Merry Christmas 2016!

To all who visit my website and blog:  Merry Christmas!

Putting on the 5th Voice Lifted at Christmas concert two weeks ago was a highlight of my Christmas season.  As always, it was a delightful experience for me to be with so many family members, relatives, friends, community members, visitors, returning audience members, and those coming to one of my concerts for the first time.  I am uplifted by being together with you all and having the opportunity to share my music with you.

I came to this year’s concert in a more peace-filled and joyful place, and I’m hearing that this came across in the show.  In addition to my red dress and red music stand, I chose to sing some more familiar carols and joyful, upbeat pieces.  It felt good.  I felt the best after this year’s concert than any of them so far.  I had fun on stage: performing my solo pieces and collaborating musically with Tom Flamini, Emily Barrett, and Mark Denchy.

A great article was published in the Pottsville Republican on the day after my concert.  I am grateful for that coverage, and I’m happy that the news article will spread the word to others who may be interested in attending a future Voice Lifted at Christmas concert.  Next year’s event will be on Sunday, December 10, 2017.

I’ve been more quiet this year on my blog, not having written and posted as often as in previous years, but I plan to do more of that in 2017.  I enjoy this connection to all of you.  Please feel free to leave comments on my posts – that will encourage me to show up more and share more.

In offering to everyone a Christmas message this year, I invite you to connect with your inner child and to allow yourself to be present in the celebrations in which you take part and in the difficult moments, too.  The holiday season is really, for most of us, NOT picture-perfect…but there is amidst all of that, so much to really celebrate and to be joyful about.  Jesus and Mary clearly struggled at many points throughout their lives, and they did not hide it or put on a face that masked their pain…but what they did was know that the holy God within was far greater than the human challenges they faced.  God is not external and distant.  We can allow ourselves to touch and hold God and to be touched and held…by simply going within and breathing in the love that is both the holy infant and the divine power inside.  May we allow Christ to be born within us today, and may we experience joy in that birth.

All photos by Andy Leibenguth – www.tamaquaarea.com

Thank you, Andy!!

 

Voice Lifted at Christmas – Fifth Annual Benefit Concert

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It is hard to believe that this will be the fifth consecutive year for the Voice Lifted Christmas Benefit Concert,  This year’s event will be on Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 2:30 pm.  This event will, as in the past years, benefit the Tamaqua Blue Raider Foundation and the Tamaqua Community Arts Center.  100% of the ticket money will go to these two organizations, with each receiving 50%.  Tickets will be $8 in advance and $10 at the door.  You may call 570-818-4135 for advance tickets.  Returning to the stage as guest performers this year will be Emily Barrett and Tom Flamini.

If you have not attended a Voice Lifted Christmas Benefit Concert in the past, I invite you to experience this event as a way to lift your spirit and to do something for yourself this holiday season that will help you to connect with the deeper meaning of Christmas.  My intention each year is to make this concert a retreat from the busyness of the season, a time to breathe & go within, and a time to reflect on who we are and how God is present in each of us and in our world.  The concert will include familiar Christmas songs as well as many unfamiliar pieces that explore our relationship with the Divine, our human experiences and emotions, and our connection to the past and to the future.  A favorite part of the concert in past years in addition to the music was the improvised sharing of personal stories and messages.  I look forward to opening my heart to the inspiration of the Spirit and seeing how God speaks through me in this annual event.

Please contact me with any questions about the concert or if you would like to purchase tickets in advance.

Tune in to the American Cancer Society Telethon

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Susan M. Featro and Tom Flamini will perform at 8:15pm tomorrow on the American Cancer Society Telethon.  The telethon will air on channel 13 on Blue Ridge Cable and on channel 90 in the Tamaqua – Mahanoy City Service Electric Cable area and on channels 2 and 50 in the Lehigh Valley on the Service Electric Cable system.  Please tune in and enjoy our musical offerings.  If you’d like to make a pledge to the American Cancer Society in honor of our performance, you may call 1-800-883-2109 on Saturday and mention that the donation is in recognition of the performance by Susan and Tom, or you may make a pledge online at http://www.cancertelethon.org.  The telethon will be happening live at Penn’s Peak, the concert venue just outside of Jim Thorpe.  Admission is free.

Christmas Benefit Concert

 

 

This year, I will offer for the fourth consecutive year the Voice Lifted Christmas Benefit Concert on Sunday, December 6, 2015 at 2:30 pm.  This event will again benefit the Tamaqua Blue Raider Foundation and the Tamaqua Community Arts Center.  100% of the ticket money will go to these two organizations, with each receiving 50%.  Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.  You may call 570-818-4135 for advance tickets.

I am excited to announce that guest performers this year will include Mr. Steven Toth (Tamaqua Senior High School principal), Emily Barrett, Tom Flamini, and Barbara Greim.

If you have not attended a Voice Lifted Christmas Benefit Concert in the past, I invite you to experience the event as a way to lift your spirit and to do something for yourself this holiday season that will help you to connect with the deeper meaning of Christmas.  My intention each year is to make this concert a retreat from the busyness of the season, a time to breathe & go within & reflect on who we are and how God is present in each of us and in our world.  The concert will include familiar Christmas songs as well as many unfamiliar pieces that explore our relationship with the Sacred, our human experiences and emotions, and our connection to the past and to the future.  A favorite part of the concert in past years in addition to the music was the improvised sharing of personal stories and messages.  I look forward to opening my heart to the inspiration of the Spirit and seeing how God speaks through music and word in this annual event.

Please be in touch if you have any questions about the event or would like to purchase tickets in advance.

Beginner’s Mind

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“Beginner’s Mind” is a concept in Zen Buddhism that refers to having an open mind, a positive & enthusiastic attitude, and approaching an activity or subject free from preconceptions (as would a beginner who knows nothing about the topic.)  I find it to be a good practice to take this approach as often as possible, in all tasks.  Even if we have quite a lot of experience in a particular area, to approach a task as a beginner:  going in open to new possibilities and discoveries, not holding on to those mess-ups of the past, not expecting any particular outcome.  It can be quite refreshing…and can lead us to have fun, to learn new ways of doing things, to break out of familiar routines, to be creative, to challenge ourselves, and to fall in love again with activities we’ve done time & time again.

 

I recently decided to learn to play a new instrument.  As an undergraduate music education major, I was required to learn the basics on all of the instruments in the woodwinds, brass, percussion, and string families.  As part of my coursework, I had to be able to play 2 scales and an elementary level song on each instrument.  When I had taken the semester of strings, I particularly enjoyed the violin.  I even took a few lessons on violin over one summer as a college student.  Now, more than ten years later, I have decided that I’d like to study the violin again.  I’ve begun taking lessons with Simon Maurer, who is a spectacularly talented musician and who is an incredible teacher.  He is a founding member of the Gabriel Chamber Ensemble and is also the conductor of Sunday Sinfonia, based out of the Lancaster area.  Simon gave me the invitation to play with this group for the spring 2014 concert season.

 

Upon receiving this invitation, I was excited but nervous.  I was sounding pretty decent on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and was making progress on “Minuet in G,” but I had serious doubts about my ability to play any of the orchestra music for the second violin section…most importantly to not get in the way of the rest of the (more experienced) players in the orchestra in their process of creating a beautiful sound.  But I knew that I wanted to join in the music-making with Sunday Sinfonia.  It just sounded fun.  And I thought it would be a good challenge for me…musically and spiritually.

 

With my primary instruments being voice, piano, and organ, I have never played in a marching band or concert band.  I’ve performed as part of small ensembles, but that is a very different experience than being part of a large group led by a conductor.  I knew that playing with an orchestra would offer me a different kind of musical challenge, and I trusted that this challenge would strengthen my musicianship across the board.

 

I also welcomed the opportunity to be a beginner.  I know, for a fact, that I am the weakest player in the group.  That means that there is so much that I can learn from being around everyone else and attempting to play with them.  Last Sunday, I attended the first rehearsal for this group, and it was a learning experience, for sure.  I was out of my comfort zone.  By the time I figured out where my first few notes were and positioned the bow, the orchestra was already past that place…and then I had to try to figure out where in the score they were…and that wasn’t an easy task, as orchestra music doesn’t have words…and the first violins right next to me were playing different notes and different rhythms, and … !  Deep breaths.  And so much appreciation for this new experience.

 

Even when I failed, it was a delightful and glorious experience.  I went in knowing that I would not play a flawless anything.  And I was far from flawless;  clueless was more like it, at times.  I went in with the simple goal of fully having this experience:  being in the moment, taking it all in, and growing from it.  I succeeded in doing that!

 

In addition to the musical and spiritual benefits that this new adventure involves, I also am enjoying the process of getting to know the other members of the orchestra.  It was great to get to meet other musicians and talk during our snack & break time.  At this first rehearsal, I began talking to another violinist about my initial reaction to the rehearsal, and she found it refreshing that I admitted to being flustered and unable to play the majority of the notes in any of the songs.  That led us to talk about the common tendency among musicians (and people in general) to pretend to have it all together, and we also talked about the topic of performance anxiety.  Then I made a connection to vulnerability and fitting in versus belonging, mentioning one of my prime spiritual mentors Brene Brown.  My new friend was very interested in my thoughts on this, and she was even familiar with the work of Brene Brown.  That made me feel, even more, like I was indeed part of a community of fellow musicians and human beings, dedicated to growth.

 

Part of the practice of beginner’s mind is to release expectations.  In my case with playing the violin, that is pretty easy.  I don’t expect much of myself.  I’m so inexperienced that I don’t really know what to expect.  I’m just trying my best and having fun with the instrument.  With my primary instruments and with other activities at which I have a greater proficiency, I most certainly have expectations for myself, and sometimes those expectations stifle creativity, freeze me, and prevent me from fully enjoying the experience.  Returning to beginner’s mind, I remind myself to let go of those expectations and to simply be engaged in the task and to allow myself to be surprised by whatever directions things go in and whatever progress I make.

 

I hope to become more accomplished at playing the violin as I continue to take lessons and play as part of Sunday Sinfonia, but I intend to keep my beginner’s mind toward my playing of the violin as well as other activities, approaching each task with that openness and that willingness to start fresh, to explore, and to learn & grow.

~ Copyright © 2014 by Susan M. Featro, Voice Lifted.  All rights reserved.

Announcing my Holiday Benefit Concert

 

On Sunday, December 15th at 2:30 pm, I will be giving a solo concert, with a few special musical guests, at the Tamaqua Community Arts Center, 125 Pine St., Tamaqua, PA. Tickets will be $5 in advance and $6 at the door, with 50% of the money going to the Tamaqua Community Arts Center and 50% of the money going to the Tamaqua Blue Raider Foundation, supporting special projects in the Tamaqua Area School District.

 

As I shared last year, I love singing holiday and Christmas music, and I am again excited to be performing my music to benefit the arts in my community and to benefit the school district that I graduated from and where I now teach.

 

I invite you to my concert.  It meant so much to me last year to have family, friends, supporters, and fans in the audience.  I again hope to have a good turnout in order to benefit the Tamaqua Community Arts Center and the Tamaqua Blue Raider Foundation so that they may continue to do the wonderful things they do!

 

Please contact me if you would like to purchase tickets in advance.  You may also buy tickets at the Tamaqua Community Arts Center.