Creating Art in Trying Times

When the pandemic first hit I, like so many others, paused and looked around before determining how to move forward. I saw other artists immediately getting busy on the ground floor with podcasting, home concerts, and the like, but I really didn’t feel like joining in yet. I had a book release forthcoming, and simply adjusting to what was going on took a great deal of energy, not to mention grieving for the life I missed. Gradually I began to notice that I was receiving more and more offers to write, to teach online, to share my book via radio and newspaper interviews, book reviews, and magazines, and to my delight, that trend has continued through and beyond the date of this writing. I have never been busier, in fact, at any other time in my career, and the future is looking bright, thank God.

After these months of rolling with the changes I have learned the importance of limiting my screen time in order to reclaim some time for music-making and writing. Multiple Zoom meetings, virtual conferences, FaceBook Live events, learning new technology, and simply writing at my laptop for hours must be mitigated by an occasional walk outside, a singing practice session, a phone call, or an artistic interlude. Now that so many of our interactions have gone online, my computer time (which I never really enjoyed in the first place) has usurped much of my time to the detriment of more productive artistic activities including practicing the piano and singing, composing my song cycle, writing poetry, and using other means besides the computer to create. Although several formerly out-of-reach opportunities have floated my way over the past six months, I find as I look toward the autumn season an authentic need to unplug again & Every effort to restore my sacred practice time, prayer, and good old-fashioned creativity AWAY from my computer is hereby warmly welcomed and must rise higher on my ladder of daily priorities.

I am grateful for so many things in this season & for living in a relatively quiet neighborhood, for my health and my husband’s, for our new puppy who reminds me to disconnect and just play every so often (and that life must go on during trying times), for my family ties and friendships, and for my volunteer work which involves connecting with people in need and having meaningful conversations. As wonderful as new, exciting opportunities to work online first appear, we are reminded that we must distance ourselves from Cyberland sometimes, to not let it overtake or overwhelm us.

To all my fellow artists, I encourage you to take some time each day to get some fresh air, paint a picture, reach out to help someone, listen to some soothing music, read a worthwhile book, sing a new song & do SOMETHING nurturing for yourself and for someone else every day. As we join our freshly-washed hands (virtually, while observing social distancing) on our onward walk toward the autumn of 2020, we never needed beauty, art, kindness, and a thankful spirit more.


Peggy Lee: A Century of Song Book Launch

For several years I have been entertaining the idea of authoring a book on a topic I researched extensively when I was a doctoral student at the University of Southern California. The book is finally here! Peggy Lee: A Century of Song, I am pleased to announce, is available for purchase at the website of my publisher Rowman & Littlefield.

This volume celebrates the one hundredth birthday of Peggy Lee, a pillar of twentieth-century American popular music, jazz, and blues. It recounts her expansive work as a film composer, actress, radio host, songwriter of 270 songs, voiceover artist, live performer, and recording artist of 1100 recorded masters. Lee’s contributions to American music run the gamut from a large catalog of recorded music and original songs (many which became hits), exceptional stagecraft and performance practice, exemplary musicianship, nuance, authentic style in a wide palette of genres, music advocacy, and much more. Her pioneering work as a female bandleader/artist/music creator paved the pathway upon which hundreds of her successors have traveled.

The book has earned a starred review from Library Journal and many favorable reviews from several media outlets including Talk Radio Europe, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Universal Music Group, and others. We will be launching a virtual book signing event August 20 on FaceBook Live at my musician/author page (@TishOneyFan) at 1pm EDT to which the public is warmly invited! That event will include personalized book signings from my home music studio, LIVE MUSIC, special guests, prize giveaways, and interactive Q&A. I hope you will join me for this free event. You can purchase your copy of the book in advance if you wish, and come ready to submit your questions! I look forward to seeing you there… Thanks so much, and please keep yourselves and those around you safe…


A blank summer slate

What are you doing this summer? Whether or not we have made plans that leave little room for anything else, summer is still a blank slate as we look ahead toward it on May 31. It can be a time for much-needed refreshment, recreation and rest, and/or a time many of us use to accomplish goals we had no time for during the fall, winter and spring. I look forward to some traveling, a bit of singing, and a good deal of writing to keep me busy. I also have delved my attentions into so many books that my desire for mental stimulation should be quite satisfied.

This moment in time gives rise to an important annual rite of passage in looking ahead to what summer should include, accomplish, create, improve, or retire. Taking a break from normalcy over the summer months often gives one a chance to re-evaluate priorities and activities. Is anything currently taking up my time without showing any kind of purpose? Do my activities get me closer to my life goals or are they mere distractions? Do my current daily tasks add or subtract peace to or from my life? How can I streamline my thought process to maximize efficiency, productivity, contentment, and personal progress? A well-planned summer, replete with inventories of spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, financial, nutritional, and relational health and wellness, can reap a multitude of benefits, as I have recently discovered.

There is no better time than NOW to address things that are not working properly. If my car needs urgent care, I take it to a mechanic for repair as soon as possible. But what about my psyche? If my emotional health needs a tune-up, isn’t that just as important as caring for my car? Perhaps even more so. And how about nutrition and exercise? Have my formerly daily workouts slipped to an every-other-day commitment? This self-reflection is not about perfectionism–it’s about making my own needs a higher priority through greater awareness of what is really happening in my life. It’s also about taking advantage of travel time and summer breaks to provide opportunities to BE rather than to WORK. To observe, to listen, to be part of the earth in a simpler, more serene way, rather than chasing after anything. Diligence and discipline are necessary, true, in this artist’s life. But the art is nurtured by nature, by quiet solitude, by wisdom, patience and contentment. Those things, I have also recently learned, are not accessible while one is actively engaged in the rat race. They only come when one agrees to step out of the race and let opportunities for growth make themselves present. This is a hard lesson for one who was taught that hard work is always rewarded, that holding myself to insanely high standards of excellence will yield the best job or the most “success.” Life is a long-distance run and moments of rest are required to finish well. Moreover, life is so much more than work. Sometimes the inner work that I find challenging IS the work I am supposed to be accomplishing. . .

So, finding equilibrium among one’s physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, financial, vocational and relational needs becomes a task more important than “success” in any one area of life (like career). Best wishes as you consider your own balance of these areas in your life–and may we all find this summer to be most helpful in achieving that balance we need for greater wellness.


Giuseppe Verdi and The Divine Sarah Vaughan

My career path has opened up into a place in which I have the unique opportunity to create concerts honoring pioneers of the music that resonates deep within my soul. Not many performers have these amazing and challenging opportunities, so I consider the responsibility of caring for the music as it is delivered to the audience to be sacred and extremely meaningful. Artists and composers about whom I have created, arranged, and performed concerts in the past include Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Van Heusen, Peggy Lee, Jerome Kern, and J.S. Bach, among countless compilation performances honoring multiple music masters. My next concert celebration, occurring this weekend, consists of performing the passionate and unparalleled Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi at The Peace Center with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and the Greenville Chorale, conducted by Edvard Tchivzhel. Just two weeks later I will be fronting the best jazz band in Upstate South Carolina, the Greenville Jazz Collective Contemporary Quartet, in our collaborative romp honoring the musical legacy of Sarah Vaughan. Wildly different extremes? Maybe, maybe not.

I once studied classical voice with a teacher who told me, “One day you will have to make a choice between singing classical music or jazz. You won’t be able to do both well.” A few weeks later she finally heard me sing jazz in a public performance and told me, “Now that I have heard you sing jazz, I may have been wrong. You may be one of few people able to pull off singing both styles at a high level. . .” A few decades later, I AM singing both, and I attribute this to my adopting a mindset taught to me by Duke Ellington: “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad.” I have endeavored to only listen to and to perform the former, while eschewing the latter. As I have progressed through my career, I have enjoyed performing (and teaching others to perform) authentically in more than one style. It takes very good ears to do this, as well as a willingness to continue to learn from other performers, and a technique that is malleable. Moreover, a disciplined lifestyle and commitment to the art form are necessary, too, as any high level singer can attest. Performing “good” music well is no small feat.

The fire of Verdi’s music juxtaposed with the cool simmer of Vaughan’s represents a challenge that I have relished over the last month or so. Working on these two bodies of literature simultaneously has actually helped to create balance in my vocal instrument, in that the Verdi requires full, operatic, powerful singing and dynamic extremes, while the Vaughan music allows for more improvisational interpretation, gentler singing, but with no less breath management and precision. In a way, the Verdi has honed my chops in preparation for the Vaughan, since Sarah was known for having an instrument as supple, seamless, rich, musical, and full of beauty as those possessed by the finest operatic singers of her day. Perhaps this eclectic juxtaposition in my concert calendar was divinely planned! Perhaps I needed the Verdi to correctly interpret the Vaughan. . . the serendipitous ordering of these events is not lost on me.

So get ready, Greenville! You can witness the angst, fury and spiritual upheaval of Verdi’s masterwork on May 5 and 6 at The Peace Center, and then join me on May 22 at the Coffee Underground Theater (1 Coffee St. @ 7:30 pm) for the denouement–an equally satisfying breath of sweet music so effortlessly bestowed upon us by Sarah Vaughan, “The Divine One.”


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