How Can I Keep from Singing, Yellow House Salon #17


The last few weeks, in addition to teaching my private students,  I’ve been working as a teaching artist for the Seattle Opera in their Opera in Schools Program. The opera work includes composing  mini operas with 3rd graders.  I’ve also been teaching general music at Wedgwood Montessori Preschool.  I am inspired, energized and humbled by the fearlessness and creativity of children in the schools and in my private studio.

How Can I Keep From Singing is an American song dating as far back as the mid 1800’s, possibly written by Robert Lawry. The melody is sweet and simple while  the text is  beautiful and timeless.

My life goes on in endless song  above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?



Romances Sans Paroles, Yellow House Salon #16




Silly Laura and her mom, Gail Dean at Rancho la Puerta

Romances Sans Paroles translates to Songs Without Words.  Below I play #3 by Gabriel Fauré (played on my digital keyboard and mixed on my Macbook as a harp/guitar duo). What a perfect piece for Mother’s Day. No words can describe how grateful I am for my mother, Gail Dean. She’s a woman of steel  who raised two kids on her own with courage and grace after losing  my dad in a highway accident when we were all very young.

Thanks, Mom, for all of the hours of music lessons, for driving across the state of Montana for camps and concerts, for sewing all of those costumes and dresses, for giving me a great education, and for giving me the courage, independence, and grit to pursue a life in music. I owe it all to you!

To all of the Mamas our there!  You know who you are and I know how hard you work to make it all look easy! Here’s to our Moms and here’s to us, the Mamas!


Don’t Advertise Your Man, Yellow House Salon #15














Don’t Advertise Your Man piano and singing by Laura

Here’s my awesome guy, Joe Sweeney! He does laundry and helps my daughter with her math, he also is an amazing bird photographer, very funny, extremely handsome, and the love of my life. I could go on and on, but before I do, I think I’ll take the advice of  Clara Smith who first wrote this old blues tune back in the 1920’s, Don’t Advertise Your Man. Sippie Wallace came our with her version in the 1960’s. Bonnie Raitt has also recorded a sassy version.

Be sure to check out these recordings, and remember, girls, Don’t Advertise your Man!

Clara Smith

Bonnie Raitt and Sippy Wallace

Raspberry Beret, Yellow House Salon #14


Raspberry Beret music and lyrics by Prince, piano solo by Laura

Growing up in beautiful Choteau, Montana (population 1800), we had one movie theatre, the Roxy, open only on the weekends. To my delight, in 1984, the Roxy showed Purple Rain, starring Prince.  As a young high school desperate to explore places and faces outside of my hometown, I was mesmerized by the music, the story, and of course, the romantic vision of Prince cruising  down the open road  on his motor bike! Vroom!

Today, and homage to Prince, an amazing talent and unique artist!    Oh how I long to be as cool as the  elusive girl in Raspberry Beret.

That’s when I saw her,

Ow I saw her, she walked in through the out door. 

She wore a raspberry beret, 

of the kind you find in a second hand store.

raspberry beret

and if it was warm, she wouldn’t wear much more.  

by Prince



Spring Mozart, Yellow House Salon #13


Mozart Sonata K. 545, Andante, photo taken by Laura in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle.

An overcast spring Seattle day calls for a break from the Cuban pieces I’ve been working on. Time for some classic Mozart.  A Mozart sonata with its clear sonata form, lyric melody, and clean accompaniment, is always fresh and elegant.  It’s something like a trusty little black dress, a Timex watch, a pair of faded Levi’s, or a cup of good brewed coffee. This andante movement of the 545 sonata reminds me of the cat in this photo- unsentimental, refined, classic, and cool.

Lágrimas Negras, Yellow House Salon #12




Still dreaming of adventures in Cuba.  Today, a post featuring Lágrimas Negras (black tears), a traditional Cuban Bolero written by Miguel Matamoros. My group learned this piece under the instruction of a wonderful voice teacher at the havana music school.

The bolero, in two parts, opens with a slow lament. The singer has been abandoned and suffers immense pain. She sobs black tears over her lover’s  transgressions. The second half picks up as she decides to suffer no more.  Above, my recording, a piano arrangement of Lágrimas Negras.


Don’t miss these three different takes on Lágrima Negras:

Cuban Singer/Guitarist with Cuban footage

American Cuban Songstress, Celia Cruz

Cuban piano master Bebo Valdés and  flamenco cantador, Dieguito El Cigala

Please visit Weeks 9, 10, and 11  for more on my Cuban adventures.

Obini Bata, (Yellow House Salon #11)


IMG_0573Obini Bata is a government sponsored bata drumming and performance group. In fact, this is the first group of women in Cuba to play Yoruba drums professionally, a role typically reserved for men. Bata drums are hourglass-shaped drums played in a group of three.

Yoruban music has African origins, Nigerian, to be exact.  This music and dance were originally used in religious ceremonies. The leader of Obini Bata, a former principal ballarina, tells us the group strives to portray Yoruban music and dance as a cultural art without religious implications.

The group has performed all over Cuba and Nigeria. The performers rehearse 4-8  hours every day in their bare bones studio in a crumbling building in the Central District of Havana. Our visit includes a powerful private performance of singing, drumming, and dancing. The women also conduct a workshop for my  group where we try our hand at Yoruba drumming (much harder than it looks), sing a  Yoruban song, and dance in long white skirts.

For more about my adventures in Cuba, please visit week #9 and week#10 of the Yellow House Salon.

 performance and documentary  footage of Obini Bata  (en español)

Rumba! (Yellow House Salon #10)

Today’s recording is a video of Rumba dancers and musicians taken at El Gran Palenque. (Havana, Cuba)


Rumba! Locals are packed in at El Gran Palenque in the Vedado district of Havana, Cuba.  It’s a rumba fiesta and all generations are represented in this lively party under the hot Havana sun.

Rumba is a Cuban dance accompanied by a live band. The musicians (rumberos), include a lead  singer and percussion. There are three sizes of drums (trumbadoras) and smaller percussion instruments including claves (two hollow sticks struck together),  a  catá (a small hollow trunk mounted on a stand and struck with two sticks), and sometimes a type of gourd shaker (a gourd covered with a netting of beads).

There are different styles of Rumba including  the guaguancó, the columbia, and the yambú.  The guanguancó is danced by couples and has a courting element where the man pretends to kick the woman between the legs and the woman quickly covers herself to avoid  his advances. The  Columbia is a solo dance for males while the  yambú is for older people, often accompanied by a cajón, or box drum.

Yellow House Salon #9, Rhythms of Cuba


Rumba, almendrones (vintage cars from the 50’s now used as colectivos and taxis), salsa, cajons(a type of drum used in Cuban music), congas, magnificent restored mansions, crumbling  estates, high rise government housing, sidewalk cafes, vegetable venders, bicycles, car honks, clave rhythms, dancers, drummers, bungavilla, more car honks,  Santeria (an Afro Caribbean religion) , arroz y frijoles (rice and beans), strong  coffee, Cuban ballads, tobacco fields, bananas, pineapple, pigs, oxen, chickens, and stray dogs, and many, many, many gracious and beautiful people. My group of 11 intreped travelers settled into this beautiful and complicated tangle for 12  packed days on a recent trip to Cuba!  I joined Andre Mallinger and Laura Tyson of True Nature Journeys for a transformational, small group adventure trip  focusing on the music, dance, and culture.

On the first part of our trip, we stay in the cultural heart of Havana, the Vedado district, known for its hotels, theaters, and music venues. Here colonial mansions mingle with high rise 50’s style buildings. Our hosts for this portion of the trip are Cuban families who operate casa particulars, private rooms in large apartments.

While in Havana, we attend music classes with both highly trained professional musicians and dancers and excellent street style players. Local scholars enlighten us with discussions about music, culture, and Cuban history. Stand out experiences include neighborhood gatherings such as El Gran Palenque, a Rumba fiesta where multi generations mingle together for music and dancing  in a lively party scene.

In addition to our time in the city, we travel out of Havana for a look at rural life in Valle Viñales, where we stay in lovely, family-owned casitas. Here, life moves at a slower pace. We stroll through fields and tobacco farms, and enjoy beautiful rock formations (migotes) which rise like giants (as high as 1,000 feet), out of the floor of the green valley.

This weeks recording is a video of a group heard on our first night in Havana, the group was playing at UNEAC (a beautiful courtyard  venue  dedicated to writers, artists, and musicians in the Vendado district.)

The next few posts will go into deep depth about Rumba, Cuban Canciones, and Cuban culture.



Yellow House Salon, Week#5 Cod Liver Ile

cod-liver-catsCod Liver Ile, the fifth and last piece in a series of American Ballads by Roy Harris, is a take on the traditional, Cod Liver Ile.

This piece in very early stages, is by no means ready for a public performance. Cod Liver Ile  needs to stew and simmer in the studio.  However,  as I’ve mentioned before, I’m dedicated to showing my work on this blog, inspired by Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

I’ve challenged my students to show up and do the work every day! I Love Practice February

In the early stages of a piece or a program, the music  is not always pretty and polished, pieces often sound jagged and unsettled. In the early stages, I may feel like the cat on the left. However, I know  the rewards of showing up and doing the work every day are great and when I finally have a piece, I feel like the cat on the right. I think I’d rather practice than take Cod Liver Oil!

Here is this week’s recording, Cod Liver Ile by Roy Harris played by me.

Here is a wonderful take on the folk song sung by the Dubliners