"She Used to Be Mine", from the musical Waitress is quite possibly one of the most difficult contemporary musical theatre songs I've ever performed. It is an etude in how to navigate the technical challenges of healthy belting, while bearing your soul emotionally.
I have two explanations for why I felt the need to record this song. One is rather a profound confession, and another a flippant avoidance of talking about that confession. So how about we start with the latter.
I am very excited about Broadway and live shows re-surfacing again - it is thrilling to see the live musical world come back to life in the midst of this crazy pandemic and all the uncertainty that seems to still be in the air (literally).
So - why did I record this song specifically?
The musical Waitress, written by and starring Sara Bareilles (whom I adore) is officially back on Broadway, right now (with Sara for a limited time). Cool! So- here's me singin' this show-stopping-heart-wrenching song where Jenna, the waitress with a passion for pie making, is feeling as if she has lost herself. She contemplates what to do for the new life inside her - and the abusive relationship she feels trapped in.
Confession of Envy
The more difficult explanation is that last month, I had the (painful) pleasure of seeing the Chicago Symphony accompany Betsy Wolfe (Broadway star and former Waitress lead who took over for Sara Bareilles) at the Ravinia Festival. While it was certainly a pleasure to listen to Betsy absolutely knock it out of the park with this song there, it was also, well, torturous. To be clear, there was NOTHING wrong with her performance. She is immaculate. -Bear with me -
I haven't really sung, live - with an audience for nearly two years. Exactly two years ago I was nearing the last month of my pregnancy and on the brink of bringing my son into this world- so I was a bit preoccupied and didn't exactly have a lot of performing opportunities lined up for myself. Then- my son was born, and we got out of the first three or four months of newborn stage, and I was juuuuusssst starting to get back into the swing of things vocally and professionally - and then the pandemic hit us like a tsunami wave....taking away with it's wave all of the live entertainment and especially singing (!) opportunities with it, period.
I will spare you the gory details of the toll this took on my mental health (didn't it effect us all?) but suffice it to say, I wasn't doing well. I have since recovered now, miraculously - I think - but there are shreds of me that still seem as raw as they did during my deepest sadness and they resurface from time to time. The performing part of me? -was suffocating. Sure, I had other projects to do during that time, and I thoroughly enjoyed making headway on Sparrow Songs and getting my sheet music available etc. But not performing live?? I felt like a fire that had been starved of oxygen. I felt squelched and choked - I was gasping for air - desperate for a chance to breathe - and I just was not getting anything.
What people who don't perform may not really grasp, is that as a performer- you crave audience connection. And not in the "oh I need all eyes on me" kind of way- that some people assume. I'm sure some performers truly need a regular egotistical boost and need the spotlight. Those kind of performers can be difficult people to be around. Often, they may be insecure or just the kind of people that need attention so much they can completely exhaust everyone around them. I have always strived not to be that way. No, attention-seeking is not what I mean by needing audience connection.
Sprinkled throughout great performances, there are these incredible moments of truth- or gems of transcendency and human connection that can occur. It happens through the sharing of stories, sometimes within sinking walls of vulnerability or pain, or through the laughter that helps alleviate or support people and their pain subsides. Have you ever had chills, or goosebumps during a performance? That's one of those moments. Have you ever been so moved by a performance you sobbed? Or have you experienced eruptive laughter, without regard as to how loud you sounded? That's one of these moments. I'm sure you know what I mean. I feel like these moments allow us to have empathy and allow healing to occur. The world is suffering, in so many ways...these kind of humanitarian moments are balms for the soul. These moments bring more purpose into my life.
As a performer who strives for this, I have always felt that when I'm living these moments- that I'm sharing myself with the audience in a way that feels as natural as breathing. And furthermore- that they are able to actually give back and breathe with me. It's very much like the phrase "I see you" from the movie Avatar. Maybe this is too cheesy for some, but nonetheless - I crave it. ...I crave it because I used to get to have it all the time. I may have even taken it for granted. I miss it so badly when I reflect on it I get a big lump in my throat and start to well-up.
WELL- Ms. Betsy Wolfe that night at Ravinia, was breathing. She was singing away and had the audience with her- right in the palm of her hand. Breathing. And, as much as I wanted to enjoy the transcendence of the moment that she was sharing with her audience - I just felt MORE suffocated, and just found myself aching to breathe. I was envious of her. For the first time ever - I was truly envious of a Broadway performer. I didn't wish her ill, I simply needed what she was doing to be what I was doing.
I have always told myself I would never want to audition for Broadway because
#1, I don't want to live in New York, or do national tours, but more importantly-
#2, I really really don't want to be performing the same show over and over again day in and day out. (also, so many shows a week = no family life)
...but in this moment? If anyone had said I could perform backflips on a unicycle (or anything else impossible that I doubt I could ever accomplish) for a dying audience of worms on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere - I would be down for that. Yes!
Back at Ravinia that night, during this song- the lump in my throat constricted and then gave way to big ol' crocodile tears. A profound sadness erupted from within me as I realized that witnessing other people experiencing what I craved so badly was just so painful. If anyone noticed me while sitting near, they may have thought that I was just really into the song. But I was so far away. Starved to feel what she was feeling. Watching her feel it, was torture.
Then, I told myself I would learn the song she was singing. "She Used to be Mine" had a whole new meaning to me now, as well- as a mom. You don't have to have been in an abusive situation to connect with a song that talks about how much motherhood, or even just getting older, is changing you. ...I will perform the song!
-- and not for worms, either.
For now though, until I can perform it live, I'm sharing it here. Thank you to Larry & Alice Beebe for allowing me to use your recording studio, time, and expertise last week. I will also probably produce a little music video of this cover song soon.
If you feel a connection - would you let me know? I miss my audience. So badly.
Can't wait for some of this coming year's exciting projects and the opportunities to connect again. I have some gigs on the horizon. Thrilled to never take it for granted again.
What a fun 1920's gig at the Centennial celebration of Glencoe Golf Club! It's always a great night with Andrew Blendermann on the keys, nothing can go wrong- even when you replaced a singer who was sick and with less than 24 hour notice sang 30+ songs unrehearsed...which went swimmingly well! It helped that the audience was helping themselves to the open bar... :)
I cannot even handle the excitement with which I am releasing this music video today! So SO excited. I hope you love it as much as I do! So many family/friends have expressed they have shed tears while watching this video...I hope you will shed a happy tear or two as well - I think my 4 year old is fairly stinking adorable, but I am pretty biased! I hope sincerely that this message of how wonderful and beautiful our world is, will make it into your heart and that you will feel compelled to do something kind today as a result! Kindness is free! Love everyone around you! Our time is short & precious. :) Enjoy! Sincerely Yours,
Rachel & Ella
Now more than ever, with all the hate in the world...we need to teach our children correct principles of love, inclusivity, and equality. I strive to do this as much as I can, through our music we share together.
I want to highlight this line: "The colors on the rainbow are so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces, of people walkin' by, I see friends shakin' hands sayin' "How do you do?" They're really sayin' "I love you".
My 4 year old daughter Ella and I have had such a fun time making this recording together. My arrangement is loosely based on "IZ"'s original mashup of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.
I added some Rainbow Connection and created this sweet little duet with my girl. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have. I can't wait to perhaps make a a little music video with her on this someday soon!
Hope you'll enjoy my arrangement of"Were You There?" with it's focus on the resurrection in the fourth verse, it's so meaningful, especially around Easter-time.
I hope you'll enjoy my solo acappella rendition of "He Never Said a Mumbalin' Word".
I find this song to be a profound reflection on Good Friday today, in preparation for Easter. Good Friday always reminds me of Judy.
I am dedicating this arrangement to the memory of Judy Cope. I would like to share the story of our connection to this piece, and how it brought us together in our shared belief in Jesus Christ. Her name is now engraved as a footnote on each piece of music, and also on the voice/piano version of this arrangement.
Judy was a powerful advocate for women in the arts. Judy was a light and a guide to many artists, in her previous role as the executive director of The Sorel Organization. She encouraged me to be an excellent mother and an excellent performer. She firmly believed women should not have to choose one or the other. It is because of her that I initiated the Sparrow Songs project and finally brought it into being around the time of Good Friday 2015.
Judy and I met at my Carnegie Hall Debut in 2014. She was in the audience, I believe to show support for the fabulous and lovely pianist Anna Shelest. I ended the first half of the program singing this arrangement, followed by crowd-pleaser "Girl in 14G". Then the finale of the concert featured my performance of the Bell Song. It was truly an unforgettable event for me.
At the conclusion of the performance, Judy sought me out, complimented my program, and requested a copy of my arrangement of "He Never Said a Mumbalin' Word". Sheepishly I admitted that my arrangements were just swimming around in my head. I had just been too busy to get them engraved - and I knew that God wanted me to do so, and as soon as I did it- she would be the first to know!
A few months later, because of my interaction with Judy, I engraved the first one of my acappella arrangements; "He Never Said a Mumbalin' Word" (the below arrangement) and sent it to her for her personal use. In our subsequent discourses back and forth, she shared with me how much this meant to her - in this screenshot of a past email below, I've circled & underlined the most relevant passages to her support of me, and also her connection to this piece:
She was extremely supportive of the Melodious Mamas "What are You Expecting?" Concert I produced in 2016 with 5 pregnant performers, when I was on the brink of Motherhood... our concert would not have been possible without the sponsorship by The Sorel Organization. She attended our concert and told me how fabulous it was, and how much she wanted to support future projects.
Our last interaction was in March of 2019. We had plans to meet to discuss some new ideas when I was in NYC competing in the Lotte Lenya competition. Unfortunately she felt ill and had to cancel our meeting. She passed away a few months later at 60 just years old, after her brave battle with brain cancer. Here is a link to her obituary. What a wonderful woman and her enthusiasm for my sacred solo songs was unmatched.
Rest in peace Judy! This one's for you.
Ella and I are having a blast... her first professional recording studio experience, at 4 years old! She recorded the sweetest Christian song: "When I have to choose" for Larry Beebe... and I can't wait to post it! So sweet! She also sang with me a little duet - "Feed the Birds" and we laid down a track to practice our Rainbow Medley, and will record that one really soon as well. It has been SO much fun to work on recording these sweet songs with my daughter. Her sweet little voice is just adorable. Here's the youtube video we did before, (which we did for Scott's Surgery Virtual Benefit concert) as a teaser of something MUCH better yet to come!
This is so exciting! This past week I was able to record the acappella versions of my Sparrow Songs arrangements in my pal Larry Beebe's studio! Here he is hard at work, editing/mastering and putting the final touches on each track! He's the best. Enjoy the playlist of solo arrangements. Their counterparts- the voice/piano arrangements are next! Hopefully really soon - once I'm fully vaccinated, we can begin recording those as well! YAY!
Happy New Year Everyone! I could not think of a more fitting New Year's text, than this poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Across Europe, there's quite the tradition of church bells tolling/bringing in the New Year.... Tennyson wrote an incredibly poignant poem on the subject. This text is more pertinent this year, than perhaps ever before.
We are so grateful for the continued love and prayers we have felt from all of our friends as little Scotty has been recovering. The GoFundMe has been updated, (not needing any further donations of course - as we have now received nearly $20K...we are so blessed and it's only up for informational purposes). We have been SO impressed with his recovery and are constantly counting our blessings. He is doing very well.
We are looking forward with light, hope and excitement to what 2021 has to offer, and are so grateful (truly) to what 2020 has taught us. Blessings to each of our dear friends and wonderful strangers who helped us on our path to where we are now. Thank you... this will conclude the virtual benefit (turned into gratitude) concert.
Please enjoy my arrangement based off of his words, and the Crawford Gate's hymn "Ring Out Wild Bells":
(Excerpt from: In Memoriam; Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
(view FULL poem, which is AWESOME and SO applicable to this year here: https://poets.org/poem/memoriam-ring-out-wild-bells
I was so blessed to be able to safely record in Highland Park Community House's gorgeous ballroom. It wasn't without it's challenges though, to have to be so far apart. The ballroom has a (wonderful!) acoustic, but with the reverb we found it difficult while recording this, to be at the same spritely tempo I really want this piece to clip at (when there is a lag, and across a large space like that- it's easy to react off of someone's reverb, instead of their actual sound.) ...So! Anyway, while it's not quite the tempo I would like for this arrangement-- it's still worth it to me to share, due to the amazing text and sentiment and the celebration of what's to come! :) I have thoroughly enjoyed working on these arrangements and can't wait until they are all "live" someday soon and compiled according to my hopes! Thank you Andrew Blendermann for being such an awesome pianist, as per usual!
I just love this sweet girl of mine! :) Merry Christmas everyone!
"Becoming a mother changed me. I have more love, passion, and fulfillment in life; which in turn, enriches my artistry. Please join me in normalizing motherhood within the performing artist's culture."
- Rachel Sparrow
Rachel Sparrow is a professional singer, musician,(violin, piano, ukulele) actor, teacher, arranger, writer, and most importantly: a wife and a mommy of two littles. She loves to help parents make everyday life musical with their kids as well as share backstage stories, and performance experiences here. She earned her Master's degree in Voice Performance from Northwestern University, and also holds two Bachelor's degrees in Voice, and Music Education (certified to teach k-12 vocal & instrumental music) from Idaho State University. She is also a certified Music Together Director (music class for birth-5 yrs). See about Rachel.
"Think Outside Your Box" means 3 things:
1. Be Selfless - think beyond your own "box". (and for singers, there's more to life than your voice box!) You're capable of helping and healing others.
2. Feel Empowered to bust out of the proverbial
"box" made of societally-induced-parameters.
3. Be Bold. Innovate. Stretch yourself. You can do anything if you set your mind to it.