Upcoming gigs with The Bliss Jockeys: Tammany Hall and Mercury Lounge

I’ve updated my website performance calendar to note my next two upcoming gigs with The Bliss Jockeys:

  1. 2013 FINALE SHOW– Triple Bill!!
    Saturday, November 23, 2013 • 7:00pm
    Tammany Hall: 152 Orchard Street (btw Stanton & Rivington), NYC
    $5.00 (advance) / $10.00 at the door

    The Bliss Jockeys share the stage with Myriam Phiro’s Swing Party and Victor V. Gurbo & Co. — each act turns in a 50-minute set for three full hours of music! Come join us for our FINAL SHOW of what’s been our most triumphant year yet! We’ll be closing out 2013 just the way we began it: by tearing it up all night at a hot venue down in the Lower East Side with a couple of other GREAT BANDS. Myriam Phiro and Victor Gurbo are making great things happen in each of their careers: Myriam’s freshly returned from a three month international tour, and Victor’s band won both the WNYC & WQXR Brooklyn Borough Champion and WNYC & WQXR Audience Choice Awards this year. Not too shabby!
    Order tickets | RSVP on Facebook

  2. Note: the BJs are also playing the Brighter Than Today: A Secular Solstice festival on Saturday night, December 14, but I won’t be with them. Sniff! Instead I’ll be performing at Town & Village Synagogue’s 25th Annual Cantor Louis Moss Memorial Concert, featuring the T&V Choir and Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars! $30 at-door, $25 by December 12; students $10, 18 and under get in free. 7:30pm: 334 E. 14th St. (at 1st Ave), NYC.

  3. 2014 KICK-OFF SHOW– Triple Bill!!
    Wednesday, January 15, 2014 • 6:30pm
    Mercury Lounge: 217 E Houston St (btw 1st Ave & Ave A), NYC
    $10.00 (purchase in advance)

    The Bliss Jockeys’ New Year’s Resolutions for 2014:

    1. Play at epic venues that are known around the world.
    2. Open for international touring sensations.
    3. Share the bill with NYC’s BEST & HOTTEST bands.

    Well, it looks like The Bliss Jockeys will be able to check off all 3 of these resolutions only 15 days into the new year! The Bliss Jockeys will be opening for international touring sensation the Villalobos Brothers. Also on the bill are our good friends, Victor V. Gurbo & Co.!
    Order tickets

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The 5th Great G&S Sing-Out

This Labor Day weekend, while one option would admittedly have been to go to the 71st World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, TX… I instead chose to geek out with a different kind of fandom at the 5th Great Gilbert & Sullivan Sing-Out, organized by the Victorian Lyric Opera Company in Rockville, Maryland.

The premise of the Sing-Out is to sing through all 13 extant Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, more or less in their entirety (though without the dialogue), in one weekend. (I was told that the first Sing-Out was done all in one day, 8am to 2am. I am, on the whole, delighted that they’ve moved toward pacing it out over 3 days.)

Longtime readers may be aware that I first got into Gilbert & Sullivan in the fall of 1999, when I did my first show with the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players: Iolanthe. In that time, I’ve performed in fully staged productions of 10 of the 13 operettas (Patience, Mikado and Ruddigore being the remaining exceptions), and numerous additional concert performances. Somewhere along the way, I crossed over that line (as many a G&S fan knows) from “I’ve been in some of the shows” to “I know MOST of the shows well enough that it’s fun to actually go sing a bunch of them in a row with fellow aficionados.” So I’ve also attended marathons at Brown University in April 2011 and with the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society in June 2011. But the Rockville Sing-Out only happens once every five years (making this the 20th anniversary… if you go by birthdays), and by now I’m hooked enough to actually travel out of state for this sort of thing.

The Sing-Out is truly more of a community singalong than a performance; all are welcome to come and sing chorus, with the option of sitting in the risers on the stage, or to simply watch and sing from the audience. However, the organizers do cast all the solos in advance (by application rather than by audition), and I had the honor of singing Dame Hannah in Ruddigore on Saturday afternoon, as well as one of the chorus leads (Olga) in The Grand Duke on Sunday morning. (Everyone thinks Mad Margaret is the plum women’s role in Ruddigore, and maybe it is, but I’d rather sing Hannah any day. You get the awesome exposition song at the beginning, a feature in the gorgeous madrigal in the Act 1 finale, and — spoiler alert — your own out-of-nowhere love plot with adorable duet at the end.)

Hearing/singing all the shows in one big binge definitely lends some new perspective; for instance, I am assembling some new lists of favorite duets and other bits, which I will attempt to post in future. But mostly it feels oddly like coming home to places I haven’t been since I first (or most recently) inhabited them: Ploverleigh, Pfennig-Halbpfennig, Tremorden Castle, Titipu, Utopia… and of course the House of Lords and the Tower of London. As I posted to Facebook after I got home last night: “Is it sick that I immediately wanted to do it all over again singing different parts?” :-)

And, needless to say, another big part of what made the weekend so awesome was catching up with old friends (from MITG&SP to the G&S Society of New York)… and meeting new ones. Many thanks to all the organizing committee, staff, and volunteers — particularly the accompanists! — who made this magical weekend possible.

Where you can find me for the High Holidays

One of my fellow members at Town & Village Synagogue in downtown Manhattan is Rabbi Judith Hauptman, who is on the faculty at JTS. I first met her over Rosh Hashanah lunch this time last year. For the past several years, Rabbi Hauptman has run a free, public community young adult High Holiday congregation under the name of Ohel Ayalah (“the tent of Ayalah,” named for her mother z”l, the inspiration for this hospitable service). Ohel Ayalah also runs a community young adult Passover seder, which I happened to attend this past April when I needed a place for 2nd-night seder, and I was impressed how they managed to do what felt like a full and complete traditional seder liturgy, blend in enough time for socializing, and still get us out of there at the stroke of 10pm.

One week earlier this summer, I attended T&V’s regular Friday night service, which as a rule is incredibly rich with powerful singing (thanks largely to the amazing Cantor Shayna Postman, and whichever of my fellow choirmates happen to be in the congregation on any given week). After the service, Rabbi Hauptman came up to me and said “How would you like to come daven with me for the High Holidays?”

“Um,” I said, “I’m not sure how useful I can really be to you on that!” I’m not, in truth, very well versed in actual liturgy for anything beyond the Friday night service, Torah service, and occasional Shabbat Musaf. But she has (as I knew) a regular cantor, Josh Gorfinkle, who does the liturgical heavy lifting, and a couple of additional/backup service leaders. In particular, she said, she was basically just looking for someone to reinforce the singing up front on a microphone and thereby add to the overall ruach of the service. That, I said, is something I can do. Even if it means I have to negotiate splitting my time with the choir at T&V, where I would otherwise be spending all of the holidays.

The upshot is that I’ll be with Ohel Ayalah’s Manhattan service for the first evening and day of Rosh Hashanah and for Kol Nidrei. And in addition to harmonizing throughout the services, and reading the Haftarah (the story of Chana, which is my Hebrew name, so that’s awesome), she asked me to sing one of the three repetitions of the Kol Nidrei prayer. I am deeply honored… and only a little terrified. It turns out that I have at least some version of Kol Nidrei internalized from the many years I spent in the professional High Holiday backup choir in Swampscott/Marblehead (starting in 1997 at Temple Israel, which eventually became Congregation Shirat HaYam). Of course, the arrangement in my head is a choral monstrosity for cantor, four-part choir, and possibly organ… but if I sing through some combination of the lines I remember, with enough conviction and kavannah, it seems to hang together well enough.

Rabbi Hauptman offered to lend me a kittel, since she wants all of us to wear them on the bimah. But the Sunday before last, I went up to West Side Judaica on 88th & Broadway and bought one of my own. Amusingly, the nice lady at the register wished me mazal tov… because these are—like the tallit—traditionally considered a men’s garment, and worn particularly for weddings, as well as High Holidays and Passover seders. So, y’know, what else does it mean when a woman of marriageable age is buying one? (Granted, the last time I bought one, that was what it was for, but that’s another story.) Happily, the gentleman who assisted me in finding one had not batted an eyelash when I asserted that it was for myself and patiently helped me sort through and try on all the sizes of the three or four styles they had. I purposely picked out the very most girly-looking one: all pintucks and lace edges. It’s like the world’s prettiest lab coat. I am excited.

I think it’s going to be a good year.

And if you want to come and daven with me, they’re still accepting walk-ins at the Prince George Ballroom (15 E 27 St., between 5th and Madison), tomorrow night at 6:45pm and Thursday morning at 9am. L’shanah tovah u’metukah!

Big performance news: The Bliss Jockeys

Yesterday, I signed on as a backup vocalist with NYC rock band The Bliss Jockeys, fronted by the remarkable and charismatic Phil Robinson and backed by a gospel-choir-style ensemble of 7 female singers. “Part rock, part gospel & part jam band, The Bliss Jockeys feature a large, over-the-top sound and deliver an energizing and delirious experience every time!” Their debut album, The Birth of Bliss, is close to complete and will be forthcoming in 2013 from Roomful of Sky Records.

How it came about: Last weekend was my 20th (shhh) college reunion at Brandeis University. Phil, along with two of his ’98 classmates (having their 15th), were assigned totally at random as my suitemates in the reunion housing on campus. All of them turned out to be completely awesome and the best thing about my weekend. On Saturday night, after the class dinner, we all sat up until about 2am drinking bourbon and singing a cappella harmonies to the Indigo Girls and Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, and finally Phil turned to me and said “Hey! You are awesome and should join my band! I need a female vocalist! We rehearse on Monday nights!”

… Now it happened that, within just the past few weeks, I had started having the thought, “Hey, I would really like to look for an a cappella/vocal group to join again. I bet I could find one of those somewhere in NYC that would take me.” (As longtime acquaintances know, in Boston I was a member of Jewish a cappella group Honorable Menschen from 2003 to 2011, and only quit when I moved to NYC. So it was a huge part of my life for 8 years.)

Also, Monday is one of the few nights in the week I had totally free.

While this obviously isn’t a cappella, the opportunity is close enough that it is going on my archival list of “things that have fallen into my lap precisely when I needed and asked the Universe for them”.

Sunday night I returned to NYC; Monday night I sat in on a rehearsal, and I was thoroughly delighted. The rest is history. I will (tentatively) be making my debut with the band on Thursday, July 18, at Tobacco Road in midtown Manhattan.

Talk about bliss: While the BJs’ list of musical influences includes Bruce Springsteen, The Animals, Phish, the Indigo Girls, Cat Stevens, Etta James, KT Tunstall, and musical theater, their “non-musical influences” are specified as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Case in point: We’re booked to play the Center for Symbolic StudiesMidSummer Festival—Ancient Mysteries, Modern Psyche. The CSS, located just outside New Paltz, NY, is “a healing and performing arts center exploring the psyche through the window of myth.” When I realized that this was the "Midsummer Festival" on our gig list, I about fell over and died; I had blithely assumed it was a music festival. COOLEST. VENUE. EVER. [Edited to add: Sadly, this appearance was later cancelled; the festival has chosen to feature performances more directly theme-related, so, ancient Greek music and the Rap Odyssey. Can’t argue there. But the BJ’s are nonetheless still considered the “house band”.]

I am incredibly excited and energized to be a part of this project. Join the email list or follow on Facebook!

I’ve also updated my performance page accordingly. Obligatory geek side note: The brand-new accordion tabs under “Past Appearances” were created with some nifty Javascript from Elated.com. The MP3 embed utility is, I’m almost sorry to say, Yahoo’s WebPlayer, but it’s actually quite slick; a single line of script, and it will auto-embed YouTube links as well as local MP3 and video files.