Monsters, Animals a Cappella (THROAT and Mister Tim in Concert June 9th!)

Fresh from their big win at the Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes (Champions and Best Song “Monsters, Animals, THROAT (a band that’s managed by and includes Mister Tim) will be performing TONIGHT (8:00-11:00 pm) at the Velour Music Gallery 135 N. University Ave Provo, UT.

Lyrics with esoteric leanings, a fair amount of techno, and a female lead with the airiness of Emmy Rossum and the edge of Regina Spektor makes THROAT a unique a cappella experience. Their new music is a demanding experience; no checking out or half-listening options available. Several tunes are definite toe-tappers (my favorites are “On and On” and “180”). Some of them are strange enough to leave you in a stupor (“ala Floyd” being one of them. Of course, that might be the point of the homage in that particular tune). But all of them are worth listening to. Check ’em out!

THROAT

Spreading the Gospel of Mormon Arts

Recently on Facebook I linked to Mahonri’s post about The Book of Mormon Musical over at Dawning of a Brighter Day. The conversation that ensued was awesome and a few really good moments came out of it for me.

The first moment came when I wrote this in response to a friend (who is not LDS) who asked why the rest of the world should care about Mormons in the first place: “What really is interesting and important to me is that Mormonism is a particular way of being in the world and interacting with the world. I would venture that it is a unique way of existing and as such it offers unique perspectives on what it means to be human in general. I personally feel like I have gained a lot of insight, compassion, and other such desirable human virtues from engaging in other cultures’ artistic and spiritual works. I hope that at some point it would be possible for others to engage with Mormon art and culture in a similar manner. But the current cultural climate in America isn’t conducive to that. And, perhaps more importantly, the larger part of the current artistic climate in Mormon culture isn’t conducive to that. There are a few artists, musicians, and writers that I think are creating that kind of art, but it takes a lot of work to find it and engage in it–and if that isn’t everyone’s priority, that’s okay. I just wish more people knew it was out there.” It was a great moment because it was the first time I’ve ever been able to effectively articulate why I care so darn much about what Mormon artists are producing.

Another great moment came when several friends who were not LDS weighed in on their feelings and experiences when well-meaning Mormon folk give them Books of Mormon. If I thought it was germane (and not a breech of confidence) I would repost their comments here. Suffice it to say, it really widened my thinking on missionary efforts and on how we need to condition our hearts much more carefully before flinging our beliefs about.

And a final great moment was when a friend asked me for recommendations of Mormon writers, musicians, and artists who aren’t pushing didactic works but simply chronicling the Mormon experience. I was quick to supply a list of books (_Rift_ and _Long After Dark_ by Todd Robert Petersen; _Angel of the Danube_ by Alan Rex Mitchell; _The Conversion of Jeff Williams_ by Doug Thayer; _Bound on Earth_ by Angela Hallstrom; _Where Nothing is Long Ago_ and _A Little Lower Than the Angels_ by Virginia Sorensen; and the memoir _The Year My Son and I Were Born_ by Kathryn Lynard Soper.) But I floundered a bit when it came to recommending music and artists.

The similarities between sharing what I believe to be great art and about what I believe to be real Truth in the universe was surprising to me. I was passionate and careful about both. I didn’t want either subject to come off as preachy or unapproachable or close-minded. It thrilled me to the core to be able to talk about things that were so influential in my life.

So I want to know: what experiences have you had spreading the good news of emerging quality Mormon Art? What artists, musicians, movies and books do you recommend? Please link to them in the comments; I need a good resource for referring my friends!

Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An Interview with Mr. Tim Part II)

MisterTimMics10x8_72-300x240The second part of this interview is really more of a guest post. Mr. Tim one of the few people I know who lives artfully. He doesn’t just make music in his studio and then come home and forget about it. He doesn’t go to Church and be Mormon on Sunday and then go and be a musician and performer on Saturday. All the parts of his life intersect and feed off each other to create an aesthetically unique existence. Which is probably why he gave me such a long and fabulous answer when I asked him about religion and music.

For Part One of this interview click here. For more about Mister Tim go to mistertimdotcom.com Or you can look him up on facebook.

LHC: How does your religion intersect with your music? Does being Mormon influence your creative process?

Mr. T: These things drive everything I do: I want it to be clean, I want it to be inspiring, and I want it to MATTER.

I cut my teeth as a professional performer, and in the a cappella world, with my comedy quartet moosebutter. moosebutter was an outgrowth of many of my musical influences, but also, as it turns out, of my odd sense of humor. Comedy group, singing silly songs, and yet I always felt that moosebutter was a spiritual group. In fact the initial inspiration for the group, and every significant event that lead to the development and progression of the group, was very spiritual. As a group, and now by extension as I incorporate comedy into my solo act, comedy has always served to break down doors and open minds to the gospel, or at the very least to the idea that Mormons are real people. moosebutter did a lot of touring, and I now travel all over the country, and Mormonism ALWAYS comes up. With moosebutter it usually came up because we were from Utah or from the fact that Weston spent a section of the show jumping around and shrieking in Spanish. When asked about the language, he would always tell people that he had served a Spanish-speaking mission for the church.

What about not-comedy music?

When I am inspired. . .when I am moved by the Spirit . . .I write music. I usually carry my own hymn book to church, because in the middle of singing hymns I get song ideas and the easiest place to write is in the book I’m holding. When I am at peace, when I feel a connection to the divine, I write music. I do not write overtly religious music. I, personally, do not enjoy listening to “inspirational” LDS music. Nothing against those musicians, and nothing against those who listen to it, I just don’t enjoy it. And I certainly don’t need to write that kind of music, because there are lots of people doing it better than I ever would. But beyond me not enjoying it, that’s simply not what comes out when I write.

[Laura’s note: Go here and check out some of Mr. Tim’s hymn arrangements. He says they are works in progress and would welcome any feedback. I really like “Silent Night”.]

I write about some very heady subjects, some very dark subjects: addiction, human brutality, frustration, depression. I feel that I have a responsibility to at least try to share messages of hope and redemption with audiences that are typically not LDS. That requires a different kind of delivery. I still write a lot of comedic songs, or I think more accurately still find comedic or quirky elements emerging in songs: sometimes to soften the delivery of the material, but sometimes just because I tend toward a slightly-twisted delivery. I think it’s a good mix: a song like “Cupcakes Can Kill You” is straight up silly”¦ but, if you ask my English-degreed wife, it’s also a biting satire. Even if I’m not trying to be funny, the goofy creeps in, because that’s who I am. But,
that’s not all I am, and it can be difficult getting people to even listen to my songs that don’t have punchlines.

[There is also a real] burden of fear: fear that I’m wasting my time, fear that my life and my work will not be of consequence, fear that in trying to make music that has popular appeal that I will make it shallow, or morally compromised; fear of working in a service industry, and that I’ll not be able to make a living.

Even if I am inspired to write something, does not mean it will be successful. The process, the work, the editing is mine to do. It is not uncommon to have tangible bursts of spiritual inspiration, and to have the resulting work fail miserably. Why? Leading to something more? Just because something is inspirational to me, if it feels directed or touched by the spirit, does not mean it will necessarily be inspiring to someone else. To expect that it will be, that my inspiration will equate to commercial success, or a publishing deal, or mainstream attention, that kind of sells short the diversity of workings of the spirit, doesn’t it? Who am I to limit what inspiration is intended for?

Some of my most successful work was not inspired in a powerful or notable way, but just happened; in fact, I think most of my best work did not feel bosom-burny at the time of conception, did not have Ensign article-worthy experiences, but just”¦ happened. They came out like they were the most natural thing in the world, just made sense, just worked. If I look back on them, most of those probably came from progress made from other projects, and probably are connected to some of the inspired work that failed.

As I travel as a solo act, I always mention that I have (as of two months ago) 6 children. Not hard for people to figure out (“are you Catholic or Mormon?”), and then all of a sudden they know a Mormon, and he’s this guy they saw on stage who did this cool thing, and maybe he was funny, and “¦ well. Once they think I’m “cool” I can talk about anything and it has the chance to get through. When I tell college kids in North Carolina that I don’t drink, some of them look at me like it has literally never crossed their mind that someone can not drink”¦ but now it has crossed their mind. I spend a lot of time working with students, and usually all I want is for them to see clean, uplifting art. And if not art, then at least clean and uplifting. There is a lot of entertainment out there, and not much is clean. The best experiences I’ve had as a performer is when families come up after a show and tell me (or us) that everyone in the family loved what I/we did. Something fun, memorable, and clean that a whole family can do together: not a bad days work.

I feel very strongly about moral questions, political questions, and ideological issues that I see as vital to the health of society and the health of individuals. The problem with important issues like these is that the artist cannot be obvious when trying to speak about these issues. The audience will tune out if you are overt. The art is finding a way to speak truth without being preachy.

Be sure to check out Mr. Tim’s online calendar to see about upcoming performances. He’ll be in Utah March 9-11. He is also available for school assemblies, work as artist in residence, and workshops. Also check out his mp3 store where you can purchase music or listen to tracks in their entirety. Also, his work is available at the Plumbers of Rome and Vocality Singers websites.

“Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An interview with Mister Tim in two parts)

. . . especially when they’re made with death,” says Mister Tim, the quirkiest voice in a cappella music.

I’ve known Mister Tim for more than 5 years and witnessed many artistic incarnations. The earliest (for me) was as our ward choir director. Intense, focused, squinting with the effort of tweaking our voices into a semblance of harmony and with one ear always turned toward the choir Mister Tim–er, I mean, Brother Tim–did his own arrangements of hymns and sang all the music as if it were being performed for the first time every time. Ward members still talk about his performance of “O, Holy Night.”

The next incarnation, which he had been inhabiting since college, was Moosebutter. Like most college a cappella bands Moosebutter focused on and perfected the silliness inherent in singing “classic” music, like “Popcorn Popping”, with that characteristic BYU-comedy flair. They were big with the ten year olds and all their parents for being able to comically riff on everything from Harry Potter to Spam to Jon Williams (who is most definitely the man), for which they were nominated for a People’s Choice Award.

From there Mister Tim went on to work on the Vegas Strip and put together, manage, and perform in many other a cappella groups. When his stint in Vegas ended and he and his family rolled back into Colorado he came with yet another incarnation: Vocal Magic.

Vocal Magic is a multifaceted one man show that hinges on Mister Tim’s prodigious vocal textures, far-reaching vocal range, and his ability to work three sound effect pedals that enable to sing with himself and mix his voice in real time–a process called live looping. Part stand-up comedy, part poetry slam, and part performance art, Vocal Magic was like nothing I had ever seen before. My first thought: If T.S. Eliot could have sang and Allan Ginsberg had known how to beatbox and been stuck in one body, they could have been reincarnated as Mister Tim. Vocal Magic was like nothing I’d ever seen but it was definitely something I wished to see again.

Mr. Tim graciously agreed to be interviewed. His answers were thorough enough and thought-provoking enough that I split the interview into two parts. Here’s part one.

LHC: How are you feeling today? (Fuzzy, spacey, ???)

Mr. T: Perpendicular.

LHC: Tell me about the modern a cappella scene. Until I saw your show whenever I thought of a cappella I always thought of those guys from “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” How has a cappella grown and changed?

Mr. T:There is a great deal of detail and nuance to this answer. “A Cappella” to most people, I think, means Rockapella (Carmen San Diego), or a barbershop quartet, or a college group like BYU’s Vocal Point, or, more and more frequently, “GLEE” (even though there has only been one actual a cappella song on that show). But, even Rockapella, still touring the world 15 years after Carmen San Diego went off the air, is nothing like they were on that show: [now] they are a technology-dependent pop act. There are groups that use stacks and stacks of expensive sound gear, like Naturally 7 who are touring with Michael Buble.

Really there are three ways to define “a cappella”: 1) the most basic– meaning any music performed without
instruments, regardless of style (including when rock bands sing a section of their song without instruments, like the beginning of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”); 2) what seems to be the popular interpretation of a cappella, which is the Rockapella version, or the college a cappella version, or even the barbershop version, which carries a fragrance of dorkiness; 3) and “contemporary” a cappella, which is a movement of modern musicians doing modern music at a very high level, usually incorporating vocal percussion, and usually depending on technology to create the same auditory punch as a “˜real’ band.

My history in a cappella really follows the progression of contemporary a cappella. I listened to The King’s Singers (classical) in high school, saw BYU’s Vocal Point at one of BYU’s very first a cappella jams; I had friends bootlegging a cappella radio programs onto cassette tapes and passing them around; I was introduced, through rumor at first, to The House Jacks, and then by the late 90’s to m*pact. I started attending a cappella conferences, and growing less satisfied with the traditional a cappella standard and wanting”¦ more. And there were groups doing more, and I gravitated to them. Then I started making my own groups, and have been skewing further and further from “traditional” a cappella since then, although I still keep the traditional stuff around because it makes $.

When most people call me wanting to hire “an a cappella group,” they want something like early 90’s Rockapella, or like a college group. Recognizable covers, bare-bones vocal sound, oftenthey want something a little corny (which is part of that old-school a cappella”¦ thing).

LHC: What attracted you to live looping? How is it different from traditional a cappella?

Mr. T: My wife and I used to joke that I was constantly disappointed with the other singers in my groups because what I really wanted was for all the singers in my group to be me. Well, looping lets me do that! I get to sing everything just the way I want it sung, and I don’t have to wait for other people to learn their parts.

Other reasons I started live-looping: a) I want to go out and perform as often as possible, but couldn’t get the other people in my groups to go all the time; b) There are lots of paid shows that come up that don’t pay enough for a whole group, but are good money for just one person; c) I saw other people do it, and it looked like fun.

But, one of the biggest factors: I love teaching. I love teaching. The problem with the kind of teaching I do, where I drop in and talk to kids in their regular music classes, or in assemblies, or at music festivals, is that if they don’t know who I am, they don’t care about what I have to say. If I’m there with a group, they hear the group sing, they think it’s cool, then they’ll listen. But I want to be teaching as often as possible, visiting classes, flying out to music festivals, showing up at concerts. I can’t afford to fly a whole group out to these kinds of things for free, which most of them demand (even the big a cappella festivals where I teach I have to pay my own way there unless I’m one of the headline performers). But now that I’ve got a solo act, I can drop in on a class with my small sound system that takes less than 5 minutes to set up, sing a couple of songs,
the kids think it’s cool, and then when I speak, my words matter. It’s a pedagogical thing.

Artistically, what attracts me now to continue live-looping is that it really is rare to have one person doing looping with just the voice. Novelty factor, and if done well and if we find the market I’ve got a corner on the market. I do enjoy the constraints: a lot of my material has developed to address specific issues of how to keep the show from being boring, dealing with the repetitive nature of the loop, not being able to change the music once it’s laid down without completely starting over. Limiting, yes, but has forced me to adapt in ways and to develop new approaches to my performing that I think have greatly improved the overall impact of my
performance.

LHC: I know you’re a fan of all types of music, but what musicians and songs/works have stuck with you over the years?

Mr. T: The 3 B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Barenaked Ladies (I don’t like Brahms); Midnight Oil; Kingston Trio; Manheim Steamroller; Spike Jones; Weird Al Yankovic; Alan Sherman; Smothers Brothers; Brandon Flowers; John Adams

To be continued, but while you are waiting feel free to enjoy this:

In Happy Ways: Prophecy, Stereotypes, and Mormon Mommy Blogs

Image credit: Jen Clothing
Image credit: Jen Clothing

Late, late Saturday night I was listening to my daily scripture reading and working on a fairly rudimentary painting of Lehi’s Tree of Life for my Sunday morning Primary Sharing Time (imagine a cross between a truffula tree and the burning bush with dots of sparkly nail polish) when my sister emailed me this article from Salon.com: Why I can’t stop reading Mormon housewife blogs.

I was blown away. It never occurred to me that anyone outside Mormon Mommy-dom was obsessing over the details of those blogs. I mean, sure C Jane is pretty funny and often poignant. And NieNie made it on Oprah. (You go, girl! I’m not sure if I’m talking to NieNie or Oprah there.) A few years back I even read a quote in Newsweek from Feminist Mormon Housewives. Who knew Mormon Mommies were gracing not only the pages of Salon.com but also Jezebel and Vogue? Heck, an old friend of mine from high school just had her cookbook released nationwide, through Shadow Mountain, and it’s got “Mormon Moms” in the title.

Is it possible that Mormon Mommies actually have some cultural capital?

My first thought was that this is the fulfillment of prophecy. Remember this quotation from Spencer W. Kimball?

My dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different–in happy ways–from the women of the world. “¦ Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.

It would seem that Mormon Mommy bloggers are fulfilling this prophecy in ways no one ever anticipated. The ubiquitous love of vintage dresses, excellence in cupcake making, and a proclivity for cutesy cards and furniture reupholstering has propelled these women to the forefront and given them an interesting, and probably unforeseen, chance to introduce the world to Mormons.

For me, though, the article at Salon.com is reason to celebrate but also begs a question: will Mormon Mommy bloggers, and as an extension, Mormon women, ever be seen as something more than a stereotype? It seems that to the wider world the nuanced expressions of Mormon women are reduced into two camps: the bright, simple, happy mom who loves Jesus, loves her husband, and loves her cupcakes and the somewhat disaffected, itching-for-change woman who isn’t sure why she’s a Mormon at all. But the world of Mormon women is so much more than that. What about the divorced Mormon woman who still bakes cupcakes for fun? What about single women of the Church who are making waves in their professions? What about the woman who loves Jesus and itches for change? (And, if you are like me you are wondering, “What about those of us who don’t wear vintage dresses?!?!”) Where are those blogs?

Just because we bake cupcakes doesn’t mean we’re simple. And just because we don’t bake cupcakes doesn’t mean we’re not good Mormon women.

It seems like the narrative of the Mormon women within Mormon-dom has only recently opened up to models other than those two stereotypes. Segullah, Mormon Mommy Wars and probably a lot of other blogs that I haven’t ever heard of are expanding the definition of what a Mormon woman can be and how she can best fulfill her covenants. We are just starting to work our way out of self-limiting molds. Let’s hope we find a way to avoid being pushed back into them by the rest of the world. Being different in happy ways means just that: being different and happy. Not being stereotyped.

How about you all? Any of you closet Mormon mommy blog readers? What stereotypes of Mormon women do you see in the bloggernacle and Mormon literature? What are your favorite representations of Mormon women?

15 Authors in 15 minutes–Mormon style!

It seems the “15 authors in 15 minutes” meme is making the rounds again on Facebook. Most, if not all, of my Mormon friends listed the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith as one of their fifteen. Some even went so far as to identify Moroni or Isaiah or Paul as an author. A few listed books by Stephen Robinson or one of the Apostles. Besides one mention of Rough Stone Rolling, none of them listed a non-doctrinal work by a Mormon author. Seriously. Bestsellers/cult fads like Twilight didn’t even make anyone’s list.

It got me wondering. Mostly about how many readers actively seek out Mormon titles or even know if a given author is Mormon. It also got me wondering how many people I know could list 15 Mormon authors, especially if I told them they couldn’t include General Authorities and prophets or their wives. Could people even name 15 non-doctrinal books?

So I’m putting the challenge to you all: Name me 15 Mormon authors in 15 minutes–but no General Authorities or prophets. Or name me your top 15 Mormon books. I suppose you can include doctrinal works here because, let’s face it, the doctrine of the Church is powerful and evokes strong responses. BUT see what you can do if you had to stick to fiction/historical titles. And what about ranking them? What non-doctrinal work would you rank as most influential in your reading?

I’m going to hold off posting my list since I don’t want to sully any of your good thinking. So set your timer and get typing!

The Mormon Literary Proletariat (What are YOU writing?)

Kent’s and Jonathon’s recent posts about Road Shows have me reminiscing. Well, that and the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time the last month writing/organizing our ward’s sacrament meeting Primary program and pondering a poem/essay request for our upcoming Enrichment meeting in December. (I know we’re supposed to just refer to it as a Relief Society meeting, but I have to say I find it useful to have a term that designates it as the quarterly weeknight meeting and not the Sunday one. Old habits die hard, I guess. Anyway. . .) See, as a kid I was in a few road shows which was fun, but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I began to realize how much time non-writers in the Church spend writing.

Besides the fact that we all give talks and lessons, which require writerly-type skills, many, many people are asked to write not only road shows, but reader’s theaters, Primary programs, Christmas programs, Relief Society birthday programs–and the list goes on. Over the past 7ish years that I’ve technically counted as an adult (you know, married and living in a family ward) I’ve written several poems for Relief Society Enrichments, a monologue for a Relief Society birthday event, a reader’s theater about gratitude, another reader’s theater about metaphorical and metaphysical connections between light and Christ’s forgiveness, a road show entitled “The Legend of Johnny Gringo” (the concept was assigned to me by our ward’s activity chair and reeks of that pun-ny brand of tacky Mormon humor that thrives in road shows), a more serious play that chronicles the real-life story of a convert in California during WWII, a Christmas program, 3 Primary programs, and even a faux news program detailing the Book of Mormon account of the destruction of Ammonihah (for our ward Seminary class). That’s a lot of hours in front of my computer and my scriptures!

Looking over that list, I have to admit that it all sounds a little crazy–especially the Johnny Gringo. But what surprises me most is how happy my memories of those writing assignments are. Writing them brought out what is best about the writing process for me: getting the chance to ponder what the world looks like from different perspectives–including the perspectives of my characters and my audiences; getting a chance to immerse myself in scripture and applying it to myself; getting a chance to share a real part of myself that otherwise wouldn’t get noticed; getting the chance to struggle with language and meaning and symbols and come away invigorated. I don’t know that any of the pieces I created are great literature or would hold up under any kind of editing process, but I’m still proud of them. I like them for what they meant to the performers and listeners. I’m like them for the community effort they represent. Most of all, I’m proud of the closeness they brought with the Spirit and the moments of consecration writing those pieces allowed.

I find that I actually crave those experiences now. Every fall I find myself hoping that someone will ask me to write another Christmas program. In the Spring, when I know the Relief Society birthday is coming up, I wonder and wonder if they’ll ask me to contribute something. Pioneer day often provides good opportunities too. . . and the year keeps turning and I keep hoping.

Our ward Relief Society used to have a yearly garden party and poetry reading. I’ll admit I was behind it every year it happened. I loved writing something for the sisters to hear but even more than that I loved hearing what all the other writers–especially the ones I didn’t know were writers, the writers who had no training or airs–were writing. They were a sort of literary proletariat and their work had such honesty and fervor that seeing them read their works aloud (usually for the first and only time) always fired me up.

This year’s Primary program is one of my best (I like to think, anyway) and a beautiful, sensitive, intelligent friend of mine is putting together the Christmas program and my breath is fully baited with waiting. Now if only we could get another road show or open mic night on the ward calendar, because, wow, there is such an essential creativity in the Mormon experience. It begs to be shared.

Tell me, what have you written for a Church assignment? How was the experience for you? And most importantly, do you ever cringe at Mormon road show titles?