Diary of a Song: Secrets

This is the tenth of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my latest album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

Secrets

(From the artwork in the CD booklet)

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There really is no huge story behind this song and why I chose to arrange it for my album – other than the fact that I love the group OneRepublic and think that their music is utterly amazing. It is also very musical and classical in some respects.  For example, when I listened to the cello part on their recording of “Secrets”, in my head I heard influences from the Bach Cello Suite in G.  Hence the reason I decided to incorporate themes from the Suite into my rendition of “Secrets”.

I will say though – that when I was writing this arrangement, I really felt strongly that I wanted this song to stand alone great as a SOLO PIANO work, and not just a great song with orchestration (as on the CD).  I arranged the song with a very sweet, almost whimsical introduction to the song before it gets to the “meat” of it (where the cello comes in).  I’ve heard many people tell me that it sounded very Danny Elfman-ish.  Well, thank you.  I take that as a great compliment because I like his work very much.

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Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the recording session for “Secrets”, featuring the young talented cellist Stephanie Yose.  She was 16 years old at the time of this recording, and now she has gone on to play at BYU with a full ride cello scholarship.

The talented Glen Gabriel did the beats and effects on the recording.  All other piano and orchestration was yours truly.

I’ve always thought it would be neat for Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic to hear my version of his song, but so far I’m not sure that has happened. During Grammy voting season I did come into contact with the founding member of the band.  He had emailed me to talk about his latest album and we had some conversations over email – as we both had entries on the ballot last year.  I asked him if he wouldn’t mind passing the song along to the band to hear. But as we all were caught up in the onslaught of Grammy madness, I never did hear back. I’m sure my song got lost in the mad rush and it possibly never got forwarded on.  *sad face*.

But as promised – I have sheet music for you guys!  Better late than never right?  It took me a while to get the publishing license from Hal Leonard via Sony Music Publishing.  But I’ve got it now. I also had to transcribe the song a bit because my version that I play on stage is a cello + piano version and so there are chunks of the song where I sit there and have measures of rest while the cello plays.  And so I had to go back and rewrite the solo piano version to fill in those measures.  It’s finally all finished now and the sheet music is up on my website for only $3.95.  I hope you pianists enjoy it! It’s really one of my favorites to play.

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BUY SHEET MUSIC:

Link to Jennifer’s Store for the “Secrets” Sheet Music.

BUY THE ALBUM:

Buy the full Illumination MP3 album on Amazon, or the physical album with autograph from Jennifer’s Website.

My Latest Creation: 9 Months in the Making!

I’ve been wanting to share with you guys about my latest creation for a while now. And while I’ve given you little peeks and snippets on my Facebook page, it’s only now that I’m finally sitting down to write a blog post about the birth of my 3rd baby – Riley Finn Thomas.

Riley was born on March 16th – weighing 7 pounds, 6 ounces.

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Many of you know over the past 9 months I have been working quite hard on this beautiful creation added to “Team Thomas”. :) I did do a few concerts in my 1st and 2nd trimesters…

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(Performing with Grammy nominated violinist Jenny Oaks Baker at Benaroya Hall in Seattle – 5 months pregnant)

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(After performing at the Arlington Nativity Festival – 6 months pregnant – with my Grandma and mother)

…But after my 6th month I decided to take a hiatus from music, as it was increasingly difficult to reach the piano keys and sit at a piano bench with no back support.  And I was just tired. And busy. And pregnant. And I had 2 other kids. I needed a break. So I got to enjoy my 3rd trimester just being pregnant.

Riley is our 3rd boy. Yes BOY.  We do have 3 boys now – and they ALL have red hair.

140324_DSC1824 (My 3 boys – ages 4 weeks, 3 years, and 5 years –  with my Mom, Carolyn Southworth)

Sometimes I am convinced that this is to be my life, LOL:

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Riley’s Birth Story: I am not one of those women who has been blessed with wonderfully easy pregnancies and deliveries. On the contrary, I have had my fair share of cruddy stuff happen to me with each one – from dislocated ribs, pre-eclampsia, pancreatitis, gall bladder removal, weightgain and more. BUT I have been incredibly blessed with 3 healthy beautiful babies.  Each time they were born, tears filled my eyes with love and gratefulness for their tiny little spirits and healthy bodies coming into our lives. My first two boys (born 2008 and 2010), I labored 20+ hours with each of them and ended up having Csections both times.  I tried my hardest to avoid having major surgery, but apparently my body wasn’t built to accomodate childbirth the “normal” way.

Knowing that we were having a 3rd baby, the decision this time was easy to go ahead and just schedule a Csection and avoid having to go through labor all over again. So it’s safe to say that the birth of Riley was much different than the first two.  We had it scheduled on the calendar, had our boys scheduled to stay with Grandma and Grandpa, bags packed and everything.  I have to say it was pretty nice knowing that I knew the day and time when this baby would come, and so I didn’t have to worry about anxiety over when it would happen.

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(A few days before baby came – around 39 weeks pregnant, feeling a bit huge and uncomfortable!)

These next few are from my maternity photo shoot (Photos by Will Thomas)

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On the morning of the 16th, we got up around 4:30 a.m. in order to be at the hospital by 5:30 a.m.  Because of a planned Csection, I was required to fast the night before (no food or drink), and I think because of this it made me start having contractions that morning because I was so incredibly dehydrated.  On the way to the hospital they were about 5 minutes apart and pretty painful.

Once we got to the hospital, they got me checked in, into a hospital gown and after many attempts to get an IV in me (it took 4 different nurses), I finally got some fluids and the contractions died down.  For those of you unfamiliar with how Csections work, it is kind of dangerous to go into labor after already having had 2 Csections because of the amount of scar tissue in that area – there is a possibility of rupturing which is very dangerous for both mom and baby.

I like to refer to this as the “Stay puff marshmallow hospital gown”

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They monitored the baby and I for about 2 hours and then finally we went into the operating room for the delivery of the baby!  It took almost 45 minutes for the anesthesiologist to get the spinal block into my spine and it HURT. Oh wow it hurt.  But once they got it in, I started to feel very numb from the chest down to my feet.  It is like a weird creepy crawly feeling that takes over your body. Kind of a weird feeling.  I wanted to throw up, I won’t lie. Even though they gave me anti-nausea medicine I wanted to throw up. Thankfully my anesthesiologist was on top of things and put some kind of wonder drug into my IV that calmed me right down.

These are the baby stations – so fun to look over and see them knowing that very soon a new life will be in them!

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Both my OB and an assisting OB worked on the surgery/delivery…

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Me trying to stay calm even though I felt like throwing up… 

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And around 8:23 a.m., the most adorable little Riley was welcomed into the world.

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It took another 45 – 60 minutes for the doctors to sew me up, and during that time I got to hold this precious new baby on my chest – which is not the normal procedure for Csections. Normally with our other two sons, they handed the baby to my husband and he held them while I got sewn up.  But this time it was very very special that I got to hold him and snuggle with him first. Very special.

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  We stayed in the hospital for 2.5 days.  Csection recoveries are not for wimps!  But amazingly enough the nurses and doctors know what they are doing and were there to help me every step of the way. About 12 hours after delivery they had me up and out of my bed walking around in our room.  Very painful – yes I wanted to die of pain – but each time it got better and better. And of course I had my amazing husband there to help – I couldn’t have done this without him!  Csection recovery is simply not something a mommy can do alone, so he was there to change ALL the diapers, hand me the baby for feedings, get me ice water, food, and whatever I needed.

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We had some special visitors while we were there as well…

(My Dad with Riley)

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(My 3 year old, Taylor, with Riley and I)

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(My Dad with my 5 year old, Preston, and Riley)

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(Not my favorite photo, I’m a bit swollen from surgery, but here is our first family picture together – all 5 of us!)

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Since Riley has joined our family, I have just absolutely been enjoying EVERY single moment of snuggles with him.  He has been the sweetest easy baby, and I am so in love…

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He is now almost 5 weeks old (as I type this on April 18th).  It took me a good 3 and 1/2 weeks of downtime and recovery to be mostly pain free.  I am still taking it easy until week 6, when my doctor will clear me to go back to the gym. But I know from past experience I need to take it easy or I pay for it later.  So we’ve just been enjoying a lot of snuggles…

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Riley is our last baby and so I don’t want to miss any moments with him. I have just been feeling so grateful for the miracle that he is – there was so much about my pregnancy and his delivery (some complications) that in the end made everything so incredibly miraculous and a bit too personal to share here, but I will tell you that I can’t be anything but humbled and in complete awe of him. I’m also amazed at what my body did.  I feel so incredibly blessed.

I feel so lucky to have my wonderful family – my husband and my 3 boys.  They have been so supportive of me not only with my music career, but as a wife and mommy.  My heart has been so full of joy.  Family is so important and so wonderful – I hope any of you out there who have been thinking about having a family to go for it.  It is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do or accomplish in this life. I’ll leave you with a few photos from Riley’s newborn photo shoot – taken when he was 2 weeks old. (photos by my husband – Will Thomas).

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Hey, Can I Get Your Orchestral Back-Up Tracks?

1186258_10151574329411689_801381861_nQ&A TIME. I get asked almost on a daily basis if I would be willing to sell or distribute my backup orchestration tracks to people so that they can perform my songs with them for their own recitals, concerts, etc.

I sell almost all of my original compositions from all 3 albums on my website in SOLO PIANO form. I write all of my music as piano solos to start, and it is only usually after I’ve finished a song where I will add orchestration to it if I feel it needs it. I will then spend numerous hours to compose, come up with and record the orchestrations to my music. I do all of my own orchestrations. I am my own producer.

The only parts I do not do myself are beats/effects which I typically recruit help from a circle of talented musical colleagues. For example, on my album “Illumination”, I had Swedish based composer, Glen Gabriel, fill that task for me. If I have featured soloists on any songs of course those are added in later on as well. And then I have a sound engineer who then adds their magic to the album with the proper mixing and mastering. But as for the orchestrations, I mostly do those myself.

With that said, when it comes to performing my music, I totally get why many of you would want to perform the solo piano pieces with the orchestrations. If I were in your shoes I totally would want to have that power to perform with on stage or for my recital as well! It is a rush.

However, I am sorry to say I DO NOT SELL OR DISTRIBUTE THE ORCHESTRAL BACKINGS FOR MY MUSIC AND PROBABLY NEVER WILL. These are my babies. The reason for this is simple: It is because I use my orchestral backups for when I perform in my own concerts. If I sold my original back-up tracks, there would be little reason for me to put on concerts and perform my music for you guys because there would be plenty of other people who would be performing “my concert” everywhere else.  Not to mention the amount of work I put into these orchestrations – I honestly don’t think I could put a price on them.

I do know that other artists, Lindsey Stirling, for example – sells her own “karaoke” versions of the orchestral back-ups for her songs. She has hired someone to create these “B-side” orchestral backup tracks for her so that she can still use her originals in concert and still remain authentic and unduplicated. Sounds like a pretty smart idea I’d say!

While I do get quite a lot of requests for my orchestral backings through email, youtube, and Facebook – it is not enough for me to really justify spending thousands of dollars to hire someone to create, record, mix/master karaoke backup tracks for me, when I would much rather spend that money on new music videos, or a new album.

What you guys CAN do for me though is keep spreading the word about my music. Keep purchasing my CDs and sheet music. Keep listening to me on Pandora and Spotify. Just help me as an independent artist to grow so that, who knows! Maybe one day I will have extra funds to hire someone to create awesome karaoke backup tracks that you guys can perform with.

I’m truly honored that you guys love my music enough to keep asking for the back-ups, but I hope you understand why I don’t distribute them.  Thanks for supporting me as an artist – it means so much to me!  I hope to put out a couple of new albums in the next few years and also some more music videos for you!

All my best,

Jennifer

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The Art of Attaining Your Goals

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Last Sunday, I was asked by the teacher in the women’s organization at my church if I would take a few minutes during her lesson and share about a goal I had achieved, how I did it, what obstacles I faced along the way, how overcame, and felt, etc.  Her lesson was on bettering ourselves in the new year and setting goals.

Goal setting is something I am very passionate about.  I’ve set goals since I was a child, and have always set my sights high.  I have always had this natural faith that I could do whatever I set my mind to.

Mind you, I don’t always accomplish every single goal that I set, but I try very hard and my ambition is great.  And when I set out to do something, I am one the most determined persons you will ever meet.

I thought I would share some of my thoughts that I shared in church, in hopes that it might help any of you.

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Goals are NOT crap.

I recently read a blog post where the author talked about resolutions and “how they are crap”.  She believed that instead of setting goals, failing, and then feeling discouraged – that you should just leave your life up to God and allow him to decide what comes for you.  As I read the comments on the blog post, it seemed like everyone was praising the author and saying how much better this made them feel instead of setting goals.  And then there was one commenter who had the guts to say what I felt inside – that life was about bettering oneself, reaching for something higher and not allowing oneself to be complacent. Of course, the other people attacked him a bit for having a difference of opinion and having the audacity to say so.

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Some people will argue that resolutions and different than goals, but to me they are the same.  It’s saying that you want to accomplish something and are willing to work towards it.

Maybe resolutions/goals are overwhelming to some people because they really do feel like they fail, and fail often.  I personally don’t think it’s because their goal was unattainable, but it was probably because a) they weren’t ready to commit, and b) they didn’t set themselves up for success.

As I think back over my life and the various goals I’ve set/accomplished, there are a few that really stand out to me.

Goal #1 – Finishing ‘Illumination’

It took me 4 long years to complete my 3rd album “Illumination”.

I started writing the songs in between other projects until I had enough songs and the kind of songs I wanted for this album.  Some of the songs took me over a year to finish composing. My skills as a composer developed immensely during the process, and the diversity of the music on the album reflects that as well.

During those 4 years, I had a child, finished a film score, started and completed a 2nd album, got pregnant again, and gave birth to our 2nd child, worked and completed the 3rd album. So not only was I busy working on music, but I was busy growing our family and both took a lot of time and effort and energy.

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Many people asked me “How do you do it??”.

It did take a lot of time management and goal-setting to complete, and even got to a point where I made myself write out goals and deadlines, otherwise I feared I would never finish the album.

(Here is a blog post I wrote as a guest columnist for author Alex Bledsoe, on the act of balancing parenting and career).

Monthly Goals and Deadlines

One thing I did was I set monthly goals with specific dates of when I wanted to accomplish certain things by.

This is a screenshot from the ACTUAL goal sheet that I made and had pinned to the wall in my music studio.  As I was still trying to lose all my pregnancy weight, you will also see that I had some weightloss goals defined on there as well – as I was preparing for photo shoots and videos and wanted to look my best.  I was working hard on all levels, I tell ya!

You can click to enlarge if needed.

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Another thing that I did was create a spreadsheet for each process of the album creation so that I always knew where I was at with each song and what I had left to do.

On the left you will the name of each song (some names changed later on, btw).  And then a space to check off everything from recording, editing, orchestration, mixing, mastering, naming the song, and more.  (To clarify Glen co-orchestrated some of the music, and Rob was my sound engineer).

Click to enlarge

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That spreadsheet was so crucial to me. And I was VERY adamant about not checking anything off until it was absolutely 100% completed.  So it always felt great when I could put a check mark in any of the boxes.

Setting Myself Up for Success

One thing you need to keep in mind is in order to accomplish a goal, you need to arrange your everyday life so that you make it possible to attain. You need to set yourself up for success.

My husband works a busy day job for Microsoft, and since we have two kids (now as of Jan 2014, one more on the way – due in March), we had to figure out a system in our home where we could juggle parenting responsibilities, work, and more.

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Fortunately, I married a guy who has ALWAYS, always been my hugest fan and supporter.  He would move mountains to help me accomplish my dreams.

We created a weekly schedule where 3 days a week he came home early from work and took over everything. I mean EVERYTHING.  When he walked in the door, I was ready to hand the kids over to him and go into my music studio and shut the door.  And I was typically in my studio until the wee hours of the early morning trying to get things done.

There were days when I needed more time, and so I would hire a babysitter to watch my kids all day, or take them up to my parents’ house so that I could have a few solid days of uninterrupted work-time.

I Was Kind to Myself

My original goal was to finish my album by June 0f 2012, but I know that things usually always take longer than you think. So when little hiccups came up, I wasn’t hard on myself or disappointed, I just kept moving forward.

Many people tend to give up when they fail, or say “What’s the use?”.  Thing thing is, is that LIFE HAPPENS.  Illnesses happen.  People you depend on fail you.  Money can be tight.  Other responsibilities come up.  The key is to not give up and keep going. I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s true!  Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to believe in yourself.

I completed the album only 6 weeks behind schedule and released it in the latter half of July 2012.

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So the biggest ways I was able to accomplish the goal of finishing that album was

1) Setting monthly detailed goals and deadlines
2) Setting myself up for success by arranging my life to make my goal possible
and 3) Being kind to myself in the process.

Goal #2 – Fitness and Weight loss

This isn’t a topic I usually talk about publicly because it has nothing to do with my music, but since you obviously now know it was part of my goals (from my goal sheet I attached above), I wanted to talk a little bit about this goal and how I worked EXTREMELY hard towards it and achieved it.

603315_10151233773213425_1842082860_nHaving kids does some crazy things to your body. I will say that.

Both of my pregnancies were really hard on my body and I gained more weight than I would have liked.  I seemed to have anything and everything go wrong with me – from several dislocated ribs, hip problems, pancreatitis, pre-eclampsia, and emergency C-sections both times.  Exercising during my pregnancies was hard.

After I had our 2nd son in Aug of 2010, I will tell you that I was very self-conscious of my body and how I looked.

I actually turned down performance opportunities because I was too embarrassed to go on stage and have people judge me for how I looked.  And granted, I have the best fans and supporters in the world and most of them are there for the music and not for what I look like, but still, in MY mind, I just didn’t have the self-esteem and courage to do it.

So for a good year or more, I really didn’t perform very much. I was still busy working on music in my studio, and commissioned projects, but just too self-conscious to get up on stage.

As I got closer to releasing “Illumination”, I knew I wanted to be in better shape so that I would look good in my photos and feel more confident.

At my “Illumination” Photo Shoot – Paramount Theater, Seattle, WA – May 2012

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Even at my photo shoot for my album (pictured above), I wasn’t at my goal weight but was still proud of where I was at that point.

It took me close to 3 and 1/2 years to lose all the weight I had gained from both pregnancies. From 2010 (after I had our 2nd baby) to summer of 2013, I lost a total of 70 pounds – which actually put me UNDER my pre-pregnancy weight.

The following photo is a progression of me in 2010 (after the birth of Taylor), and finally on the right in 2013 when I filmed the outdoor scenes for my Illumination music video.

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I will say that THIS goal was not as straight-forward as my goal for finishing my album.  I am very good at disciplining myself to work on music, but not always great at disciplining myself with my body (which is why it took me over 3 years to lose the weight).

But there came a point in Feb of 2013 when I was tired of losing a little, gaining a few back, losing a little, gaining a few back.

I wanted to reach my goal and I was finally in a motivated frame of mind where I wanted to kick some butt and just get it done!

A few things I did to accomplish my goals were:

1) I hired a personal trainer
2) I set myself up for success by re-arranging my daily schedule so I could go to the gym 6 days a week
3) I got my family’s support with my food goals

Each of those things were very involved with many variables.

1040700_10151565003563425_246904629_oFor example, I hired a trainer because I needed accountability and I was at a point where I felt like I had done everything I could myself and needed outside help.

The trainer (Monica Lynne) I hired was also a life coach and nutritional coach, and so we had many hours of wonderful talks that provided insight into my soul as to the reasons behind why I did certain things.  For the first time in a long time, I was overcoming issues I had and reaching goals that I really wasn’t sure I ever would.

It was the BEST feeling to know I was capable of achieving this goal and could overcome trials.

As for setting myself up for success, this involved making my gym time a priority – even over friendships sometimes and other things that were fun.  I had a rule that the mornings were “my time” at the gym, and I would say no to anything else that got in the way.

It wasn’t easy, at first when I would tell people “Sorry I can’t, I have to go to the gym.”, they didn’t really see that as a valid excuse to get out of something. So I stopped saying that I was going to gym, but just instead said I had a standing appointment every morning and that I was “unavailable”.

My gym has a daycare too that my boys absolutely LOVED to go to, and so I didn’t feel guilty for having the “me time”, because they were also having a lot of fun, meeting new friends, and being social.

1234964_10151680335663425_1868392960_nMy husband was also very supportive by making sure I had my gym time, sometimes re-arranging his schedule in case I needed to go to the gym in the evenings, and also Saturday mornings.

My husband is an ultra-marathon runner and his big training runs are usually on Saturday mornings.  As crazy as this sounds, he would usually get up around 4 a.m. and go on his 4 to 5 hour trail run, and when he got back we would switch and I would go to the gym.

I got my family’s support with food goals, and this was not easy.

With an ultra-marathoner who loves his carbs, and 2 little boys who are picky eaters (can we say chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese?), we often rarely all ate the same thing at dinner time.  And everyone was okay with this.  I would eat my lean protien and veggies, while they ate their carby stuff and proteins.

I also didn’t bake as much, or bring sweets into the house as often, and got very good at saying no to things.

I was very motivated by the success I was having, and how fit and wonderful I felt.  Some people who say getting in shape is a vain endeavor obviously don’t know how great it feels compared to having extra pounds on you.  I LOVED being able to hike up mountains and not be out of breathe, to fit into my dresses with ease, and to be on stage performing and feel confident.

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Shortly after that last photo was taken in July of 2013, I found out we were pregnant with baby #3!

So I am going to be starting the process ALL OVER AGAIN come March. :)  This time though, I have still been able to work out at the gym through this entire pregnancy. I am currently 30 weeks along and still doing cardio and weight training 3 to 4 days per week.

To Sum It Up…

My point to all of this is YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS.

It’s not always easy, it’s not always fast, but it IS POSSIBLE.

Goals are not crap!

If I can do this with 2.75 children, husband, busy music career, and everything else, YOU can definitely accomplish your dreams too.

I want to leave you with a neat story about world renowned concert violinist Isaac Stern.   A real hero of mine…

(Story retold by Rex D. Pinegar)

stern1“Isaac Stern, the world-famous musician-violinist, was asked by a television talk show host at what point in his life he determined to devote his energies toward a career as a concert violinist. Mr. Stern told of having given his first concert in San Francisco at a young age. Music critics were extremely impressed and predicted a fine future for the promising young talent. With this encouragement, Isaac Stern began preparations for another concert a year later in New York City. The critics were not so kind to him there. It would require a tremendous amount of work, they judged, if Isaac Stern were to achieve success as a soloist.
Dejected and discouraged, the young Mr. Stern boarded one of New York City’s double-decker buses and rode it up and down Manhattan a number of times. He was, in his words, “crying inside” as he tried to decide where he was going from there. Were his critics correct? Had he gone as far as he was capable of going? Should he now seek a profession as just another member of an orchestra?
After his fourth bus ride through the city, he returned to his apartment where his mother was waiting. He had made his decision. “I am going to work, mother—work at my music until it works for me. Today Isaac Stern is acclaimed as one of the finest violinists in the world. Work is a principle with a blessing. Work builds us physically and spiritually. It increases both our strength of body and our strength of character.” (Isaac sterned passed away in 2001).

Restrospective

You may have noticed that my Facebook and Twitter feeds lately have been less about music, and more about the fact that I am currently consumed with the thing called “life”. A.k.a. having kids, making food, spending time with family, and whatnot.

I see my piano every day sitting in my living room. It says “Pssst, hey you, wanna come play me?”.

I entertain the thought, but then reality hits.

Playing with a big hard unrelenting 7 month-along baby-belly in the way makes playing the piano incredibly, utterly UN-enjoyable right now. So I pass on my 6 foot grand piano’s offer, while it sits collecting dust and probably going out of tune.

I can feel it’s sad lonely eyes staring at me as I ignore it with immense guilt.

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Not only do I NOT have the desire to play right now out of physical discomfort, but it’s like I can’t get my brain to even think about music either. The desire is not there.  At ALL.

When I think about my 2014 goals, the idea of NEW music, or NEW album, or NEW music video just makes my head hurt.

Is it burn-out?

Maybe.

Is it the over-whelmed factor?

Oh for sure.

I remember my mom telling me that she once didn’t touch the piano for 6 years. “Impossible”, I thought. “It’s part of who she is.” I also for years judged her for giving up her music dreams during the prime of her life in order to be a stay-at-home-mom. “She gave up years of pursuing music professionally and then regretted it later in life.” I often thought to myself. “I will NEVER do that.”

Out of the 30+ years I’ve done music, about 20 of those years were strictly Classical music training, and the other 10 have been composing and producing my own music.  

The last 2 years of my life in particular have been the MOST involved.  

It has included balancing a life of 2 young children, husband, releasing a 3rd album in Q3 of 2012 (which took me 4 years to write/produce) and then spending the following year and a half promoting it with trips to Los Angeles, New Orleans and more, receiving nominations, winning awards, walking red carpets, filming music videos, performing, meeting and working with renowned musicians and producers, and being on the receiving end of many more project requests.  

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I have worked very hard.  When I put my mind to something, I go for it.

I have always been my own producer too. I have invested years into my home studio – where I work when the inspiration hits (convenient to me as a mom with kids at home, where I can control my workload).

I have been choosy with the people I work with, how I present myself and my image, and I’ve also been very careful to TRY to maintain a sense of balance when it comes to my personal life.

I’ve somehow miraculously been able to pull off motherhood/wife during the day, and musician by night for several years.  I’ve never had a manager, or an agent, or outside funding, or a wealthy investor.  But what I HAVE had is fans and supporters of my music throughout the years to keep me going. I’m married to a super smart guy who advises me very well with how to spend the money I earn from my music and make it go further.  I’ve never gone into debt to produce an album or a project, and I have been very careful on what I spend money on – always with the intent that it is an investment towards my music and career and my family. I do a lot of things myself, and then hire out for the things that I truly do not have the talent to pull off.

It is a lot of work and things do take longer with DIY, and also balancing life.  I have thought “Wow, I am actually pulling this mommy-wife-career thing off.”

But…

Lately as I’ve been enduring the last trimester of my 3rd pregnancy (due in 11 weeks from now), I admit, I’m FREAKING OUT just a tiny little bit.

I have found myself wondering “How in the world, do I continue to do this with a 3rd kid?? How does ANY woman in the music industry keep doing this with kids? Am I crazy??”

And then the fear of becoming my mother goes through my head quite often.  “I can’t give this up just to be a stay-at-home-mom. I’ve worked too hard.”

And yet, while I do love babies, I feel this way about pregnancy…

And yet during my 2nd pregnancy, I somehow managed to teach 30 piano students up until I was 7 months along, complete an award-winning film score and finish it 2 weeks before I delivered, as well as another commissioned project. Music just seemed to flow from me.

But this time?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I can’t seem to get myself motivated physically, emotionally or otherwise to work on music during this 3rd pregnancy. I should say to work on my OWN music, that is. And it has sort of left me feeling…well, quite guilty and like I’m not doing enough.

I did finish some commissioned recording/composing projects and also perform a little bit up until my 5th month…

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(After performing at Benaroya Hall with Grammy nominated violinist Jenny Oaks Baker)

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And while I said “no” to many requests to perform this Christmas, I did agree do two concerts in December at 6.5 months pregnant…

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But my inbox continues to fill up with messages from people almost on a daily basis asking when am I am going to come perform in their town, when am I going to hurry up and finish my songbooks of sheet music that I’ve been promising for the last year, can I collaborate with them, would I produce an album, when am I going to release a new album, when will I do a Christmas album, am I submitting to next year’s Grammys, and more.

…And while I am so incredibly flattered, I have to message them back and explain, essentially, that in all reality – I’m just a normal person with a family to look after and I have no “team” to do any of this for me and any project I do is time-consuming and they would probably have to wait.  And then wait some more. I wish I could do more, but I start to get that “I’m so overwhelmed” feeling again.

And then…

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A couple of weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I actually UNDERSTOOD my mother and why she gave up what she did. And why.

And I have realized I may have completely, utterly, misjudged her for YEARS and years.

She wasn’t “giving up”. She was sacrificing.

She decided to forgo the craziness of a music career so she could enjoy the years of being a mother to my three brothers and I.  She did it because it was important to her.  And instead of me feeling sorry for her giving up her dreams, it’s taken me 36 years to realize I should be thanking her for the sacrifice she performed so that we could have a healthy full childhood.

Because you see, there is really no such thing as being “JUST a stay at home mom”, in case you didn’t know. It’s important stuff. And most of what our moms do for us we don’t even truly understand until we become parents ourselves.

So even though in this moment of time, during this “season” of my life when I am feeling overwhelmed with the idea of how to keep doing it all and doing it successfully, and often feel guilty for not living up to expectations or putting out enough new content, material, and more — I see moments like these…

Where my boys try to copy me on the piano by flipping through my book of Beethoven Sonatas and perform “duets” together….

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…the time when I hired a fun babysitter (with pizza and movies!) for my two boys so I could perform at my CD release concert and have my husband there as well – but my older son cried because he wanted to come sit in my concert so badly.

I relented and let him come, and my favorite moment of the evening, hands-down, was when he came running up on stage to give me a bouquet of flowers that he and my husband got for me.  He was so bashful he was on and off before I could even give him a hug to say thank you.

It meant more to me than anything else that happened that night.

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…and then afterwards he was so tired and all he wanted to do was snuggle up next to me. Not next to Dad, or Grandma, or Grandpa, but ME.

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When my younger son was so excited to come see me play the violin, that he just HAD to bring his miniature violin and stand on his seat during the concert pretending to play it along with me…

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And the time when he was at my parents house – and my mom heard “Help! Help me!” from the other room, only to come in and see that he had been trying to play the bass fiddle and it tipped over on him.

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Preston’s very first piano lesson with me and how eager he was….

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And then there are all of the moments when my mom has supported me in my music career and performed with me as well. Sometimes even though she didn’t always gush over me, I could see in her eyes that she was proud of me. And I have to say, I wouldn’t be what I am today without the years of music lessons she gave me, and again…for supporting me in my career while she gave up many years of her own.

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I think of all of these things and realize, you know what, it is OKAY. For one, all those moments actually meant 100 times more to me than walking any red carpet or receiving an award.

It is okay to take a break and not meet the world’s expectations for how they define success.

It is OKAY to be enjoying my down-time.

It is okay to not be putting out a new album any time soon.

It’s okay that right now I am 90% mom/wife, and 10% musician.  Because frankly it’s extremely hard to be 100% at either all of the time.

And it’s even okay that I haven’t really practiced more than a few hours in the past couple of months on my piano.  I won’t forget how to play. The piano will be there WHEN I AM READY AGAIN. :) And yes, that day will come and I will be come back strong.

But for now…being a parent is important.  And “No amount of success can compensate for failure in the home” – David O. McKay

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No more apologies for “not being enough”.

No more feeling bad because I’m not busy in my music career right now.

God has a way of molding us into what we are supposed to become, even if it is not always in our own timeline or exactly how we want it.

In retrospect, it all works out perfectly how it should.

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P.S.  I almost forgot, you can check out my mom’s beautiful music at http://www.carolynsouthworth.com

Diary of a Song: Eventide

This is the ninth of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my latest album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

Eventide

(From the artwork in the CD booklet)

eventide pic

Is it okay to have a favorite of my own compositions?  Well if so, this would be it. “Eventide” is by far, hands down, my favorite song on my Illumination album.   This was just one of those songs where the music flowed to my fingers and I really felt a spiritual connection to the music I was creating.

I composed this song while we were living in a rental home that had this big window and my piano sat in the nook of it.  Across the street there was an open field and so in the evenings, when it was dark, there were no trees to block a perfect view of the twinkling stars (if the sky was clear, that is).

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My two boys – Preston and Taylor – at the time were ages 2 and 6 months

“Eventide” is another word for “evening”.  And with the minor to major triad chords going on in the song (proven by science to create an emotional crying response from people), this song really pulls at my heart strings.

I originally just wrote it as a solo piano piece, but then later as I worked on the orchestration for Illumination, I added strings and a boys choir to the song  - which ended up having a sort of Danny Elfman-ish sound to it.  Or, I’ve also been told it sounds like something James Newton Howard would have composed for a film.

I had this piece completely finished and orchestrated, when one evening when I was driving in my car and listening to a rough mix of it, I started hearing and humming the theme from “Sheherazade” to it.  Sheherazade is an orchestral work composed by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov that I performed both in college with my university symphony, as well as the Oregon Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra a few years later.  The solo violin part of the symphony represents the character of Sheherazade, whom in the story of “1001 Arabian Nights” (aka “Aladdin”, etc.), is the Persian queen who saves herself from death by telling a story to her husband, the king, every night for 1,000 nights.  As the story goes, the king would take a new wife and then sentence them to beheading the following day.  Sheherazade volunteered to spend one night with the king – in which she ends up telling him an entrancing story which she does not finish. She only promises “I will tell you the rest of the story tomorrow night.”  She keeps herself alive for 1000 nights by telling story, after story, after story…in the end, leads the king to fall in love with her and spares her life forever.

The musical theme fit so well with the music, and also the night time essence of the song that I went back and wrote the solo violin part into the music.  On my album, you can hear violinist Kelley Marie Johnson give an emotional performance of the song with me.

You can BUY THE SHEET MUSIC from my website below:

Solo Piano version

or

Piano/Violin Duet version

eventide

You can BUY THE MP3 from any of the following retailers:

Jennifer’s Web Shop

Amazon

iTunes

Cdbaby

Loudr.fm (choose your price)

You can BUY THE PHYSICAL ALBUM from me directly, or from Amazon or CDbaby. I will even autograph it for you!

Diary of a Song: Beyond the Summit

This is the eighth of a series of blog posts entitled “Diary of a Song“, where I share the stories behind each of the songs from my latest album “Illumination“.

At the end of each post, I also include a link to buy the sheet music, and the MP3 download.

Beyond the Summit

(From the artwork in the CD booklet)

New Life and Beyond the Summit

“Beyond the Summit” is a song I started writing a few years ago, actually during the time I was writing/producing The Lullaby Album.

This might sound funny, but I was very much inspired by some recent IMAX films I had seen on some of the world’s most beautiful mountains and locations like Mt. Everest, The Grand Canyon, etc.  My husband, Will, is also an outdoors enthusiast who can be found climbing various mountain peaks here in the Seattle area at least 2 or 3 times a week.

When I was writing this piece, I really wanted to try to capture the feeling of being in an airplane gliding over the tops of glaciers and mountains (picture Alaska).  The chord types that I used in this were purposely put there to create a very open sense of being, and to make the listener feel as though they are part of a vast landscape much bigger than them.

My little family and I are also big lovers of the outdoors, and so I do get a lot of inspiration from the beautiful outdoor northwest landscape.  Here is a photo of my two little boys and I about 2 weeks ago on top of Hurricane Ridge inside the Olympic National Park.

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This piece took some practice to get the timing just right, as there are a few measures with 5/4 timing, and a lot of arpeggios.  But in the end, I feel quite proud of this piece, it is very much in line with what I would call my “old school” style of composing where the piano is in the forefront and the orchestra is just secondary.  This piece is meant to be performed as a solo piano piece very nicely because it does not need the orchestra to retain all of the majesty I tried to incorporate into it in the first place.

A friend of mine actually put this piece to some old vintage film from old Worlds Fair Archives, and funny enough the World’s Fair he used is the 1962 Worlds Fair where the Space Needle was erected.  I am from Seattle, and so this footage touched me deeply as I’ve been going to the Seattle Center (as it is now called) since I was a little girl.

You can BUY THE SHEETMUSIC from my website here: http://jenniferthomasmusic.com/store/productdetail.php?product=186

Beyond the Summit

You can support me buy purchasing the album or the single from any of these sites:  Amazon, iTunes, CDbaby, Jennifer’s Website