A Year of Building

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At the start of this year, I named 2015 as a year of building.  While 2014 involved much letting go, getting rid of excess belongings, ending some relationships and shifting others, and releasing ideas and beliefs that no longer served me, this new year has then been an opportunity for me to continue more of the same and to allow newness into my life where space had been created.  I have felt stronger, more open, and very ready.

While the cold winter was still with us, I committed to an agreement with a contractor to have a house built.  I am enjoying the process now of making many decisions (siding, stone, roof, doors, door handles, flooring, lighting, kitchen cabinets, toilets!, and more), and I am enjoying the process of seeing my new home being built from the ground up.

I have come to know a consummate professional and a truly wonderful human being in Curtis Bailey, and his workers who are on site are hard-working and phenomenal builders in their skill and in their care and attention to detail.  Both my parents and friends have supported me and helped me in making choices and plans.  I am filled with gratitude for all who are making it possible for me to be able to move into this future home that I have envisioned.

It has been fascinating for me to witness my home being created from first a small hole in the ground to then a large hole, and then a foundation, then the framing, and now roofing, some doors and windows, staircases, and more…  It’s exciting!

And so it is with our lives.  As I’ve identified other areas in my life in which I’ve wanted to build, I’ve followed the same process.  A hole was dug;  the hole increased in size.  The foundation was carefully laid.  I framed the structure and then covered it and began to work on the details.  All along, I was constantly reviewing what was done and evaluating my next steps.  All along, I have been making conscious choices, consulting my heart, and allowing my intuition & creativity & love to lead the way.

I will continue building.  I will continue growing.  I will continue to move in my life with passion.  I know I carry my home in my heart, and this physical manifestation of a place to call my own serves as a concrete visual representation of what can evolve when hope meets intention and expresses itself fully, acknowledging fear but not letting fear lead to stagnation, asking for help and support – because life is a shared path of give & take, and journeying forward with trust that life is truly a beautiful way to explore and build and come into the deepest union with our higher selves.

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Voice Lifted in the New Year

As we transition from 2014 to 2015, I look back on my Voice Lifted journey in this past year and look ahead to where I hope to take my music making in the upcoming year.

My Christmas Benefit Concert on Sunday, December 7th was a success.  It was a great experience to perform in the newly remodeled Tamaqua Community Arts Center.  I was delighted to connect with the wonderful audience who came out that day, and I am thrilled that the event provided support to the Tamaqua Blue Raider Foundation as well as the Community Arts Center.  I look forward to seeing these two organizations continue to serve our community in the coming year.

2014 brought the release of my second album Voice Lifted at Christmas.  This album is now available for sale online (download or CD) at this link.  My first CD Voice Lifted is also available here.  Downloads of the music from my Christmas CD are also available at Amazon.  Additionally, Voice Lifted at Christmas is available in streaming format on Spotify.  

In 2014, I greatly enjoyed many performances at private events, community events, and at churches.  I am excited to continue these in 2015.  For those who like to plan ahead, I am announcing the date for my 2015 Christmas Benefit Concert at the Tamaqua Community Arts Center – Sunday, December 6th, 2015.  I will be announcing other public performances throughout the year, but I wanted to get that date out right away, as I have loved hearing that some people are now making my benefit concert an annual Christmas tradition.

I also plan on additional performances in the new year with my music partner Tom Flamini.  Right now, we are preparing for a February 8, 2015 performance at Providence Place in Pottsville.

In the upcoming year, I also plan to continue blogging.  I plan to do that with more regularity, as I know that writing is a wonderful source of creative expression for me, and I enjoy sharing my journey with others on the path.  Additionally, many ideas are floating around my mind for live performances and recording possibilities.

For me personally, 2014 was a year that brought many challenges and much growth, and I see 2015 as a building year.  I believe that there will be much opportunity to take all of the lessons of 2014, allow myself to start at the place at which I am, and create much from the bottom up in this new year with faith and trust as the foundations.  Many of those around me have expressed similar feelings about 2014 being a year that involved much tearing down, shaking up of things, a lot of confusion, “a year that brought us to our knees,” and a year that was like a roller coaster ride.  I am envisioning and holding 2015 as a building year for myself and for those around me, for anyone who chooses to embrace this intention.

New Year’s Blessings to all of you and to those with whom your share your hearts and your lives.


Beginner’s Mind



“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.