Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Letter to The New Yorker on Music File Sharing

The New Yorker cover from
Here's a letter I recently sent to The New Yorker (which, incidentally, is my favorite publication for cultural criticism, all-around interesting writing both fictional and nonfictional, gorgeous clear-out-the-cobwebs copyediting for this part-time editor's brain, and vicarious hit on my favorite city in the world after Oakland, Calif.) on a rather cavalier remark made by one of the writers on sharing music files:

Dear Editors:

In her review of Elvis Costello’s television talk show, the usually reliable Nancy Franklin (“Intimate Persuasion,” December 22 & 29) writes an aside about wanting to buy digital music from Amazon instead of iTunes, because “all the music that Amazon sells is unlocked, meaning that it can be shared limitlessly with friends.” (Apple since announced that it too will unlock iTunes files.) Franklin then writes, “Music wants to be paid for, but, after that, it wants to be free.” She’s echoing a phrase batted around in discussions of the internet: Information wants to be free. I know she’s making fun of the anthropomorphizing that gives information, or music, the ability to want anything, but she’s serious about her wanting to share purchased music files. Well, while music wants nothing, I want to get paid. As a recording singer-songwriter-poet and indie label owner, my income stream is already precarious without people giving away songs of mine they’ve purchased. Does Franklin feel that when she buys a ticket to a live show, she has the right to give away a limitless number of seats, because the show wants to be free? Custom and commercial practice forbid it. In contrast, computer technology and practice have taught us to pay for the digital carrier (computers, blank CDs, email service) but not its content. How to pay content originators in a digital age is a muddle jeopardizing the survival not only of music-makers but also of newspaper and magazine owners and writers  as The New Yorker surely knows. Until the muddle is clarified, I ask Franklin and other music enthusiasts to send their friends links to Amazon, iTunes, or indie music sites, instead of sending the bootlegged music itself.

Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lessons with Jane Sharp

Jane Sharp from
One day I had a lesson with my vocal coach Jane Sharp (yes, that really is her name). She was teaching me the song "The Very Thought of You." "Jazz is constant variation," Jane said, and we were working on the possible variations in this charming, sincere, rather straightforward tune written in 1934.

To be a jazz singer means exploring one's unique interpretation of a song, playing not only with melody, but also with the rhythms of phrases and their timing too  pushing them ahead or laying them back as the count of the song ticks on.

But meanwhile, as Jane has reminded me many times, we also have to sing the meaning of the words  say the sentences, tell the story. We emphasize certain words, we pronounce some more crisply than others, we are actors. The meaning of the lyrics influences our other musical choices. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. But if I'm guided by how I would truly speak the lyrics to someone, I find the right path: Make music, be inventive, but in the end, tell the story from my mind and heart.

Jane is an amazing teacher. Once I came into a lesson close to tears and attempted to sing a sad ballad. Jane was full of empathy, but she remained the wise and helpful coach. She said something I've never forgotten: "In life, we're destroyed. Then we sing. But not in the same instant."

Today we kept looking at a little bird outside the window. It had flown right up against the window of the lesson room, and then it hopped stunned to the roof of a shed just a couple of feet away. It was a baby. It sat silent as we worked on the new song. Finally, we were done, and my (and Jane's) singing subsided.

Then the baby bird started to sing  or call for its mother. In life, we may be destroyed. But then we sing.

copyright 2009 Lisa Bernstein


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Magic for ’09: Lisa's Lord's Prayers

Finally! So glad the page has turned. Aren’t you happy to see the new number we’re in at last? Nines are nice: triple magical, since three is a magic number and nine is thrice that.

I’m having fun looking back, looking forward, cleaning my pantry (literally!), and gathering my tools and plans. It seems an apt moment to offer a prayer/poem I wrote a few years ago, to help the new year start off right.

Lisa’s Lord’s Prayers

Our mistress
who art in star-wash
bright be thy name.
Thy queendom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily mead
and forgive us our marks on others
as we forgive those who put a mark on us.
And lead us not into the underworld
but deliver us from the dark.

Our father
in the world’s waters,
glistening be thy net.
Thy currents calm,
thy steady arm
extend over these oceans.
Give us this day the fish’s flesh
and forgive our over-taking
as we forgive those who steal our catch.
And lead us not into the dark gulf
but deliver us from storms.

Our canopy
arced over the universe
untouched be thy sheen.
Thy net of time
billow and shine
in matter as in motion.
Give us today our honeycomb
and forgive us our history
as we forgive those who would forget.
And steer us away from the black holes
but toward life.

Letters of God
in every cell
golden be each stroke.
Your power come,
meaning be done
electrically in nerve and spirit.
Give us today our act of truth
and forgive our indecision
as we forgive the strong-voiced who stay mute.
And lead us not into judgment
but deliver us from fear.

who art alive now,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy time has come,
thy will be done
in action as in dreaming.
Give yourself this day on earth
and forgive your failings
as you forgive those who fail all around you.
And lead yourself from suffering
into joy.

Our cats,
who art in Oakland,
springy be thy paws.
Thy catfood come,
thy wishes be done
in day and night and cat-dreams.
Give us today our purr of love
and forgive our absence
as we forgive the fleas who live in your fur.
And lead us not with claw-marks
but into languorous sleep.
PS: I don’t pray to myself in the next-to-last verse out of arrogance, though it does feel a bit radical to do so. Try it, dear reader: say a prayer to yourself as well as to the Divine – because you are both.

© 2009 Lisa Bernstein