Five Tasks of Grief


This is a piece from Tentative Armor called “Five Tasks of Grief.” I’ve performed it a few times and have really fantastic videos from each performance, but it just hasn’t felt right to share this piece out of the context of the show – not to mention the fact that it is such a painful story that deals with the time I spent caring for my mother during the last three weeks before she passed away.

I was taking to some new friends tonight and trying to describe my show, and then thinking later about how I am always timid to say how proud I am of my work. I think this show is really unique and unlike many things out in the world. I guess why I decided it’s finally time to share this piece. People who haven’t seen the show have only my half-assed, self-deprecating description of the show and the fun, easy to digest moments that have shared on these internets.

“Five Tasks of Grief” is hard. I could barely get through this performance of it without losing my shit, and rehearsing it often leads to, well, losing my shit but I think it is important to share it. After I performed it for the first time at Judson Memorial Church last year, a woman I didn’t know came up to me and gave me a massive hug. She told me she was going through a similar experience with her grandmother and feeling so alone. Hearing my story helped her. A number of people have shared with me that the sister song (if you will) to this piece, “Go.” has brought them comfort and support in times of grief.

I had the first part of this piece written for several weeks before I finally shared it with my director Adam Fitzgerald.  I had gotten through the part where I get the call from my brother.  When I told Adam that I wasn’t sure where to go with it, he asked, “Well, what are the five tasks of grief?”

That’s when I realized I had written this piece about a piece of paper whose contents I’d still not been able to give more than a passing glance. Soon after that I had the idea of interspersing the entries from the daily gratitude lists I kept during that time between  the five tasks read by my dear friend Daaimah Mubashshir. The piece was finished soon after that. This is the performance of it from last March, which was the first time I performed it with my spectacular string section.

Of course, I should add here that you can help get this piece and the rest of the show in the hands of more people by pre-ordering the Tentative Armor book and/or album over on my kickstarter page. I believe in this work of mine, as difficult as that is to put in writing.

Thanks for reading all of this, and I welcome your comments about this piece. It really means a great deal to me, and I am happy to be in a place where I am able to share it.

Tentative Armor Album and Book

MH_TA_Kickstarter

 

I’m excited to announce that I am going to be recording music from Tentative Armor starting late next month. The tentative (hehe) plan is to record piano, strings, oboe and voice at Benny’s Wash and Dry in late June and I’ll spend the summer mixing the album. I’ll release the song “Invocation” as a single late in the summer and then release the album itself in October (ish) with a big ol’ album release concert someplace magical.

The extra special news about this is that my friend and frequent collaborator luke kurtis will be designing a full-color art book to accompany the album! I am so excited about this, and luke has already send me a first draft of the book. It’s really stunning and captures the spirit of the show perfectly.

I launched a kickstarter campaign yesterday (click here to check it out) to help fund the project. you can preorder lots of coolness at different levels. I’d really love your support in the form of a pre-order or even just your help in spreading the word. Just 29 days remain!

Thank you!

SandyLand Tour Diary #4: New England

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these tour diaries, but this last weekend with Sandra Bernhard was so extra-especially fantastic that I just have to write about it.

Sandra, Henya (our road manager), and I met early Friday morning to start the journey up to Plymouth, New Hampshire for our first show at  The Silver Center for the Arts. It was about a 5 hour drive, but it actually felt pretty quick. We were well stocked with snacks so we made the whole drive with just one quick stop, checked into our markedly rustic rooms at The Common Man Inn and made our way over to the theater for sound check.

This time around I noticed that I almost always have a sense of apprehension heading to these new venues. We are always well briefed on what to expect at each place, but you can never really tell exactly how the piano and sound will be until you are in the space, and we’ve encountered some less than desirable situations. In the case of The Silver Center, though, everything was spot on. The piano was a spectacular 9′ Steinway and the sound was perfect. We were greeted by the director of the center and a team of students who would be our crew for the show.

As is often the case, Sandra had some new ideas for the show which required me to track some chord charts and music down on my iPad. Tech director Bob Bruemmer and house manager Ginny Fisher were perfectly accommodating with my requests for printing out music and I got all the new changes ready to go in plenty of time to have a relaxed dinner before the show.

The great thing about this gig with Sandra (though it’s often a stressful thing about this gig) is that I am pushed out of my comfort zone and thereby discovering that I am capable of more than I realized. With many singers I play for, the goal is a sort of on-stage perfection, so the process of creating and planning happens well before the performance. With Sandra, I’m beginning to see that the process is continual. While this means a bit of a scramble before a show now and then, it also brings a sense of excitement and discovery to each show as well.

The show that night went off perfectly, we wrapped up merch table and signing pretty quickly and made it back to the hotel  and to bed before it was too incredibly late.

The dreary road to Ogunquit.

The dreary road to Ogunquit.

At around noon on Saturday we checked out of the hotel and headed up to Ogunquit, Maine for the next show at Johnathan’s. It was a pretty easy drive, but we were all ready for lunch an hour or so into the drive. A mile or two after we verbalized the desire to find a cute organic market or something, we came upon an oasis in the middle of this seemingly endless stretch of highway – Susty’s Cafe. All organic, all vegan, all amazing. I can’t tell you how hard it is to find good vegan food on the road, so I was thrilled. We were served by the owner, Norma, who was perfectly delightful and steered us through the fantastic menu with ease.

I loved this mantra on the bathroom wall at Susty's Cafe

I loved this mantra on the bathroom wall at Susty’s Cafe

We made it to Jonathan’s soon after that, checked into our hotel room and headed to the performance space for sound check. This place was much smaller, but I was really happy with the piano and the sound was surprisingly good, too. Honestly, though, the whole set-up seemed a little make-shift at first.  We were sequestered in a small dining doom that was to serve as our dressing room, green room and dining room connected to an icy-cold stairway that led up to the performance space which Sandra aptly compared to a rec room.

When the time came for the show, though, I could tell that it was going to be a good one. The room was packed and the audience went WILD when Sandra was announced. She made her way to the stage through the packed house and instead of starting the opening tune, she riffed and interacted with the crowd as I vamped underneath. That opening song is usually 3-4 minutes at most, but on that Sunday night, it must have gone on for 10-15 minutes. No joke. Sandy  ad-libbed her way through it, adding bits of other songs, observations about the weird space and there were some bizarre audience participation moments that only served to bring the perfect Bernhard insanity to its zenith. A brilliant show ensued.

My friends Wendy and Michelle came out to the show (and brought me a huge bag of vegan snacks for the road– thanks guys!) so it was fun seeing them out there during all of this. I dare say this was my favorite of the shows I’ve done with Sandra to date.


By Sunday, the three of us were pretty wiped out. Breakfast at the hotel, followed by a pretty uneventful drive back to NYC. Lots of napping and snacking and laughs about the Saturday night show. Really not much to tell about this day.

All in all, a pretty spectacular weekend. I love checking out new towns, staying in hotels and really enjoyed riding the wave of creativity with a sense of adventure rather than panic about adding something new at the last minute. Everything turns out great, and the energy and freshness that comes from allowing (and savoring) the unexpected  makes for a really invigorating show.

From the land of my solo work, I planning a couple of things that I am not quite ready to share yet. There will be some recording involved, but in a pretty cool way.  Sooooooooon……

Younique Abilities

Adam Farris was my student years ago when I taught at St Catherine’s Montessori in Houston he continues to inspire me with his positivity and perseverance. He has started a non-profit called Younique Abilities that supports people with unique abilities. I’d love it if you could check them out and give some support. Here’s some more info:

Younique Abilities believes that anyone with a so-called “disability” has a unique ability and can do many great things with a unique ability that they put their mind to, like get a two-year or four-year degree, get your PhD, you can get a job and have a career, or start your own business. You just have to believe in yourself and shoot for the stars. We donate part of our sales at the end of the year to a local Non-Profit organization.

Hi, my name is Adam Farris. I am 29 years old and I don’t think of myself as disabled because I have been able to accomplish so much. Maybe none of us are really “disabled”, maybe we are all just different people with unique abilities. The world needs to understand that all of us are alike.

I muse aloud.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to talk to some Columbia University students about my work. They took a group trip to Dixon Place to see my show (which went unbelievably well, by the way) and then on Sunday morning I lead a workshop with them to talk about my process, answer some of their questions and then create some new work together.

Talking to them and answering their insightful questions actually taught my a great deal about how I perceive my work and where I have travelled as an artist over this past year. It really hit me while I was talking to them that at this time last year, I was working on the very first version of Tentative Armor and prepping for a reading at Judson Memorial Church. Very few people had heard any of this material, and I was in tremendous fear about how it would be received and constantly wondering who the hell I thought it was to have the audacity to expect people to sit through an evening of me performing material I wrote about me. I mean, come on.

One of the students asked a question that I’ll paraphrase here: “Do we have to take the audience’s entertainment into consideration for something to be considered art?” Those are my words, not hers and I am not certain I have captured the essence of her question correctly, but if nothing else, this is the question that was inspired by the conversation that followed.

“Do we have to take the audience’s entertainment into consideration for something to be considered art?”

In thinking about that question, I realized that both things are true. That is, art exists simply because it is created, but I think it’s also important for the artist to consider what he or she hopes to convey to the audience. In my case, I felt this conversation was really timely for me. The first couple of presentations of Tentative Armor were an exercise in my just doing it, in finding the confidence to move forward, and just discovering that “hey, you have something interesting here.” I think this has been a vital part of my process, if only because I am a relative baby in terms of creating work like this, and I needed to get to the other side of the fear.

Especially during this most recent incarnation of the show director Adam Fitzgerald and I asked more pointed questions about the work. Really, he asked the questions of me: “why are you saying this?” “what purpose does this piece of music serve?” and of course, “what are you saying with this piece?” In that way, what was a pretty cool yet disparate collection of stories began to take on a form that was more directed and interconnected and meant something more to me and hopefully also to the audience.

So which phase of this was art? Was any of it? What is art? Is it the process of just writing down words and music, even if it is never heard or does art require an audience? Is this the most pretentious series of questions ever asked?

All of that musing aside, I am so satisfied with what I have done so far. Wednesday’s performance was imperfect, yet I am incredibly proud of having put it up there in the way that I did. I’m not sure what’s next with this show, if anything. I really feel the urge to create some new things, and maybe leave this show behind for now, but I am not making any decisions for a while. I have a couple of soundtrack projects coming up, like, immediately so maybe that will get some of the “I want to create something new” out of my system. Who knows?

Thanks to everyone who is going for this ride with me. Dixon Place was packed Wednesday night. Packed. It felt so good to have a crowd of people who believe in what I am doing. It’s terribly solitary putting this type of thing together. I did so much rehearsing alone in my apartment, or in a tiny rehearsal studio with Adam, so the massive energy exchange in a theater full of people is a welcome and satisfying payoff. Thank you everyone for being there!

 

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Dixon Place Tickets on Sale!

I’ll be doing the fully produced, theatrical version of Tentative Armor at Dixon Place here in New York City on March 19th at 7:30 PM. Click here for ticket info! I am really excited to be performing at Dixon Place, it’s a staple in the experimental theater scene and…well, it’s a actual theater. My musicians, my gear and myself can spread out and I can move around and and and and and YAY! The wonderful Adam Fitzgerald is directing and I’ll be joined by my fabulous string trio.