Sunday, January 10, 2010


is an extremely special song for me for many reasons.

This song is one of the reasons why my grandma's picture is on the front cover of my CD...
this song is also the reason I got my first Broadway show...
and this song is also the name of new production company Parting Glass Productions.

My grandma used to sing this song to me.

And the weird thing is....
I don't have any clear or crisp actual memory- of her singing this song....
I don't have any visual snapshot of her....
any vivid moment in time where time stopped and I can 'remember it as if it were yesterday'...

like when she would point to the moon and ask me if I saw the man and woman kissing...
or when i would sit on her lap and she would draw exotic giraffes so beautifully...
or when I'd run up to her duster as she rolled up in the driveway to visit after a long drive from Massachusetts and I'd gulp down the scent of her perfume...
Lord knows what it was actually called, but it was collectively known around the family as "grandma sachet". The name I had given it at around the age of four.)

But I know she sang this song to me as a lullabye because I can hear her voice in my mind-
all distant and watery, as if it were funneled through a snow globe.
But it's there.

My grandma's spiritual presence has been with me since very very soon after her death. In dreams, in feelings, she's woken me up just in time to catch a flight and she once got a psychic to chase me down in a hotel to give me a message. Her ashes are now in Jamaica thanks to a radio essay contest I entered because I heard her voice tell me as I was driving that I would win it. But I would win it solely to bring her ashes there.

And I won it.

And her ashes were spread in Jamaica.

So I don't care if ya'll think I'm crazy?

My grandmother in many ways is more present in my life during her death, than she was when she was alive. She comes and goes, as spirits do...but when she's near me, there's no doubt about it. And during this whole CD recording experience she has literally had her mail forwarded to my apartment and set up shop.

In a way, this album is as much hers as it is mine.

But I digress...

back to Parting Glass.

I also perform this song as the encore to my one-woman show Finishing The Hat, for two reasons:

1) As a standard Irish Pub 'closer', it's a kick-ass traditional tie up of an evening of singing and storytelling, as well as being part 'thank you' and part 'blessing'.

2) The song itself is integral to how I got my Broadway debut in James Joyce's The Dead, and a result- a really good story.

Shall I tell it?
I think I shall.
In fact, I told this story in an interview for BroadwayWorld's a few years ago...
allow me to cut and paste-ish.

I was having lunch with my CMU college buddy Emily Skinner who was doing James Joyce's The Dead at Playwrights Off Bway and they were planning to move it to Broadway. She mentioned that she and Alice (Ripley) would most likely need a cover and that I should get my agents on it. They tried like hell to get me in, but with no Broadway credits on my resume and not to mention Alice and Em having recent SIDESHOW joint covers coming out their ass, it didn’t bode well for me.

My agents called me a week later and asked if there was any way to go through Emily because they’d done all they could. So I left her a message basically saying,

“Hey Em, here’s the deal- if there’s anything you can do that would be great- and if this is just a totally jerky thing for me to even ask in the first place then just tell me to fuck off and that will be fine too.”

God bless her- she went up to the director (Richard Nelson) that night at the show, and explained that I should come in and audition. Then, she added,

"My only request is that when you offer her the job, that you let me call her.”

Friggin' awesome move but....all the more pressure on me to not suck.

I get an appointment for the very next day.

The night before, I have an hour long phone conversation with both Alice and Emily after our respective shows- where they graciously and generously explained the show and their scenes- and advised me to be 'as Irish as possible'. The next day, I fortify my celtic-ness with a bowl of wheatabix, a brief prayer to Grandma, my audition book, and I head to my audition.

As I walk into the waiting area, my heart sinks.

Mutant Alice/Em look alikes are everywhere. Blonde hair, tall, gorgeous creatures with perfect little pointy noses all around and then there's me. Short, freckled, red-haired, pug-nosed, stocky and Irish. I believe I thought the very same thing every Jewish actor thought when auditioning for the recent Fiddly on the Roof revival which was,

I'm fucked.

I also hear the songs being sung in the room behind the 'magic door' and they’re NOTHING like the traditional Irish pub song of Parting Glass that Em and Alice had talked me into bringing. Actually, INSISTED on me bringing.

I try not to panic.

I fail miserably.

I walk in and go quickly over to the accompanist and say,

"Here’s my piece…it’s really really Irish.”

"That’s great.”

"No you don’t understand, it’s like a 'Fuck you I’m fucking Irish', song.”

“No really," (insert look that implies 'please don't shank me, crazy') "that’s great.”


I sing Parting Glass.

Vocally, I was suh-LAM-min'.


I pretty much forgot and mish-mashed up the words so bad I was pretty sure instead of saying,

"Goodnight and God be with you all"

I went more along route of,

"The wind is in the buffalo as I go to the corner store of bicycle dreams to buy some absynthe. Anybody need anything while I'm out?"

As expected, there was absolutely no reaction whatsoever from behind the table-which consisted of about 20 Irish people who probably grew up with that song sung by their grandmothers as well-looking at me with completely blank stares.


Not the crowd to mess up the lyrics to a famous pub closer in front of.


Then it came time to read.

I did my first scene for Alice’s character- and there was no reaction.

I did my second scene for Em’s character- and there was no reaction.

I slunk out of the room clumsily at the end, and left Em a message saying,

“Girl, I went in there but I have NO idea how I did. None. I did some great work, and I made some mistakes and honestly, I have no idea how this is going to go down. I just hope I didn’t embarrass you. Thanks for sticking your neck out for me, regardless.”

And I put it in my little pink balloon, and just let it all float away. It was over. And I had my own show to do.

The next day, during the intermission of my Off Bway show- the young and slightly rabid Sideshow fan who ran our box office down at The Cherry Lane ran up to me so incredibly freaked out with ecstacy that he had,




that he almost forgot to give me the message he'd written on a light-blue post-it note which read:



I still have that message in a frame on my wall,

“You got the job”.

Four of the sweetest words in the English language.

That night I lit another candle for Grandma. Thanking her for whatever strings she clearly pulled up there.

And so, ever since then Parting Glass has really cemented itself in my life as not only a warm, fuzzy memory of my Grandma, but also as my undeniable (forgive the pun)...Lucky Charm.

let's talk music.

technically my challenge with this song in particular was not to blow my big chance at reallyallowing other people to hear what I hear in my head when I singthis song publicly (with just apiano and nothing else).

In my mind's ear, I always heard a sort of a "Riverdance" (the cool musical parts of Riverdance, not the cheesy shlocky shit) meets the Clancy Brothers (if they had access to Garage Band)kinda thing.

I wanted to create an atmosphere with this song.
I wanted weight to it.
More weight- sustained weight- than piano can really provide.
Only strings could provide the consistent heft I wanted.
Low, humming, resonating open 5th strings on the bottom...
that speak of history, and moors, and alcoholism throughout centuries.

But I really wanted that Braveheart kinda feel...
forgetting of course, that William Wallace was actually Scottish.

I set to work.

I started with the low open 5ths down in the basement.


oh yes.

Then came the task of playing the tin-whistle over it.
Yes. It was time to actually learn how to play the tin-whistle, bought as my very first purchase when starting this adventure. The first lesson being that tin-whistles apparently come in their own keys. Handily, I knew this song was in D so, I got a D major tin-whistle hoping that, it was indeed that easy.

What I was going for somehow translate an emotional and visual scene in my head...musically.

Like the open strings were a blue-gray-purple foggy dusk right before dawn...
and the tin-whistle is the first bird that dares to fly through it all.
I had the foggy morning....

so here biride, birdie, birdie....


Being a flute player, and having played recorder as a youth, fingering was no problem.
I used 'recorder' breathing which is basically hardly any breath at all.
When you play recorder the trick is to NOT 'over-blow' lest you get that HORRIBLE ske-WANK! sound that just kinda peels your eyelids off.


it sounds very...
and quite frankly, totally pussy-fied.


Is this thing a recorder or a flute or what?

I figure I'll try using more of a 'piccolo' (ie lungs of steel) kind of breath.


there's the SOUND but Jesus H...
it's LOUD!!!

like--- sonic-boom loud.
Like crashing through time, loud.
who would have thought?
such a tiny instrument would be so mother FUCKING loud?

painfully piercing.

Immediately I'm glad it's in the afternoon because no DOUBT this will have my neighbors calling security at any moment.
Ok i gotta wok FAST as I psychically feel them all reaching for their phones with every note i play.

I put on my earphones just so i can stand it.


I have a House moment where I imagine the sound wave as a bullet racing through my earcavities to my brain wher upon contact it literally explodes and then I wake up to see a scragglyHugh Laureie looking over me with a disgusted look on his face.

i put on EARPLUGS underneath the EARPHONES...

now i can at least differentiate pitches.

I have no time to lose...
i immediately start recording.

I just press record and play whatever I can get out-
licks, melodies, imagined sustains, imagined everything...
i play with 'pitch fall offs'- where you allow the pitch of the note to sort of wail downward as you gradually give less breath, but still enough to maintain some sort of sound.
this ONE take ends up being 12 minutes and 43 seconds long before there's a knock on my door.



He asks me to keep it down.
I say, 'of course'.
He leaves and I hope and pray that I have enough 'tin-whistle-age' in 12 minutes to be able to scatter throughout this 3 minute song.

I keep working on the piece as quietly as possible.
This is where orchestrating on the keyboard is awesome because with headphones, I can have an entire orchestra in my ears, and there's NO sound whatsoever anywhere else.

I have the practice track piano in there...
I take a risk and put in the accordion track (hoping that since no one had complained about the accordion before it's on a frequency less annoying than the whistle was).
So far so good.

I take the tin whistle, put the sound level down and add almost enough reverb to drown it to death. it sounds more and more far away. Excellent.

I now have low strings, tin whistle, piano and accordion.

like it....
i don't love it.

There's something wrong with it.
I can't put my finger on it.

I take the piano out.
i put the piano back in.

I take the accordion out.
i put the accordion back in.

I record a flute part...
i take the flute part out.


i hate not knowing what's wrong with something.
So annoying.


I put it away until Andy, the bf, comes over.
Andy has been up until this point serving mostly as my vocal producer....
but I am going to ask him what he thinks of these musical orchestrations because...
i'm absolutely stumped.

And as he's been absolutely brilliant in the vocal producing...
I trust him.
Which I can probably say that about 5 people on the planet.

this was supposed to be a no-brainer orchestration.
i've heard these orchestrations in my head for literally decades.

At 11:30pm, Andy comes over after his show and before he can even take his coat off I've practically shoved the ear phones on his head.

"Please listen to's making me crazy...what's wrong with it?"

Andy sits on the couch and after only 8 bars of intro, he takes the headphones off.

"It's the low strings. They're too much. It sounds like JAWS."

I'm sorry....erm, WHAT?

"My low strings? My awesome BRAVEHEART, foggy moors low strings are the problem? Uhm, i don't think so."

"I'm telling you, I'm afraid some shark is going to come out and bite my leg off."

"You're wrong."

"Look, the low strings resonate deep in the chest....Parting Glass isn't this heavy...the low strings make it sound ominous."

"But you don't get it."


"Cause you're Jewish. It's an Irish thing."

"It's the strings."

"Ok. Fine. Here's what I'll do. I'll double the low strings, same notes, but octaves higher. Ok? I'll compromise. I get the low strings and you get your high strings."

"Do what you want. I'm telling you, you need to get rid of the low strings entirely."

Extremely put out that he would even dare criticise clearly the best part of this arrangement, I doubled the strings octaves higher. Hoping to round out the 'ominousness' that i still think you'd have to be on some sorta Hebrew Hashish to hear.

30 minutes later I bring him the laptop and the headphones. I know it still doesn't sound right but, now for me- it's about proving him wrong. Fuck fixing the piece. The whole goal is now to prove that I am right and he is wrong.
Because I'm like that.
And if you don't understand that kind of stubbornness then i will just have to assume you're Jewish too.
And a straight man.

He listens again, for just 8 bars of intro,

"I'm still afraid for my life. Take out the low strings. Leave the high ones"

"Oh OK Mr. Smarty Pants. Just to SHOW YOU. HOW WRONG. YOU ARE. I WILL take out the lower strings, and leave the high ones so we can both get back to what's REALLY WRONG WITH THIS ARRANGEMENT!"

Two minutes later I have muted the low strings.

mother fucker.

he's right.

he's 100% absolutely totally right.

Oh my God.

I've just been served.


Conveniently, i just 'keep working' at the piano.

About fifteen minutes later, he says,

"Hmmmmmmm, gee, it's taking you an awfully long to take those lower strings out..."


in a barely audible voice i say,

"you were right."


"you were right, ok?"

"I'm sorry, I think my imaginary yamaka is on too tight....what did you..."


"WHAT?! I was RIGHT?!! YOU ACTUALLY SAID THAT I WAS RIGHT?!! Mark this day in history as I go to Temple and give thanks to my God!"

And then.
Hello froze over and pigs flew.
Not because Andy was right....
and not even because I actually admitted it...
but because somewhere...
I was actually happy to admit it.

THAT was an entirely new sensation I dont think I've ever experienced in my life.
Suffice to to say, I'm rarely proven wrong and when I am-
I am absolutely never happy about it.

And so Parting Glass and the power of my Grandma morphs in my life once again-
from lullabye
to good luck charm-
to showing me just how lucky i am.

But if any of you ever see Andy?
Don't ever tell him I said so.

He's been absolutely impossible ever since he was 'right'...
and I shudder to think what I'll have to live with if he actually knew I was happy about it.



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