Terri Allen: Remembered in Song

On Monday, September 15, the DC Cabaret Network had the honor of dedicating their monthly Open Mic to their beloved Terri Allen. The Open Mic was always seen as Terri’s “baby”; she nurtured it and kept it running through lean times and good. She loved keeping it available for people to try out new material, to hear their favorite songs in their voices and for newbies to take their first steps into the spotlight of the cabaret world. The Open Mic truly was and continues to be a unique venue in the DC area; primarily because of the efforts, devotion and dedication of Terri.

We were delighted and moved that so many people wanted to participate in the evening. The Warehouse was packed with family, friends and long-time devotees of the Open Mic. Terri’s sister and brother, Barbara and Mike Allen were there, along with her niece, Hannah Jurs-Allen. The co-founder of the DC Cabaret Network, Wendy Lane Bailey came down from New York City. George Fulginiti-Shakar and Alex Tang generously shared keyboard duties, while Steven Cupo tried to fill Terri’s shoes as host. Not everyone who stepped to the mic sang, but instead gave a spoken tribute to the memory of Terri. Fellow DC Cabaret Network board members Lonny Smith and Cindy Hutchins, along with a few others, brought bubbly and refreshments to round out the evening. It was a night of laughter, tears and especially music. Literally and figuratively, it was a champagne toast to the life of Terri Allen.

And, just as she would want it, the Open Mic will continue on.

The following is a list of those who, that evening, went to the microphone and their contribution:

Steven Cupo song: “On My Way to You”
Byron Murray song: “Lazy Afternoon”
Marcia Kass song: “Miss Otis Regrets”
Alex Tang spoken tribute
Christy Trapp song: “I Wish You Love”
Lonny Smith song: “Anytime”
Wendy Lane Bailey spoken tribute
George Fulginiti-Shakar spoken tribute
Mary Reilly song: “Jesse, Come Home”
Michael Miyazaki song: “Come in From the Rain”
Ron Squeri song: “Some Say Love”
Emily Leatha Everson song: ” One Woman’s Story”
Kathy Reilly song: “Make Me Rainbows”
Heather Frank song: “Skylark”
Maris Wicker song: “It Might as Well be Spring”
Paul Pompeo song: “Here’s That Rainy Day”
Molly Brick spoken tribute
Maureen Kerrigan song: “Dreamin'”
Stephanie Dailey song: “Let This Be Our Prayer”
Cindy Hutchins song: “Putting Things Away”
Brenda Rozier-Clark song: “Summertime”
Tracy Simpson song: “Places That Belong to You”
Bud Stringer spoken tribute
Richard Gondelman song: “Now and Forever”
Beverly Cosham song: “A Beautiful Sadness”

Midwest Cabaret Conference, by Guest Blogger Andrew Harmon

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“Don’t you sing that note!”
 

Echoing. These words. A week later…
 

Earlier this week, on Facebook, the teacher, songwriter, and entertainer Lina Koutrakos wrote that she couldn’t “pussy-foot around” or “poo-poo” the meaning of this “confusing sub-culture of the arts to many people,” this thing called cabaret. “Cabaret only means singing honestly and authentically,” she wrote. “It means having the courage to be human — on purpose — and then crafting the skill to give that to others in elegant abundance.”
 

I have a past in the art form going back to the open mic opportunities I took in college in Manhattan in the early ’90s, when my friends and I would hit the downstairs piano bar of Rose’s Turn in the West Village every Friday night. More recently, I’ve performed in a few showcases over the past decade, including with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, and as part of the CHAWbaret fund-raiser for the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. In that same time as well, I’ve seen shows featuring friends of mine, many of whom I’ve sung with elsewhere.
 

But I never made a routine of performing in cabaret open-mic nights or developing shows of my own or appearing in others’ shows. And as much as I appreciated being a part of something meaningful, I seemed to remain in the shadow of the “confusing sub-culture of the arts” rather than seeing clearly in its light. I used to ask myself why these singers went to such lengths to slow down lines the way they did, speak words instead of sing them, and go on with such… drama.
 

Then those words came to me … and stuck. “Don’t you sing that note!” In fact, they came from Lina herself. They came as I struggled to maintain my pitch and preserve my dignity on stage while tears stung my eyes and my voice broke. I was trying to sing when singing was not what I meant. Afraid that I’d seem rough and unentertaining, and horrendously uncomfortable at feeling emotionally exposed in front of other people in such an intimate setting, I learned that the emotions I fought desperately to contain were the very thing Lina (figuratively) reached inside me to pull out for the audience to see. And feel.
 

Cabaret is scary. And exhilarating. And a triumph!
 

A week ago today, 20 students, including three of us from the DC area, entered into Davenport’s Piano Bar in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago to begin three days of intensive training … or as some in the class debated early on, intense training. We participated in the fourth annual Midwest Cabaret Conference. Co-founders Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen, both New Yorkers, were joined by Chicagoan Beckie Menzie and the legendary actress, songwriter and cabaret star Amanda McBroom, who came to Chicago from California. The students came from as far as Palm Springs and New York City and joined several Chicago-based cabaret performers. We brought songs. We told stories. The master teachers gave us feedback, encouragement, critique, and pressure.
 

They also gave us the gift of their own talents. Our first night together, we were treated to two full-on cabaret shows, first the formidable Lina with Rick, then the divine Amanda with Beckie. For someone who had lived so long in the shadow of this “confusing sub-culture of the arts,” finally I could see and hear exactly what each of these gifted and longtime entertainers brought to the stage.
 

As a first-timer, I marveled at each master teacher’s ability to deconstruct each song and each performer, even if the song was obscure or unknown or if, like me, they hadn’t worked with the singer before. During sessions, each student had the opportunity to perform a song of his or her choosing once all the way through. Then the teachers would take each part of the song and not necessarily just tell the student how to handle it. They would ask the student constantly about their motivations and their feelings. “Who are you singing this song to?” they’d ask. “What has just happened as you begin this song?” The underlying meaning for the singer didn’t have to be literal or closely connected to the song’s content. It had to connect with the spirit of the song. If it was a song about seduction, who was your target? If it was about loss, who (or what) did you lose? If it was defiance, who was that person from whom you were wresting back control of yourself and your destiny? In the end, it was about how the song translates to the audience by way of your interpretation.
 

Not a single student was spared a moment of clarity and feeling, from the beginners like me to those with years of experience behind them. I kept hearing things like “don’t fade on me” (i.e., don’t become an actor behind a mask in this song) or “don’t you sing precious here” (i.e., whispery, with no diaphragm support). In my case, it was Lina’s words: “Don’t you sing that note!”
 

I realized it right away. Don’t take a line that has a deep meaning, maybe even an important turn in the song’s lyrical path, and make it “pretty,” as if the magma underneath it doesn’t matter or needs to be smoothed over in order to please the audience or prove what a good, disciplined singer you are. If that line is authentic to you and if singing seems trite or just untenable, say the line. More importantly, feel the line. Don’t sacrifice your feelings so that what you’re singing loses its power. Your song means something specific, even if your connection to it isn’t literal. Bring out that meaning. Bring out the emotion. Your audience will pay attention to you, and the more of your inner self those people get, the more they will love what you’ve given them.
 

As I think on it, I realize now that it’s similar to a friendship or a romance. Ideally, you’re not being embraced simply because you look good or sound good or say (or sing) all the right things. You’re embraced because you are the unique, feeling person you are. Your life experience and the art that inspires you don’t have to be the same as those of your audience members, fellow singers or anyone else. You bring yourself to this game, and that’s your strongest asset, with or without the vocal coaching, the voice major or the degree (or resumé) in musical theatre. Not only is this a beautiful thought. It makes for beautiful moments, many of which I saw all weekend long.
 

Every student transformed in front of my eyes, their performances growing a little more biting, a little more sorrowful, a little more joyous, a little deeper below the surface.
 

There were other lessons, such as adaptability when working with a music director, considering different tempos, styles and even key signatures when working on a new song. Beckie Menzie, an accomplished songwriter, accompanist and cabaret singer, prides herself on “bastardizing the Great American Songbook,” taking a standard and switching the dial perhaps just a hair off your familiar level, in turn making it something that feels new. She can take a song like the Arlen-Gershwin-Harburg number “Let’s Take a Walk Around the Block,” which I performed fairly faithfully in the DCCN Membership Showcase last March, and make it pensive, minor-driven, even melancholic, or she can make it insistent or subversive.
 

Rick Jensen taught me — showed me, really — the charged moments on stage, when there’s an electricity bridging the accompanist and the singer, even to the point of improvisation, when a song becomes just a little more than what the singer thought it had become already. I did Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” another one I’d sung during March’s showcase, and it went from the contemplative, quietly desperate pleading of a man at the tail-end of his youth to the woman he loves — at least as it felt in March — to a powerful crescendo of emotion, the wail of a man perhaps not so desperate, but determined, confident and yearning to free that woman from her own placid life. Rick brought out more of the rock and roll that Springsteen infused so naturally into the song, and that in turn generated electricity throughout the room. In the past 12 years I’ve sung in choruses and chamber ensembles, including very solid, emotive solos, and even with some very nice moments in cabaret already, I never felt so profoundly connected to a song as I did singing “Thunder Road” in front of those students…
 

…then in front of an audience. Each student performed a single song for a showcase last Sunday night for Chicago’s cabaret community. If I thought my own experience was powerful, I almost can’t find the words to tell you how it felt to see so many of these people I had only a few days to get to know transform from tentative singers, as this workshop launched, to the poised, confident entertainers they became. As I was told would be the case, it turns out I learned more from watching them than I did from experiencing it myself. From comedy to seduction to inspiration to desperation, from Broadway to jazz to country to rock, that audience experienced a wide spectrum of music, all brought into the realm of the “confusing sub-culture of the arts,” this thing called cabaret.
 

Of course, all this that I’m saying many of you know and have known for years. You’ve dedicated more of your life to this art form than I have. What purpose, then, is there in trying to create new tread over well-laid tracks? All I can tell you is that, the way it looked to me, even the most experienced singers had breakthroughs, eyes reddening as the song’s lyrical power finally enveloped them, paces and tempos varying as these singers ever more clearly saw the people and circumstances bringing them to these lyrics, and special places in their voices flexing, places that at first they weren’t sure they could reach. Many of us will travel and participate in these workshops repeatedly or find new teachers or have intensive (or intense) sessions with music directors to dig through to the emotional core of a song. And yet perhaps a workshop newcomer’s perspective can remind us of how it was to experience it the first time, to be the one no one knew, to take that uncomfortable journey and to come to one’s power — even if just a brush against it — and make an audience feel something profound for a few minutes, to be told by a master teacher that that song you just did was yours now.
 

I’ll never have that experience again. I have many to thank, and now I am even more excited about my journey. It may be similar to yours, and maybe you will have wisdom you can share with me once our paths cross. You’ll see me make rookie mistakes or make decisions you wouldn’t. But that will be fine for me. If nothing else, at least now I know that the best part of any show I create in the future will be that which is mine uniquely, the same as it has been and will continue to be for you. And I will learn from what I see you do, and I will love every mile along this long road.
 

And when the moment’s there, I promise: I won’t sing that note.

Guest blogger Andrew Harmon is a former chorus singer turned nomadic entertainer living in the District of Columbia. He welcomes any and all opportunities to learn, grow and perform.

May 2014 DCCN Open Mic

On Monday, May 12, the DC Cabaret Network once again sponsored its monthly Open Mic at The Warehouse. Due to Terri Allen’s feeling under the weather, Steven Cupo hosted and was assisted by Cindy Hutchins. The very talented Alex Tang played piano.  A total of twelve people attended.

    The evening had some excitement as there were a good number of “new” singers.  Jill Parsons, who is creating her own cabaret-style evenings at the Shaw Tavern, brought 3 of her “wannabes” to try out some new material and share in the great atmosphere.  An accomplished pianist herself, she is self-described as “one who plays by ear.”  Jill gave Alex an occasional break from the keyboard to play for her friends and give everyone a taste of her style.  It turned into a lovely evening of shared memories and good camaraderie.

    The attending singers and the songs they sang were:

    • Steven Cupo – Mamma, a Rainbow / I Remember
    • Marcia Kass – Angel From Montgomery / Since I Fell for You
    • Faheem Moghal – Grateful / Ice Castles
    • Kathy Reilly – I’m Not Afraid / The Time Has Come
    • Alan Perkins – It Was a Very Good Year / Only You
    • Mark Fallow – The Days of Wine and Roses
    • Jill Parsons – Always Have Me (original song)
    • Stephanie Dailey – Maybe This Time / With One Look
    • Ron Squeri – So In Love / With Every Breath I Take
    • Tracy Simpson       Cold, Cold Heart / How Long Has This Been Going On?
    The folks who chose to just listen were:
    • Cindy Hutchins
    • Mike Repass
    • Tony Simpson

April 2013 Open Mic

A spring evening that actually hinted of spring weather. Music from all genres. Singers of all kinds. The DC Cabaret Network April Open Mic held Monday, April 7 at the Warehouse with Alex Tang on the keyboards and Jeff Tucker (Art of Music) on sound. One more great evening of music.

Set 1
1) Terri Allen — Taking a Chance on Love by Vernon Duke, Ted Fetter, John Latouche
2) Ron Squeri — Sway by Caroline Corr, Andrea Jane Corr, Sharon Corr, James Corr
3) Marcia Kass — No Time at All by Stephen Schwartz
4) Lorenne Grabish — Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ in your Face by Son House
5) Tracy Simpson — Manhattan by Sara Bareilles
6) Maureen Kerrigan — All or Nothing At All by Dennis Matkosky, Jack Lawrence, Arthur Altman
7) Steven Cupo — Friends Medley: My Own Best Friend (Kander & Ebb),  Bookends (Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel)
8) Terri Allen — My Father by Judy Collins

Set 2
1) Terri Allen — Crimes of the Heart by Amanda McBroom
2) Tracy Simpson — Miss Byrd by Richard Maltby & David Shire
3) Maureen Kerrigan — Funny Honey by Kander & Ebb
4) Ron Squeri — You’ve Got a Friend by Carole King
5) Marcia Kass — Kind of Woman by Stephen Schwartz
6) Steven Cupo — Does Anybody Love You by Bill Solley
7) Ron Squeri — An American Hymn by Molly Ann Leikin and Lee Holdridge
8) Terri Allen — We Can Be Kind by David Friedman

DC Cabaret Network Member’s Showcase, March 23, 2014

It was a grand night for singing at the DC Cabaret Network Member’s Showcase on Sunday, March 23 at the Arts Club of DC.

With the amazing Alex Tang on keyboards, and the technical skills of Jeff Tucker on sound, the singers took to the stage and presented the audience with a great variety of music – from standards to contemporary cabaret to Broadway show tunes. Lonny Smith introduced the singers with charm and grace.  

The program included:

Heather Frank: Because I Say So (Barbara Lica), Popsicle Toes (Michael Franks)

Louis Levy: The Lady Is A Tramp (Rodgers/Hart), The Touch of Your Lips (Ray Noble)

Mary Reilly: Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind (Lavin), There’ll Be Some Changes Made (Overstreet/Higgins)

Tracy Simpson: Oh How I Loved You (Heisler/Goldrich), Laughing Matters (Dick Gallagher/Mark Waldrop)

Joe Rossi: Don’t Let It Show (Alan Parsons/Eric Woolfson), Stay The Night (Susan Casazza/Norman Dolph)

Maris Wicker: Another Day (Wicker), Never Never Land (Comden/Green/Styne)

Maureen Kerrigan: You Can Have the TV (Craig Carnelia), So What (Kander/Ebb)

Deborah Davidson: They Just Keep Movin’ The Line (Shaiman/Wittman), A Sorta Love Song (Burkell/Loesel)

Justin Ritchie: What You’d Call a Dream (Craig Carnelia), Not My Father’s Son (Cyndi Lauper)

Stephanie Aboukasm: When Did I Fall In Love (Bock/Harnick), Say The Word (Kerrigan/Lowdermilk)

Andrew Harmon: Let’s Take A Walk Around the Block (Arlen/Harburg/Gershwin), Thunder Road (Springsteen)

DC Cabaret Network Honors Erv Raible at March 10, 2014 — Open Mic

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It was another wintry evening on March 10, 2014 for the DC Cabaret Network’s Open Mic at the Warehouse. But spirits were bright as members remembered Erv Raible, cabaret impresario, who recently died. `

Erv influenced many singers in New York and throughout the country. Most recently, he was the Executive Artistic Director of the Cabaret Conference at Yale. (Many local singers have trained at the Cabaret Conference or the Cabaret training sessions held at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, where Erv served as Co-Director.) Erv was also instrumental in the start-up of the DC Cabaret Network and served on the Advisory Board.

Steven Cupo talked about Erv’s contributions to cabaret as a club owner and manager in New York in the 1970’s, and stated unequivocally that “there would have been no cabaret in New York as we know it today without Erv.” Beverly Cosham talked about knowing Erv and performing in his clubs during that time.

Terri Allen brought a photo of Erv and George Fulginiti-Shakar had magically found purple boas in a garbage bag near his house, (yes, this is true), that adorned the music stand. Performers wore the boas as the mood struck them.

As several people spoke, references to singers came up and the audience was introduced to important icons like Nancy Lamott and Karen Mason who began their careers as singers in New York as Erv launched his clubs.

With George Fulginiti-Shakar at the keyboards and Jeff Tucker, Art of Music, on sound, it was a memorable evening for the DC Cabaret Network.

Here’s the rundown of singers and songs:

1) Steven Cupo, One/What I Did for Love, Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban
2) Maris Wicker, Never Never Land, Jule Styne/Comden and Green
3) Beverly Cosham, From Where I Stand
4) Marsha Katz, The Old Folks, Jacques Brel
5) Donald Davidson, My Lean Baby, Billy May/Roy Alfred
6) Tracy Simpson, Oh How I Loved You, Marcy Heisler/Zina Goldrich
7) Joenn Khoo, I Think That He Likes Me, Kooman and Diamond
8) Mary Reilly, A Fine Romance, Jerome Kern/Dorothy Field
9) Jeff Stern, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, David Mann/Bob Hilliard
10) Christy Trapp, Please Make a Decision
11) Maureen Kerrigan, The Ladies Who Lunch, Stephen Sondheim
12) Terri Allen, Come Rain or Come Shine, Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer

Set 2

1) Marsha Katz, Long Ago (and Far Away), Jerome Kern/Ira Gershwin
2) Mary Reilly
3) Beverly Cosham, My Favorite Year, Michelle Brourman/Karen Gottlieb
4) Maureen Kerrigan, Lazy Afternoon, Jerome Moross/John Treville Latouche
5) Tracy Simpson, Every Road Leads Back to You, Diane Warren
6) Christy Trapp, The Nearness of You, Hoagy Carmichael
7) Terri Allen, I’ll Be Here With You, David Friedman

A final thought:

Although Erv began his career in New York as a club owner, he believed it was important that singers have the opportunity to work on their craft with other great performers and musicians, and that is why he worked with the two Cabaret Conferences.

Erv will be missed. He was a teacher, coach and mentor to many and he always had ideas about what songs to sing, how a song could be arranged, and how to structure a show. In the midst of trying to work through material, he might offer advice like “less is more”. But, an Ervism, could also have been — “Sometimes you have to just sing the damn song!”

By Terri Allen and Tracey Simpson

February Open Mic

It’s always a great adventure to hear the songs singers bring to an Open Mic.  This February’s Open Mic seemed ripe with love songs — as Valentine’s Day was just a few days later in the week.

There were traditional love songs and some non-traditional ones sung.  But, as an audience member said — “it was all about love”.
The DC Cabaret Network Open Mic was held Feb. 10 at the Warehouse with Jeff Tucker on sound and Reenie Codelka as musical director.

Set 1
Terri Allen — Music, by Carole King
Mary Reilly — Hooray for love, by Harold Arlen
Stephanie Aboukasm — I Had Myself a True Love
Rick Gondelman — Run for the Roses, by Dan Fogelberg
Kendra Keller — Merry Go Round, by Casey Musgraves
Tracy Simpson — Laughing Matters, by Dick Gallagher/Mark Waldrop
Steven Cupo — Take Me to the World, by Stephen Sondheim

Set 2
Terri Allen — My Father, by Judy Collins
Stephanie Aboukasm — I Won’t Mind, by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Mary Reilly — What Did I Have I Don’t Have Now, by Lerner & Lane
Steven Cupo — How Lovely to be a Woman, by Charles Strouse
Tracy Simpson — Say the Word, by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk
Rick Gondelman — Leader of the Band, by Dan Fogelberg
Kendra Keller — Follow Your Arrow, by Casey Musgraves
Terri Allen — My Funny Valentine, by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart

March Open Mic

Monday, March 10, 2014
Warehouse
Musical Director:   George Fulginiti-Shakar

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