This week was the was the week of Valentines Day and love. It was definitely that in some ways but not so much in others. On the morning of Valentines Day I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers at work from Del which was an amazing way to start my day. As I received them, I reflected on how blessed I was to have him in my life and how there were a lot of people out there who probably were not enjoying Valentines Day like I was for various reasons. I had a few of those same kind of Valentines Days in the past myself. So, I took a moment to count my blessings and pray for others in need of love in their life in some form.
On January 27, 2018 I had the pleasure of performing for the opening of my dear college friend Kevin Witcher's new restaurant "SCREAMERS." The restaurant is located in the Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska just a couple of blocks from where the history of "SCREAMERS" began. The name is short for "THE SCARLET & CREAM SINGERS" which was a group of 14 college students who served as Ambassadors of Good Will for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This group was sponsored by the Alumni Center and founded by our beloved director Ray Miller. Being in this group during the beginning of my college years made a HUGE impact on my life. There were only 14 singers, so we became very close like a family as we traveled all over Nebraska performing and representing the University. The friends I made in that group are still some of my best friends today. I also learned about performing, musicianship, how to please an audience, life & love. I can still hear Ray in my head at times and his philosophies of entertainment and performing and have been known to quote him while directing my own students. He taught us SO much......Several years ago the group was disbanded and sadly no longer exists. However, the memories of the SCARLET & CREAM SINGERS have now found a new home in the new restaurant "SCREAMERS CABARET & DINING" where our memories hang on the walls and relics of our history and the memory of Ray are revered in this wonderful new establishment. It was truly an honor to perform for the opening and there was a certain "magic" in the air that evening as many of the original "SCREAMERS" gathered to celebrate our memories and the new home that holds our memories. I've attached a clip of one of the songs I sang that evening. To explain just a bit about the clip, I also mention my amazing voice teacher Donna Harler who taught me about singing opera while using the same techniques and applying it to singing pop music. Between her and Ray, I had am amazing vocal education and a little bit of that is included in my commentary while performing. If you would like to see more performances and highlights from the opening that evening, you may watch the video link below. It's incredible to look back and see how the people you've met and the experiences you have in your life come full circle. "SCREAMERS" changed my life and I will always be so grateful for the experiences afforded me while in the group. The SCREAMERS "theme song" is "Memories" which we all sing together when having reunions. That moment is also included in the video below. So thank you to Ray and my whole SCREAMER family for the "Memories."
I am guessing if you are reading this, you have probably seen the video for "Stand By Me." If indeed you have, then you know that there is a quick short moment in there where I had to "direct" a dog to get out of the frame of the camera! LOL! It's funny how the concept and vision I had for the video took some interesting turns, the dog included! For the most part, the video has a lot of my original vision, but there are also some things that developed that I didn't anticipate. And, you know what? That's totally OK because that is how art is. You can plan and plan and plan some more, then you see something that you thought would work that doesn't, while something you never thought you'd use, turns out to be something useful or inspiring.
I have to admit, there is a lot of footage that I didn't think I would use, and then due to time or adverse conditions, I had to go back and look at what I had and realized it would work and actually was really great footage. And then, there's that dog! My son was in the process of filming me and I was lip syncing away, when all of a sudden I heard him holler "the dog is in the picture!" As I turned around and swooshed him away, I was actually impressed and almost found it humorous that he (or she?) actually did what I asked! That was the quick smile I gave, but then I went immediately back into "lip synching mode" because the part I needed was coming up. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would actually use that "ruined" piece of footage. Then, as I was going through different clips of footage and came across it, realized that it was pretty humorous and that there may be a moment where I could actually use it. As you know, I did and it really did fit in great and provided a little fun and a light hearted moment in the video.
I keep joking that I didn't know the dog's name so unfortunately couldn't include him/her in the credits! So, if any of my Wahoo friends know whose dog that is, I would love to know and give that dog some video credit! For right now, he's just "that dog." ;-)
VIDEO OF THE "DOG" MOMENT
Jan. 7, 2018
First of all, I just want to tell you that my blogs will NOT normally be this long! This one is especially long due to the fact that I am doing a thorough explanation of the people and places in the "Stand By Me" video. So, if you are reading this, grab a cup of coffee and sit somewhere comfortable! OR, you may want to read it in sections. Whatever the case may be, please don't let this scare you into thinking ALL my blogs are going to be this long!
THE “STAND BY ME” VIDEO
As you all probably know by now, recording my first single “Stand By Me” was a huge milestone. I have dreamed my whole life of becoming a recording artist. Dave Murphy and I sat down to rehearse and I mentioned doing "Stand By Me. " Well, anyone who knows Dave well, knows that he loves to take songs and re-arrange them. He calls it "messing with songs" but, his arrangements always turn out amazing! He arranged this rendition so beautifully and I felt an incredible responsibility to not only sing the track well and do it justice, but also to do a video that would spread an important message. We all know that the basic intent and meaning of the lyrics are all about a couple standing by each other through the good times and bad, no matter what obstacles may come. However, I wanted to take this message a bit further…..
THE MESSAGE: We live in a time right now that seems a bit uncertain as issues of racism, social injustice, bullying, integrity and basic principles of treating others with respect have surfaced and come to the forefront in today’s world. These are not new issues unfortunately, and I have never understood why we as people have to make things so difficult. Why it is so hard to just treat each and every human being with love and kindness? It's a question that I have yet to find the answer to. What I do know is that I feel very strongly about my purpose as an artist and that is to spread positive messages that give others hope and belief that with love, the world can be healed. It sounds somewhat cliche' but I totally believe it to be true.
When I was thinking about the lyrics of “Stand By Me” it occurred to me that although this is a love song, perhaps we could look at the lyrics in a sense of ALL people “standing by” each other the way couples often do. If everyone did this, no doubt the world would be a different and better place. As the ideas of what I was going to do with the video started to flood my mind, I realized I wanted to somehow send this message in a visual way along with the song. I wanted to keep the integrity of the meaning of the song as it referred to couples whose love would stand the test of time, but also wanted to show that children grow up to be adults and how they love and treat others all depends upon what they have been taught.
THE PEOPLE: The video includes a diverse group of children interacting together representing what the world could be if we taught each and every child to appreciate ALL people, no matter what their differences. We all have differences, but I truly believe we have way more commonalities that unite us than differences that divide us. I also believe our differences are to be celebrated as well. I am blessed to have friends who were willing to allow me to video their beautiful children demonstrating what accepting and loving all people looks like as well as friends and family who were willing to share a photo representing the way they have stood by their loved ones. Aside from showing amazing children and how they are taught to appreciate others, I also wanted represent a lot of people and different types of love and relationships while also celebrating diversity. Below is a list of all of the people in the video in order of appearance and their connection.
THE DIFFERENT SIDES OF NEBRASKA: One of the things I attempted to do in the video was to show the beauty of Nebraska while representing both the urban and rural parts. I think there is a misconception sometimes that Nebraska is flat and not all that beautiful which in my opinion is just not true at all. I may be biased, but I have to say that the sandhills where I grew up is still the most beautiful country I have ever seen. I also love the beauty of the city, especially with the bright lights at Christmas. I wish I could have shown more in the video, but the miserable low temperatures just didn't allow me to that. Next year!!
THE LOCATIONS: There are several locations where the video was filmed. Each location has a special meaning to me and represents a part of my life. I love them all but my favorite hands down is, as you have probably guessed, the sandhills.
THE USASZ RANCH/SANDHILLS: This actually was the ranch/farm where I was born and raised. My dad owned two places, my grandparents place and the one you see in the video that I now call the Usasz Ranch. The field I am in where a good portion of the video was filmed holds ALL kinds of memories. Years of watching my father farm that land is etched into my memory. We lost both farms in the 80’s when things were so rough for small farmers. We just couldn't make it, so after we lost our farms, my dad worked at Foxley cattle company. The only bright side was that a family friend (Mike Usasz) bought our farm. Actually, Mike was more than a friend….he was like family. That is another story and blog in itself, but this is the short version. Mike was my sister Stacy’s boyfriend up until the time of her passing. We always had that connection with him, so if there was anyone that we would want to have the farm, it was Mike.
MEMORIES: One of my most vivid memories was going into that field with my dad after it had been plowed. The hogs had gotten out and were out there where they weren’t supposed to be. I went with him to round them up and get them back to the shed. One of the sows had baby pigs and one of the babies close to me squealed. The sow turned around and looked at me and I remember the fear in my father’s eyes as he yelled “JULIE, RUN!” That sow thought I had something to do with her squealing baby and charged after me. I remember turning around and running as fast as I could. The unfortunate part was I was running in flip flops in a newly tilled field which was not a real desirable situation. I remember falling and thinking I was going to feel teeth in my back, BUT got right back up and dove through the barbed wire fence to safety. That memory and so many more come back to me when I stand in that field.
The hills behind the field that you see in the background was the view from my bedroom window and I remember watching countless beautiful sunrises come up over those hills. The scene with the drone camera in the pasture and sandhills is also land that my father used to own and one of my favorite places to ride my horse. I would disappear on my horse for hours out in that pasture. My mother used to get pretty annoyed at me because she would worry when I was gone for so many hours. However, for me the time passed quickly because there were few things I loved more than just riding my horse and taking in all the beauty and wonder of the sandhills and nature. It was a great place to grow up and every time I go back to the sandhills, I try to visit the old place. The house and most of the buildings are sadly no longer there, but our old horse barn and part of the pig shed that I cut my leg on and had to have over 50 stitches still is. (That’s another story!) It’s amazing how that place has a certain smell and if I close my eyes and breathe deep, I almost feel like I am a child again on that farm. I’ve told my children and Del many times that when I pass, just take my ashes out to where I began and spread me over the sandhills!
THE BURLINGTON DEPOT IN WAHOO: I lived in Wahoo for over 20 years where I raised my children and also taught. I have wonderful memories of my time there along with some very good friends. In the very beginning of the video you will see me at the old Burlington Depot where pretty much everyone goes to get photos done. I’ve taken a lot of prom and family photos there with my children. Wahoo is a very pretty small town with a lot of little pockets of beauty in my opinion, and this is just one.
POLACEK PARK/COOK PARK IN WAHOO: Both beautiful parks very close to each other where I spend lots of time with my children. Those parks were also part of cross country running routes my kids and I ran. Lazy summer days were also spent watching them play on the playground. Cook park, where you see the white fence, was always especially popular for sled riding as there is a big hill steep hill there where everyone goes. I chose these two parks because they obviously are very beautiful in the fall and once again, I have lots of memories there.
PIBEL LAKE: This little lake just outside of my hometown of Ericson holds special meaning for me, my family and also extended family. When I was growing up, we would have family reunions out there and I remember running around the lake, playing games and my cousins and I all piling on the merry go round. There is also a small cemetery near there where most of my ancestors are buried, so my roots run deep there….literally! The lake is updated now with a beautiful new bridge and new playground equipment which was actually donated by Hope Peterson who is one of my distant cousins. There is even a plate on the equipment that honors several families with the Baker family being one of them. As trivial as all this information is, it just explains the deep connection I have and my family has to little Pibel Lake in the sandhills. It just seemed fitting to do part of my video there.
GENE LEAHY MALL: I always knew I wanted to live in downtown Omaha one day once my family was raised. As much as I love and appreciate my country roots, I have always loved the city as well. I used to dream of one day growing up, leaving the country and living in the big city! I didn’t make it to a huge city like New York, but I did finally make it to Omaha which once again, in my humble opinion, is a great little city.
One of my favorite places in Omaha has always been the Gene Leahy Mall, especially at Christmas time. I LOVE Christmas time and all of the sparkles and lights and beauty that come with it. To me, there are fewer places in Omaha that look more magical at Christmas than Gene Leahy Mall. It took a LOT to get the Gene Leahy Mall footage. I filmed it when we were having temperatures below zero and it was miserable. My cameras also kept shutting down due to the cold. I didn’t get exactly the footage I wanted due to the horrible temperatures, but was satisfied I at least got some.
Omaha is my home now and represents where I am in my life today. I’ve had so many life experiences between my time growing up on the farm and my life here in Omaha. There is much to share and 2018 will be the year where I put much of those experiences that happened between then and now into my own original songs. I am looking forward to sharing those songs and stories with everyone.
THANK YOU: If you read this whole blog, THANK YOU! I appreciate you allowing me to share the stories behind the video, the people, the places, and the message. I am also grateful for your support in my attempt to spread some love and understanding in the world through music and its message visually through video. So, thank you for “standing by me” as I attempt to encourage EVERYONE to stand by their fellow man and make a difference in this world that is so greatly in need of one simple thing, and that is…..love.
Happy New Year!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! It is the time for a new year and with that comes resolutions and new beginnings....a reset button, if you will. One of my resolutions for 2018 is to do more to connect with my friends and followers, hence the inspiration for starting this blog.