Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Full Disclosure - in Defense of George Stephanopoulos

Our society loves to build people up so we can tear them down. That is the climate we live in. It is the substance of every reality TV show, and in recent months, it has bled over into our legitimate news programs and the people who bring them to us.

The higher the pedestal, the more precarious the perch. We ascribe super hero qualities to mere mortals and feign shock and dismay when they fall short in even the minutest of ways.

But me, I revel in our humanity, flaws and all. I celebrate those who have the fortitude to keep their heads up during the storm and hold steadfast to their dignity, no matter what the tide of popular opinion may be. And I value loyalty as a virtue I hold dearer than most other virtues, precisely because tides do turn throughout our lives and it speaks to our character when we are not swayed by the fleeting.

Maybe I am alone in this. It certainly feels that way at times. But that is why I must speak up now, because of the ridiculousness of this faux “scandal” involving George Stephanopoulos.

George Stephanopoulos gave donations to the Clinton Foundation – a 501(c) not-for-profit organization that combats AIDS, malaria, the ravages of climate change, and poverty worldwide. His donations were a matter of public record. There was no secret. No hidden agenda. A man gave his own money to a charitable foundation that both saves and improves the lives of millions worldwide. You know when I would question his character? If he didn’t support that kind of work in the world.

Does this impact his job performance? That is the question people say is at issue.

When each of us gets called for jury duty, are we not asked to put aside our personal viewpoints in order to perform the task at hand impartially? We are, and most people can and do, or our entire judicial system would have been tossed on its head years ago.

We all have opinions, biases, inclinations and a personal history that makes us who we are. But we also have free will, intelligence, and the good ol’ common sense God gave us to practice good judgment and when necessary, impartiality.

So here’s my full disclosure about George Stephanopoulos. Several years ago, when there were no cameras rolling, when no one was watching, when there was absolutely nothing in it for him, he gave a complete stranger some of his time and candor so that she could finish writing the end of a book that there was no certainty anyone would ever read or let alone, publish.

What kind of person does that? A generous one. And maybe someone who believes in the underdog succeeding – you know, the kind of person who would want to help people. All people. Anywhere in the world. In whatever way he can, whether it be by contributing to a former boss’s charitable foundation or by purchasing Girl Scout cookies. That kind of person.

As for me, I tune in precisely because I do know who I’m getting with George Stephanopoulos – intelligent discourse and a clearer understanding and fuller grasp of whatever the topic. If I want pure bias, I can tune in to Fox News. If I want good journalism, I tune into ABC and George Stephanopoulos. 

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Project Update - Meet the Players, the Final Edition!!!!

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later – the final edition of “Meet the Players!”

In this installment, we feature Lorraine Ferro on background vocals, violist Kris Wilkinson, and artist Marina Drasnin.

One of the most beautiful aspects of making this record has been the cross section of people who are gracing it. It is an amalgam of those I adore and have worked with for years, people I adore and have never worked with before, and complete strangers whom I now, come on, sing it with me – adore.

And so it is fitting in this, my final installment of “Meet the Players,” that it encompasses just that cross section of all three.

Lorraine Ferro has been one of my favorite voices on the planet since I met her and we became friends in our twenties. For years, she was the voice on every demo I recorded, and the one I heard in my head whenever I wrote a new song. So to have her singing with me as I embrace my own voice is a gift beyond that which I can express.

You might best know her as the writer of the #1 song “Stand,” or from the TV show The Voice, or myriad live shows and TV jingles. In the past few years, we’ve finally had the chance to share the stage on many occasions, and all I can say is it is a heck of a lot of fun and I am still in awe. So thank you, Lorraine for adding your voice, your magic, and your soul to this project!

Kris Wilkinson is one of the people I’ve never met, but someone who was definitely meant to be a part of this. She has recorded and performed with too long a list to write in its entirety, but here are just a few of them – Jason Mraz, Elton John, Train, Carrie Underwood, Michael Buble, and the list goes on and on with just about anyone you could name in the music business that’s huge.

When I started this project, it was my intention that everyone who was on it would bring their heart and not just their talent. When you are asking a complete stranger, there’s no way to actually know that until they’ve played. But that has been the beauty of trusting this process and going with what felt right. I am so grateful to have crossed paths with Kris and that she gave the same artistry, energy, and beauty to this project as she has for all those people I listed above. What a validating gift! Thank you so much, Kris!

Last, but not least, is another kind of crazy story. I am Facebook friends with a multi-talented figure skating champion named Tai Babilonia. Truth be told, I did not hang pictures of musicians on my walls as a kid. But I did have a bevy of athletes I admired, and among them were my favorite pairs skaters of all time – Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner.

Social media is a funny thing. For all of its deficits, it also allows for connection between people whose paths would not have crossed otherwise. And such was the case for me in this instance.

So I am Facebook friends with Tai, and somewhere in my FB feed was a piece of art that one of her friends posted on her wall. Well, I fell in love with it, in fact, so much so that I wanted it on my album artwork.

So I, being the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” type of person, reached out and asked this completed stranger, who is an honest-to-goodness artist, if I could please use her artwork on my album. Well, needless to say, Marina Drasnin and her beautiful work are now a part of this project as well. And I have met another beautiful soul…thanks to Tai Babilonia, a world champion figure skater.

How’s that for the intricate tapestry of life?!!!! So many thanks and hugs to Marina and to Tai!

So here’s the wrap-up of musicians on the project:

Me – Ilene Angel J
Tanya Leah
Mark Prentice
Matthew Bubel
Caitlin Evanson
Kris Wilkinson
Everett Bradley
Lorraine Ferro
BethAnne Clayton
…and special guest Kenny Loggins!!!!

We are up to mixing and mastering next!!!

Thank you for hanging in there with me and for believing in this work and making it possible. I love and appreciate you all beyond words!


Ilene

Sunday, May 10, 2015

a Mother's Day Blog...

Mother’s Day has been one of those holidays I’ve tiptoed precariously around since my mother’s passing twelve years ago. It’s a mixed bag of memories and melancholy, and I know I am by no means alone in this. Anyone whose mother is gone dances that dance as well.

I remember thinking once, when visiting my niece, and realizing my utter delight in her mere existence, that we all seem to be perpetually searching and longing for that – someone to delight in us. And though it seems like something reserved for only our direct bloodline, wouldn’t it be nice if we could practice more of that kind of love with everyone in our lives?

Whom do we cheer on? Whose champion are we? Whose safe harbor are we in stormy seas? Can we love people as much in their failures as in their triumphs? Can we keep our arms open even when we ourselves are hurting? Can we delight in each other’s adult selves as much as we do in toddlers and puppies?

Maybe it’s a byproduct of time that we stop and think about how we show up in life. Maybe that’s because how we show up is our link to immortality. More than any accomplishment we will ever achieve, love is the abiding thing that exists beyond our time here. So we shouldn’t be stingy with either feeling it or expressing it.

And that brings me to…my sister-in-law, Narci, mother of my cherished and adorable niece, Samantha.

It is hard living 3,000 miles away from people you love, but the time I do get to spend is both more precious and gives me a different vantage point than I otherwise would have had.

My niece, Sammy, is effervescent. And what is most precious to her, she shares openly, whether it’s her excitement about a book she’s reading, something she learned in dance class, or a treasure kept in a special place in her room. She is considerate and polite, caring and affectionate, and I can’t help but think that her mother should be given a medal for raising a child with those qualities in today’s world. (And my brother, too, but it’s not Father’s Day yet, so hold your horses, will ya!)

So Narci, please know that you are appreciated and valued and respected so much for making this world a better place by who you are raising Samantha to be and by who you are, because you could not impart qualities you did not yourself possess.

Wishing everyone a safe harbor of unconditional love – to have it and to be it for others.


Happy Mother’s Day!
Mom & Me
Me, Narci, & Sammy 2014

Friday, April 3, 2015

life, love, and forgiveness...a Passover and Easter blog

This holy season is one of my favorite times of year, not just because it is finally spring, but because of what both the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian one of Easter represent.

Passover is about freedom – from slavery, from immobility, from all that life had been up until that point. It is about seeking a promised land.

I don’t think most of us equate this story with the lives we live today, but I think it is exactly about life today. We make ourselves slaves to our jobs, to money, to a lifestyle, to others’ expectations of us. We are held captive by limited beliefs about what is possible, and we do not equate a promised land with a place we can actually reside within our lifetime, so most of us never seek it out.

We want to feel better about ourselves, so we belittle others. We think the new Mercedes will somehow make us feel worthy or accomplished. We think that giving someone a helping hand is tantamount to enabling the alcoholic to drink, when in fact, a helping hand helps far more than the receiver. It gives to the giver as well.

Who would you be if no one was looking? What dreams would you pursue? What life would you lead? And don’t you think it’s time? We are all slaves to the choices we’ve made, so what would you choose differently right now? What choice will you make today that you will thank yourself for later on? What bondage would you like to break free from? What picture of pure joy would you paint for your life if you could? And isn’t it time we all did?

…which brings me to Easter, the one about resurrection. I love the whole idea of resurrection- bringing the once thought dead back to life. But Easter is not merely about resurrection. It is also about the persecution that preceded it. We persecute ourselves and each other in countless ways every day. We deny ourselves the very forgiveness that we seek. And if we want this world to look different and be a kinder one, then it must start with how we treat ourselves.

Resurrection begins with us forgiving ourselves. It begins with us affording ourselves the love and compassion we would want from others and from God. We must care for the child who has fallen short, because we are that child. We must believe we are worth the new start, the second chance, the resurrected dream of our life.

Right before Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.”

What do we want our lives to be before it is our turn to say, “It is finished?” What do you want your life to stand for? What’s that thing you must do before you are finished? And why? Because if we can each answer that question and be on our way toward doing it, then life becomes a whole lot sweeter and the world a whole lot more magical.

Our time is finite. That thing you’re longing for can’t wait another day. That person you love – risk it and tell them. That dream that’s in your heart – it can’t linger there in solitude for one more minute.

Freedom and resurrection are not just what holidays are about. They are what our choices in this instant are about. So is what you’re doing right now setting you free or keeping you captive? Are you resurrecting hope, love, excitement and possibilities or something else?

Faith is a living, breathing, every-expanding thing…or it is not faith at all. So however you choose to celebrate, whatever you believe to be true for you, take a breath, take a step, go beyond something you did yesterday.

It’s tine.

Peace & Blessings to all of you in this holy season of life, love, and forgiveness…

Ilene

Sunday, March 8, 2015

the courage to trust, surrender, and embrace

Way, way back, at the beginning of 2015, (okay, so maybe it’s not that far back, but it feels like it is), I picked my three words for the year. They were to be my mantra, if you will, to set me back on course if, God forbid, I should veer off and find myself heading toward, oh, say, a ditch of some sort.

These words were the words that flooded in immediately, without thinking and obsessing and worrying, as had been my customary practice for a long time. So me being of very evolved consciousness, took one look at those three words that tumbled out and thought, Oh shit! Not that! Anything but that!

And interestingly enough, every time since, when I have found myself frustrated or upset or tied in knots, it would dawn on me – what was missing was trust, surrender, and embrace – my three words. And they would get me back on track. 

Fast forward to this morning. I was playing at a particular spiritual center for the first time. I was only supposed to play one of my original songs during the service, right before the reverend’s talk, which I did. Done.

I find it fascinating that when you are on a path of transformation, opportunities for that transformation arrive all the time. They do not schedule an appointment time or place with you. If you say, “God, I want to break free of my limiting thoughts and beliefs and stand in the fullness of who I am and what I was created to be,” then watch out! The Universe will provide you with many “here’s your chance” moments to do just that.

It sounds really good on paper. I can be all kinds of courageous in theory. I’m a whirlwind of bravery at my computer keyboard, but what do you do in the moment when you feel compelled to act on what you said you wanted?

So there I was, at the piano, sitting quietly, while the reverend was delivering her message. And her message was everything I’d been working on and dealing with over the past few years. It was about believing the truth and not every little thought that pops into our imaginative little brains. The truth. And not that negative thing someone said to you as a child, or a few years ago, or last week, or yesterday, for that matter. The truth. And not the lies we tell ourselves to rationalize why we can’t have the lives we truly want. The truth. The truth of who we are and whose we are and what is possible if we would but let go of the beliefs that do not serve us.

I was overcome with more than just emotion. I felt a buzzing energy around me and inside me. A palpable buzzing energy.

Wasn’t this the genesis for the CD I’m finishing? Wasn’t this the title song? Wasn’t this what I wanted to put out into the world? But you can’t have what you are not willing to be. So if I want to encourage people to follow their hearts, to allow themselves to dream bigger than what the world might deem sensible, to step boldly forward into their greatest desire and highest calling, then I had to be willing to do that in this very moment. Not in theory. Not on paper. In real life. Now.

I began having an internal dialogue while the good reverend was finishing her talk. “Don’t do this, Ilene. It’s your first Sunday here. It could be your last. You’ll be pushing the envelope and you are not an envelope pusher.” (This is fear talking, by the way.) “You did just fine with the one song. Everybody liked it. People will think you’re full of yourself if you just sing another song right now, because you feel compelled. Stick with what you are supposed to do.” (Still fear talking.)

But there was another voice. “This is what you were put here for. Someone needs to hear this today, and you may not know who, but you know this is why you’re here today.” (Let’s call this voice “the one that knows.”) “This is your chance to claim that fullness of you, step into it, own it. Never mind the fear. Never mind if they will have you back or not. Never mind whether or not you are a reputed envelope pusher or not. It is now, it is you, and you are ready.”

I took the leap and sang the song. I decided today was not the day to shrink back into oblivion. I’ve spent too long there. It’s not fun. And this may not have been tackling Mount Everest, but we each have our own Mount Everest to scale. I’ll never know who that song was supposed to reach today, but I do know that I was the recipient of the opportunity to be and not just have the life I wanted. And that was a gift to me.

Acts of faith seem terrifying – the not knowing, the taking a step when we’re not sure if there’s a cliff we’re about to step off or solid ground beneath us. But we’ve gotta dare to take the step. We get to grow each time we do. Our lives don’t transform until we transform. And it’s not always the Red Sea parting. It’s the small steps, it’s the learning to listen to that part of us that knows that we know, and daring to trust it.

Whatever it is you want for your life, I hope you dare to trust that part of you that knows, surrender the attempts to control it, and embrace the magic and the mystery and the love that surrounds us all.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Peace and Blessings to you always,

Ilene

Thursday, March 5, 2015

a project update: Meet the Players (#5)!!!

I know, I know. After the update with the Kenny Loggins duet announcement, you’re wondering, can she keep this going? Can this level of excitement be sustained?

Well, I’m here to tell you – heck yes!!!

We’re up to the “icing on the cake” stuff, as far as I’m concerned, the miscellaneous additional instruments that make the sweet sweeter. And the background vocals that take the record to the area of spectacular. (Can you tell I’m really, really excited about this?!!)

So in today’s (snowy) installment of “Meet the Players,” I’m introducing you to Everett Bradley on background (and some featured) vocals.

Have you ever met anyone who just oozes talent out of every pore of their being?

Have you ever met anyone who simply radiates love and joy and light?

And have you ever met anyone around whom you feel good just being in their presence?

That’s Everett.

So getting to work with Everett Bradley has been one of the most fun and truly fantastic parts of making this record.

Where would you know him from? Well, he’s on TV five days a week as the bandleader/musical director on The Meredith Vieira Show. But when he’s not on TV, you might have seen him touring with this rock guy named Bruce something-or-other. Springsteen – that’s it!!! Bruce Springsteen. Or maybe you saw him on Broadway in After Midnight. Or maybe it was back when he toured with Bon Jovi or Hall & Oates.

The point is he has contributed his awesomeness to this project and I cannot wait for you to hear it!

As always, I am reminded that I would not have this opportunity without all of you who said “Yes!” So thank you, again. And a huge thank you to you, Everett. You are such a gift. 
Everett Bradley & Me 

Me, Tanya Leah, & Everett Bradley

Thursday, February 26, 2015

a surprise birthday blog!

As is becoming more and more my practice, I love surprising unsuspecting friends with a blog on their birthday.

We cross paths with a lot of people during the course of our lives. Some stay. Some go. So weave in and out of our lives for different periods of time.

When you’re in the music business, you see the ebb and flow, the rise and fall, the journeys that are unlike any other. And as with everything in life, we carry with us the moments and memories.

We remember sipping wine in a friend’s backyard late at night, talking about dreams and heartaches privy to very few. We see the progression and the maturation, the breathtaking beauty carved out of lessons learned, loves lost, hope found.

If you’re lucky, as I am, you get to cross paths with more than enormous talents. You get to cross paths with enormous people. (I’m not referring to girth, by the way.)

You become each other’s cheering sections and revel in the moments of giddy excitement, just as you share in the more trying times. And if you’re really lucky, you get to make music together – music that will go forth into the world and do what it’s meant to do, music that's made with people you love and admire.

I’ve written a lot about my project. I’ve been steadily introducing you to the players and singers. And today, since it’s Caitlin’s birthday, I think it is an excellent time to say how unbelievably ridiculously awesome she is.

You may know Caitlin Evanson from the people she’s played with – namely Taylor Swift, Ringo Starr, and a long list of notable others. She’s a violinist, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and I’m guessing there are probably many more talents than I know about.

I am unbelievably excited for her to be playing violin on my record. Some people are true artists, and Caitlin is one of those who brings the beauty of who she is at her core to her playing.

So whatever you are doing today on your special day today Caitlin, I hope you know the gift you are and are celebrating it with all the things that bring you joy. Happy Birthday!!!

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends. And since it’s Caitlin’s birthday, I say we all have a piece of cake!