethoven et al, I will circle back around when I’ve decided if that’s a piece of my life I will truly never revisit. 


What are you holding onto from your former self? I would love to know.


Until next time, peace and blessings…



Sunday, April 16, 2023

The End of an Era

As I type this, the final Broadway performance of Phantom of the Opera is taking place. 


It’s been covered by the news, but for me, I’ve been pouring through story after story on Facebook, by people I know who have been in the production, or were part of the crew, people whose lives were forever changed, who, maybe like me, could never imagine a Broadway without Phantom.


My relationship to the show went beyond the musical numbers I ever sang from it. For me, Phantom will always and forever be about merchandise. Yes, you heard me correctly. Merchandise.


Phantom ushered in an era where Broadway merch was everything. A t-shirt or sweatshirt with that mask was cool. So were the coasters, key chains, baseball caps, matchstick boxes, coffee mugs that glowed in the dark when filled, window cards, and CD’s.


The lines were long, the demand was high, and the cash flowed endlessly. 


I used to meet my best friend, Anthony at the Majestic, where he managed the merchandise sales, and eventually, when I decided to sell Broadway merch, too, Phantom was where I trained. 


There was no show crazier to work, so if you could handle yourself there, you could work any show. 


Eventually, I moved nearby to Crazy for You, and then I floated between theaters at Les MizMiss Saigon, and Sunset Boulevard


Merch people were theater people – actors, singers, dancers, writers, directors, producers – all biding their time, but biding it in theaters, eight shows a week. 


For a short but sweet period of time, some of us would meet for a picnic dinner Friday nights during first act, on the floor of the Minskoff. 


I thought those days would last forever, but as the mid-nineties approached, I moved to Nashville to pursue my songwriting career. In ’97, the touring company of Phantom came to town and stayed for about a month. So back to the theater I went once again and this time sold merch to people with southern accents and the kinds of questions and comments that inspired us to keep a running journal of them, because they were that funny. 


Oh, you think I’m kidding? 


Patron 1 to Patron 2: Why do you think he (the phantom) was so ugly?


Patron 2: Because his momma didn’t like him none.


I kid you not. 


By the end of the run, I heard Bill, the bartender say, “Drop the chandelier on the bitch so we can go home already.”


It was heaven, I’m telling ya. 


When Les MizRentKiss Me Kate, and Mamma Mia came to town, I sold merch for them, too. 


Ultimately, I liked being in the theater so much, I got a job bartending there for other non-theatrical events, which was hilarious, because there was no training involved as a prerequisite to that job, so unless the ingredients were actually in the name of the drink, I didn’t know how to make it. Jack and Coke, gin and tonic – I was your girl. Otherwise, I was very entertaining, but a terrible bartender. 


When I returned to New York, I worked whatever shows needed a fill in person. But eventually, the merchandise heyday that Phantom ushered in, in the late 80’s, started to wane. 


I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to why I feel so sad about Phantom’s closing after a 35 year run, and I think it’s that, as long as I could see it there, every night, continuing on, each time I passed the Majestic, that part of my past was somehow still alive, too.


In some alternate universe, this group of kids still exists, with our whole lives before us, a sea of endless possibilities, dressed in Broadway show shirts and baseball hats, about to work walkout, when that night’s audience raced to our booths to take home a little bit of the magic they had just experienced.


One last time, the orchestra will soar, the final bows will be taken, the curtain will come down and the house lights will come up, and Phantom will be relegated to Broadway history. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Celebrating In Color!

This past Saturday marked the 7-year anniversary of the release of my CD, In Color


Normally, such occasions would be marked by a simple Facebook post with a link, sure to garner a few more sales. But this year, I’ve been thinking about the distance and perspective time has given me. 


In Color was the record I made just in case I never got the chance to make another record. You know, the in-case-I-get-hit-by-a-bus project. The one I made so I wouldn’t look back at the end of my life and say, “I should have,” or “I wish I had.”


While it would behoove all of us to make choices throughout our lives that don’t leave us with the regret of roads not traveled, I can’t say that I’ve always done that. 


For the bulk of my adult life, I pitched songs to other artists and had my demos for them recorded by other singers. 


When I would play out and sing my own songs, I would get the best response from the meaningful stuff, but in the world of commercial songwriting, those weren’t the ones that earned money. And for years, I couldn’t reconcile my ability to write commercially with my obligation to write what I was put on earth to write.


Until I decided to make In Color.


When I moved back to New York from Nashville, something changed deep within me. There was a moment of reckoning, where I could not take one more step forward, doing what I’d done, the way I’d done it, without first honoring the thing I’d always wanted to do, but hadn’t allowed myself. 


Then came the torture of overthinking, because, well, this is me we’re talking about. 


Was I just being self-indulgent to make a record? 

Was it worth it? What would I be giving up if I didn’t do it? What would I be giving up if I did


I could remodel my kitchen with what I’d be spending on this record. 


These are the things artists think about that other professions don’t contend with.


Once I made the decision to do it, I was committed no matter the obstacles I might face or the things, both good and bad, that I couldn’t foresee. And there were a lot of things I couldn’t foresee.


To begin with, I really only knew one thing for certain – that my friend, Tanya Leah was going to produce it. 


As she was recording and producing her own Roses for Panjo album, I thought it was achingly beautiful, and I couldn’t think of a description I was more desirous of than “achingly beautiful.” So I asked her if she would produce my record.


At some point, when we were sitting outside at a local New York Italian joint, I wrote out a list of intentions for my record on the back of my paper placemat.


To be clear, at that moment, sitting there, my intentions seemed ridiculous. 


Other than Tanya and me, I didn’t know who’d be playing on it. I knew my friends Lorraine and BethAnne would sing backgrounds with Tanya. I don’t think all the songs were even written at that point, including the title track. 


It would be three years before the record was done. But there are things about what’s on it that I will treasure forever.


For instance, one song has the piano that I grew up playing. Another song has a bunch of friends as well as my father singing on it. 


Caitlin sent in her violin parts. Everett played percussion and sang. Anthony wrote the friends song with Tanya and me. A tambourine with just the right sound for the gospel song. Yes, I wrote a gospel song. 


Violas, bass and drums from Nashville. 


Kenny Loggins for a duet partner.


Magic happens when you follow your heart. 


Opportunities present themselves when you dare to take a chance on being the person you dreamed you’d be.


I never got the new kitchen, but the song, “In Color” has been sung at Lincoln Center, 54 Below, by cabaret singers, Broadway stars, and seven years worth of theater kids at Nicori Studios. It continues to be learned and sung all over the country, thanks to kindred spirits who believe the lyrics about living life in bright neon color bear repeating and sharing.


Time marches on. But I still get to sing all the songs when I do concerts. And Tanya, Lorraine and I formed the band, The Inspire Project. 


I would love for you to take a listen to the album, In Color, if you haven’t…or even if you have. 


I hope some of the songs speak to you and resonate with your own life. 


I wish you roads traveled, chances taken, and dreams fulfilled.


Happy 7th Anniversary to In Color. And so much gratitude to those who gave of their gifts and heart on it, and for those of you listening.





Listen to In Color

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