The Seed

Post 3 of 8 :: Mixing Metaphors: One Artist’s Passage from Humming Child to Singer-Songwriter Recording Artist

Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon

Singing with Bev & Greg, Roudon Smith Winery, October 27, 2007

Bev & Greg spotted me at a church talent show when, having finally bought myself a guitar for my 40th birthday, I played and sang one of a handful of songs I had learned around the campfire – John Prine’s “Paradise.” They knew me already as a classical cellist with composing and recording experience. Not long afterwards, Greg called me and asked if I’d like to play a cello line on a song for their upcoming album.

Of course I said yes, and I made my non-classical recording debut on cello in their gorgeous and bittersweet (i.e. perfect for cello) song, “Eloise” from Any Doorway Will Do. It was during that recording session that Greg gave me a morsel I have pondered since and later became the subject of a blog post. The gist of it is that in order to do music well … anything really … you have to get over the fact that it’s you doing it. This is probably the most valuable thing I learned in my 2 years singing and playing with Bev & Greg over many shows, including several out of state.

There were so many firsts in my time with them: first time singing into a microphone, first time writing a cello part for a non-classical recording, first time singing backup, first time performing percussion, first time singing and playing percussion at the same time, first time getting paid to sing, first time traveling to perform music. I also learned how to write vocal harmonies, both in terms of proper pitching and proper musical arrangement, by listening to Greg’s painstaking work to write high harmony parts for me. This was the first time realizing that simply “pulling a harmony” on the fly is fun, but not always musically accurate or even advisable.

With this bucket of knowledge to draw from, I also became (and learned actually to believe that I was) a great backup singer. I learned how to blend, how to be present without upstaging the leads, and how to love every moment of being on stage and making beautiful music that moved people to grateful tears. Their music is that good, and the harmonies, so carefully crafted, are that sweet. You can see a selection of my favorite videos singing with them here.

I also learned from watching Bev sing. I had and to some degree still have insecurities about my singing, which are probably shared by other women who have the audacity to sing lead. My young female self ingested deep directives not to take up space, and singing lead is nothing but. Yet I watched Bev sing anyway, and beautifully. I asked her once when she realized she had a great voice. She laughed, then said she didn’t believe she could sing well until she was in her 40s. I took that to heart, and I credit watching Bev with planting a seed to try to write and sing my own music.

Later, after MapleDream (an original girl band I co-founded, the subject of an upcoming blog post) ended, and long after I sang my last show with Bev & Greg, Greg became a musical mentor to me. Over the course of about a year, he taught me about songwriting and chording, and he put several of my songs on solo guitar and thereby taught me how to do it myself, another subject about which I’ve blogged. In other words, he taught me how to be a solo singer-songwriter. Still later, it was Greg who, when I asked his advice about how to record an EP, steered me to Kenny Schick, my producer. Greg’s mentoring is tough and unvarnished, but full of a steady, encouraging love, and I am grateful to him and to Bev for everything they gave me.

To say that I owe Bev & Greg a lot is a massive understatement. I think it’s fair to say I positively would not be where I am today if not for them. Thank you, Bev & Greg … very, very much. And let’s sing again together sometime … I still remember my parts ❤️.


To learn more about Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon, please visit their website bevandgreg.com


My new album, THESE HANDS, is available wherever you like to buy and listen to music. Click the button below to listen to the album, and please consider a purchase if you like what you hear. Thank you!

The Question

Post 2 of 8 :: Mixing Metaphors: One Artist’s Passage from Humming Child to Singer-Songwriter Recording Artist

Michèle Sharik

Michèle Sharik is an insanely talented handbell soloist, which is pretty much just as amazing as it sounds. I once played (and recorded!) with her a piece that was commissioned for her called Relentless, which in the classical music world we affectionately call a “pan-banger.” In this piece, she plays two full 8-foot tables of instruments (handbells, chimes, percussion), while I simply play … my cello, but in highly unusual ways. You can find a recording of it … done playing together in one full take … here. You can also hear another recording I did with Michèle that I love love love, Gounoud’s Ave Maria, here. And just one more little gem I did with her on that album … La Paix by Handel here.

Playing Gounoud’s Ave Maria in concert with Michèle Sharik, 2007

I remember the first time she asked me to play with her in a concert … and offered to pay me. It reminded me of New Years 1984, when a highly attractive Canadian chatted me up in a bar in Brussels, Belgium. He was so good looking I was sure he was talking to someone behind me. In my defense, it *was* dark ….

That’s how it felt when Michèle asked me to be her cellist. I had never considered myself good enough at any type of music to be paid, much less featured. I remember the first time we performed Relentless together in concert … I laughed after the last note because I was so delighted that we had ended exactly together (it’s a tricky ending). I *think* she found that endearing since she asked me to play another concert with her shortly thereafter …

Michèle and I played several concerts together, and I was the featured cellist on the three tracks of her Chimera CD I mention above. My work with her opened the door to playing with Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon (the subject of my next blog post) and recording on their CD Any Doorway Will Do as well as other cello recording projects.

It may have gone no where with the handsome Canadian, but if it were not for Michèle’s surprising and life-altering question, I would not be where I am today. I am intensely grateful to her for asking.


To learn more about Michèle and her work, please visit her website thegoldendance.com.


To listen to and purchase Martha’s new album THESE HANDS, please visit her page on Bandcamp.com or click the button below. Thank you for visiting and reading!

CD! Move! Gig! I’m Baaaack!

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I’m back! I have been pretty quiet for nearly two years, but as promised, I have been working steadily on my first full-length CD, which, as predicted, is on track for an early 2020 release. It will have a nice, even dozen songs, and it even allowed me to dip into my cello on a track or two!

Things in my personal life have been busy as well. We sold our family home of nearly 18 years in Silicon Valley and indulged a longtime wish to live in the city by moving to a condo in North Beach in the heart of San Francisco. Releasing the home where my children grew up as well as many of the things it contained (not to mention our communities), has been transformative and productively disorienting. I now have the seeds of many new songs, so there is plenty of fodder for another CD … or two …

As much as I love the recording process (LOVE it), playing out is as good … or better. I’m happy to report that I have a gig on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 in response to a booking request from my friends at Davenport Roadhouse (thank you, Helmut!), where I played in April & November 2017. Can’t wait to get there to share my new songs and the best of the old!

I plan to book many other shows in the upcoming months, including a CD release show that I will schedule as soon as I have a better idea of when mixing, mastering, and artwork for the CD will be complete. I look forward to returning to venues where I’ve played before while also looking a little further afield (maybe even a small tour?) to bring my music to an even wider audience. Please let me know if you have a favorite venue that you think would enjoy a great singer-songwriter show.

Please also always feel free to drop me a note on my Facebook page here or on my website here; I’d love to hear from you … It also always helps when folks follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, so please consider tossing a follow my way if you’re so inclined.

In the meantime, please stay tuned, and know that I deeply appreciate your support and encouragement!

Getting to 110 with 11 Free Downloads …

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My Facebook music page has 99 likes. I’m frankly a little startled that there are that many, and I’m grateful for every person behind each one. Coming to a show, buying my music, or letting me know on social media and in person that you enjoy what I do helps me to carry on in this solitary and sometimes seemingly ridiculous venture. Even taking a moment to read a post and care about what I’m up to is immense support, and I thank you very much.

While no like is more significant than another, it’s fun to watch the odometer roll over to a nice round number, so I will send the next 11 people who like my Facebook music page a free download code for my 4-song EP Something Good. Heck, if you’ve already liked my page and want a free download code, let me know, and I’ll happily oblige. I am grateful for the encouragement, and want to acknowledge that it helps. A lot. For your free download, please FB message me your email address (I can’t message anyone from my Facebook music page) or email me at martha@marthagrovesperry.com. And don’t worry: I won’t add your email to my list unless you specifically ask me to, and I’ll never share it with anyone else.

I started this year wondering if anyone would book me, but I booked out 2017 by mid year, with several invitations to come play again. I also made the goal of writing one new song a month, and still have plans to start recording a full-length CD in 2018. If you want to come along for the ride and get a free download, please click “Like” and join me! (You can also follow me on Instagram & Twitter).

In the meantime, I’m playing at East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey, California on Friday 10/20 – just under 3 weeks from today – at 4-7 pm, No Cover. Details at marthagrovesperry.com.

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Also plan to stick around afterwards to hear Mike Beck perform “Wooden Music,” his tribute to Stephen Stills & Neil Young at 7:30 – 10:00 pm, $10 cover.

Please consider coming and enjoy great food and java in one of the finest venues in the Monterey area, and thanks for everything!

Singing

Singing. Is there anything else a performer can do that is more personal? Maybe dance. Probably dance. But singing is right up there.

Being an instrumentalist, at least at first, is a lot about taming this thing we are trying to coax a melody out of, learning its quirks and intricacies, and figuring out what we can do to make something beautiful come out. If the instrument doesn’t sound good after we’ve learned to play it, then, well, we can blame the instrument. Everyone knows some instruments sound more beautiful than others, and if someone does not appreciate the sound of an instrument, instrumentalists generally don’t take this terribly personally.

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The voice, however, is a different matter. Yes, singers can learn technique, improve tone, whatever whatever, but at the end of the day, what comes out is not something we can change that much. It is utterly personal. If someone doesn’t like your voice, you can’t blame it on the instrument in the way you can if you could simply pick up a better cello, for example. Much like dance, I’m guessing, you are the instrument. Rejection, therefore, is that much harder to weather.

I thought I had a decent voice when several years ago I received some deeply discouraging feedback and a rejection that still lingers a bit in the back of my head. Happily, and with the help of a few friends, this propelled me not into the silence I was contemplating but instead into intensive work, and last month I began to believe that it is paying off.

At my gig with the good folks at Back Yard Coffee in Redwood City, a woman sitting with a group across the room and near the door – so she could easily have walked out without doing this – approached as I was singing, tossed some money into my tip jar, and told me, “you’ve got a great voice.”

People have said this to me before, and I never really believed them, probably because they are people who know me and love me, so of course they are going to be nice. But other people I don’t know have said it, too, and I didn’t really believe them either. That night, however, I was in fact really happy with my vocals, so the compliments resonated. I came away from Redwood City with a sense that I no longer need to worry if my voice is good enough, especially if I keep working. I also don’t need to worry if my vocals go a little south every once in a while. No one is perfect. In other words, I think I got over the fact that it is me doing it just a little bit more.

Another woman named Auntie Lou, having just turned 100, bought my CD that night and insisted that I autograph it. She had come from across the room to listen, and from what I know of centenarians, they don’t waste that kind of effort unless it’s worth it. I’ll take it.

I’m playing … and singing … next at Davenport Roadhouse this Tuesday 4/4 at 6:00 – 9:00 pm. I hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading.

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New Year, New Goals

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I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. One year I made a resolution to eliminate my constant, withering commentary on other people’s driving skills. It didn’t go well. I do tend to use the break between Christmas and New Year’s Day to make some goals and intentions for the following year, however. Last year, it was to get an EP recorded, and that turned out pretty well. This year, my goal is more about process and discipline: I want to finish at least one new song and have at least one gig every month.

So far, pretty good. I finished two new songs in December and one in January, but February was so busy with booking gigs that the new song did not get finished (it still needs one more verse and a bridge); I plan to finish two in March to make up for it.

I did have a gig each in December, January, and February, so that part is going well, and I’ve booked a little more than one gig a month through August, so I am very happy today to publish my show calendar for the spring and summer. One goal behind the goal is to get lots of experience playing out to build my confidence and skill. When I was on tour a few years ago, I got to the point that I felt no nerves at all on stage, and was able to access a musical place in me that is the closest I have ever come to being fully present in what I am doing, which, when it comes to music, is the happiest place I can possibly be. Getting to that place while playing my originals rather than backing someone else is the next rung on that ladder, and I’m eager to climb.

But there is another goal behind the goal, and that is to get enough new songs written to have a good selection, along with the songs I already have that are still unrecorded, to put together a good full length CD in 2018. If you have any interest in accompanying me on the journey this year, I welcome you in any way that suits you – come to a show, buy an EP, post some sweet emojis on my Facebook page, or e. all of the above :). In the meantime, please take a look at my current show calendar, and thanks for reading.