It's the day before the concert

The band is rehearsed.

The harps are tuned (and tuned and tuned and...)

My dress is pressed (thanks, Mom).

And I have found the perfect "flambeau" (torch)
to carry when I process singing
"Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabella"
(Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella).

I'm ready. There's always this moment the night before a concert when it's kind of a surrender. There's no more promoting I can possibly do. There are no more rehearsals with the band. Everything is packed and ready to take to the performance space. The concert will be what it will be.

It will be. And I hope it will be as beautiful as it is in my dream of it.



It was a non-traditional Kortuem Family Thanksgiving. Why? First, I failed to defend my title of winner of the eating contest. I'd held it for three years running. I am deeply ashamed of my performance. Second, the winners of the eating contest (it was a tie between Dad and Jeff, after Dad's heroic third helping of green bean casserole) decided to take a nap instead of going on our usual walk in the woods.

So I set out alone, with only Sophie the French Brittany Spaniel for company.

She's Dad's new hunting dog. 6 months old and FULL of energy. Between watching her chase herself in circles and tear around the yard, I wandered and stood in the near-sunset light, quietly listening. Looking around me at just how beautiful this world is. Thinking about everything I'm thankful for, how blessed my life is. Even this unsettled feeling I have about "escaping the cage" is blessed because it's where I am right now. What an exciting and interesting place to be, I realized. I can't wait to see what happens next.

I let Sophie lead the way and show me all her favorite spots. Here are some snapshots from the wander.

The red berries between the maples.

The magnolia tree beside the ravine,
set with buds for spring.

The stand of pampas grass.

And back inside for pie (me) and treats (Sophie).
Happy Thanksgiving.


Decking the halls

Decking my living room, rather. I called my brother today about our annual tree-getting extravaganza and was inspired to write a song, on the spot. It went something like this:
"Ooooooooooooh, the weather outside is frightful,
but my house will be so delightful...
'cause my brother Jeff's helping meeeeeee
get a tree, get a tree, get a treeeeee!"

He loved it. Was duly impressed. How did I know? Because he said, "Are you done singing? OK. What time should I pick you up?"

Before the Menard's Guy had fully cut the ties on the first tree, I said,
"It's perfect!!! I'll take it!!!"
(I was FROZEN.)

I used my sheer brute strength to launch the tree into the back of Jeff's truck and we drove back to my house talking about the deep stuff siblings talk about on tree-getting expeditions: the origin of the expression "Holy Moly," what makes the atomic clock atomic and the fascinating fact that REO Speedwagon was a car first, then a band.

The tree went up, just like that.
Here's Jeff, surveying his handiwork.
Yep, looks level to me, too.

The tree was properly sniffed and surveyed by the cats, and then I set to rehearsing music for the concert on Saturday. Just having the tree in the house and still feeling the memory of that brisk, sleety wind on my cheeks helped the spirit of the music. It really flowed.

Welcome, season.


On the radio with Pete Steiner

Promoting the To Drive the Cold Winter Away concert
with Pete Steiner on Talk of the Town at KTOE Radio.
(Photo by Jeff Lang, a.k.a. "Stunt Monkey" -- who lived up to his name by climbing on top of the counter in the news room to take this shot)

It's a tradition now, Pete inviting me to be on the air with my harp to promote my holiday concert. 7 years running, and we always find great things to talk about...Paris, Ireland, rose liqueur, how much I do NOT look like Sarah Palin, making lefse and...oh yeah, the concert!

I always enjoy visiting with Pete. He said he and his wife will be at the concert Saturday to hear my new "Fire & Ice" song. Which, in a flurry of techiness, I burned to a CD for him to play on the air as a sneak preview of the concert. Which, of course, didn't work when he tried to play it.

Maybe you'll get to hear it tomorrow when I'm on the radio with Jim Gullickson at KMSU radio (9:30 a.m.). If the tech gods be with me...


Driving the cold winter away

In a variety of ways, starting at 7:30 a.m. Saturday a.m., to be exact. Yaaaawn.

My old house, while very charming, is notoriously cold autumn through spring. Friends don't even have to be reminded anymore to bring their slippers and extra sweaters along when they come to visit. So when my trusty old thermostat bit the dust, it was rather an emergency to get it fixed. My nice Dad came over this morning to replace it for me before he headed out hunting.

Ah, warmth again.
Amazing what new technology can do.

By the time my band showed up for our To Drive the Cold Winter Away holiday concert rehearsal at 9:00, the house was decidedly less chilly. I was fortified with hot tea, slippers and sweater, and my fingers were getting warm enough to feel like playing. Jingle Belle, however, was still in heat-seeking mode and went straight for the first place that offered insulated protection.

And that happened to be
SamTheDrummer's drum case.
Sound familiar?

Once toasty, she decided to come out
and help Sam with some percussion.
Which he appreciated very much.

It was such a good rehearsal. We played through everything several times and I fell in love with the music more each time. As Martha said, French music is so "lyrical and elegant." Even the ancient folk songs we're playing, with their interesting chord progressions and modal melodies, are still so refined and pretty. I don't know how I'm going to get through the week waiting for the concert day to arrive. I'm ready.

SamTheDrummer captured this shot of me
during rehearsal.
I think I was smiling at something hilarious
Martha was saying.

Music, laughter, good friends, adventurous kitties, a helpful Dad, a heated house...the world is so much warmer for these.


The harp and The Amazing Castle

The Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota has brought The Amazing Castle exhibit to Mankato. Tonight was their grand opening fundraiser, and I brought the harp to help them celebrate.

I took this photo with some relief.
Relief, as in: "Whew, I'm glad I'm not the one wearing that costume."

Because, as you'll recall, the last time I wore a costume to an event, The Free Press showed up and took a photo of it and there I was on the front page of the paper, looking ridiculous.

Not tonight. I just sat there in the front of the stage in a regular dress (thank you, TJ Maxx clearance rack), playing Renaissance music.

Best wishes to the Children's Museum and the great work they're doing in our area!


My photos from the Salon du Mariage in Paris are on the Jean M Blog!

from the Jean M Wedding Blog

This week, the Jean M Wedding Blog is using my photos from the extravagant wedding show I went to in Paris, the Salon du Mariage at the Carrousel du Louvre.

Check out what's hot for 2010 weddings, straight from the fashion capital of the world! Jean M also gives great ideas for using their products to achieve a fashionable, Parisian-style wedding here at home.

Leave a comment on the Jean M blog and be entered to win a "fantastique" Eiffel Tower centerpiece.

(Of course, I always love it when you leave comments for me, too...)

Ooh la la!


Cages and Wings

This summer I began to feel like this beautiful life I'd built for myself had turned into a gilded cage. I felt an immense amount of guilt when I beat my head against the walls of this lovely house I've lived in and loved for 15 years, railing at it for hemming me in. I finally stopped going into my big, lush garden to avoid the shame I felt at seeing my neglect evident in the thistles as tall the phlox and lilies, the creeping charlie winding among the forget-me-nots. And when I wasn't performing, the unthinkable happened: dust gathered on the harps.

I realize that when big epiphanies occur (like they did for me during and after Paris Trip #1), we can quickly become dissatisfied with our usual, blessed lives and the things that normally give us comfort.

There were a lot of new things I brought into my life to ease the feeling of captivity (purging my house, running for miles every day and reading book after book about France included). But I still longed for something...else...and couldn't quite put my finger on what that would be. Without a concrete plan or a solution in sight, "escaping the cage" became my motto.

The struggle was mighty at times.
(Delacroix's "Jacob Wrestling the Angel" - St. Sulpice, Paris)

And to be honest, it hasn't gotten any easier since returning from Paris Trip #2. It's just become more clear that something has to change. Unfortunately, more clarity about knowing that something has to change doesn't exactly mean a more clear idea of WHAT TO DO comes along with it.

But despite the lack of clarity, I do have hope. I have a rich, settled feeling in the very center of myself now that I'll figure it out. Small signs let me know that.

This, for one.
Feathers always show up for me when something
important is happening in my life
(Feather landing on my hand - Chartres, France)

And when I was getting a massage last week for my poor muscles that went straight from hauling luggage (over-packing is necessary when visiting the fashion capital of the world) to hauling harps, this conversation occurred.

Rose (my massage therapist): "You know those knots under your shoulder blades?"
Me: "Yes, they've evil."
Rose: "Well, they feel different this time.
Me: "Even more evil than ever?"
Rose: "It's weird, but it feels like they're turning into bone. Hey! Maybe you're sprouting wings!"

Yes, I have much hope.


What an audience

"You will get up from behind that harp and give me cat chow...
You will get up from behind that harp
and give me cat chow...
You will

OK, Belle. You win.


Fire & Ice

Sara found these anonymous medieval lyrics months ago in honor of Prima Vox's newly chosen concert theme, "Fire & Ice," when it was still a fiery 80 degrees outside...
My soul has nought but fire and ice
And my body earth and wood:

Pray we all the most High King
Who is the Lord of our last doom,

That He should give us just one thing

That we may do His will.

I loved them. But then I'm a sucker for almost anything lyrically medieval. At one of the last Prima Vox rehearsals before I left for Paris, I said that I couldn't get the words out of my head, and had even kind of a little melody forming around them and that I'd write us a song to sing at the concert on December 19th. And they laughed, certain that I'd be too busy with fashion, art, inspiration, l'amour, PARIS to bother with Prima Vox.

They were wrong. The song would become the soundtrack and symbol of my Paris Trip #2. In a creative fire, I tore through sheets of staff paper. I burned through my pencil eraser and had to resort to buying one of those souvenir erasers in a postcard shop. I annoyed waiters who had to wait for me to move my music papers out of the way so they could deliver my French onion soup and hot chocolate. I begged the use of a piano (in my abysmal French, no less) from a very reserved gentleman in a French music store. At first, he stayed very reservedly and very Frenchly in his office, giving me privacy. After two hours, he was leaning very unreservedly against the doorway of his office, eyes closed and smiling.

I lit plenty of candles in plenty of ancient churches
to keep that creative fire stoked.

And I finished it. The girls and I sang through it a few times so I could get the harmonies right and get ideas for harp accompaniment. Friday night was the first time we sang it all the way through with the harp.

And I put my head in my hands and cried. It was so beautiful, their voices and mine and my harp, all dichotomy and pleading and yearning. I could see and feel and smell Paris while we sang: sitting and talking with a friend, my heart breaking in front of that statue in the Louvre, watching the sun set over the Seine, smelling the incense in Notre Dame, standing on the tiny balcony of my top-floor hotel room and looking out over the moonlight rooftops of the Left Bank. And we agreed that we'd sing it at my To Drive the Cold Winter Away concert on 11/28, too, because one performance this year just wouldn't be enough.

I wondered later if it was vain to cry over the beauty of one's own art. But a kind Facebook friend calmed my worries with this: "No, by the time you've written it and moved on, then it seems to me the experience of listening would be the experience itself and beyond the ego." Thank you.

The whole song is beyond me now — it's got a life of its own.

I can't wait for you to hear it.


To Drive the Cold Winter Away: true confessions

So much of my artistic work is solitary. Writing and arranging and rehearsing takes place alone, in the living room, with only some patient cats for audience and company.

Harry, he loves harp music.

But rehearsals with my band make all that solitary work worthwhile. Notes scribbled on staff paper become rich layers of music – music that sounds even better than it does in my head. The set list comes alive with rhythm and movement. The concept of "concert" becomes "experience" and warmth.

And joy. Lots of joy.
We had a wonderful rehearsal tonight.

I do have another confession, though: I didn't officially decide to go ahead with this year's To Drive the Cold Winter Away concert until November 1st. That meant I had 27 days (and counting, quickly) to get a concert together. Set list, arrange the music for the band, set up rehearsals, rehearse, promote, perform.

Why the wishy-washiness? I didn't know if I'd be able to funnel the artistic fire that's been burning since coming home from Paris into a single, coherent event. I felt all over the place with all that creativity and it was blowing my circuitry:
I'm going to write a book!
I'm going to make a recording of original music!
I'm going to move to Paris and play my harp in the metro for Euros!
I'm going to get a dog!

Blaaah! See? All over the place.

Plus, I just didn't know if I would have the energy after all that...expansion...I'd experienced. Soul searching and creative output and art overload mixed with a totally new environment and a foreign language was both exhilarating and exhausting.

I changed my mind a million times that first week I was home. There was a lot going for having a concert: tradition, audience expectations, responsibility to share my music. But there was a lot going for not having a concert, too: namely, preservation of my sanity.

During a break in the action at the Women & Spirituality Conference over Halloween weekend, I was playing everything and nothing in particular on my harp and got inspired...French carols, French carols, French carols. Made some frantic notes. Realized I knew quite a few French carols, both familiar and lesser known. And something began to take shape. OK, so now there was a set list, but would I be able to pull everything off with less than a month to go? Would I be able to see it? Feel it? Make it happen?

That entire weekend while I presented and played, the germ of the concert stayed with me. While I shopped booths of crystals and rocks and art and jewelry and books and fabulous clothes, it was still there. And when I put on a green taffeta jacket, it hit me:

I wanted to give this concert. I wanted to create and deliver the experience for people, and for myself.

I simply wanted to.

Tradition, expectations and responsibility suddenly seemed ridiculous reasons to go forward with any artistic endeavor. And worries about my sanity ceased. I stood there in that beautiful, shimmering green jacket and released years of "have-tos" and "shoulds" and "you-always" and "what-ifs." My attitude about performing did a 180 in that moment. Whether it was the power of great fashion or the buzz from all those crystals and rocks surrounding me all weekend that tipped my mind in the right direction, I don't know. But I'm never one to waste a revelation.

It's now 17 days and counting. The set list and arrangements are done. Rehearsals are underway. The Amy Kortuem Promotion Machine (me) is in high gear. Music is flowing steadily from the harp corner of the living room.

I can't wait to share it all with you. While wearing green taffeta and a brand new attitude...


My annual To Drive the Cold Winter Away concert — mark your calendars!

Plans and rehearsals are underway for my seventh annual holiday concert:

To Drive the Cold Winter Away
Saturday, November 28
7:00 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church
220 East Hickory Street, Mankato

This year, the band and I will be performing traditional French carols (in a nod to my trips to Paris) and my new original music (composed in Paris).

It'll be beautiful, elegant and fun — a warm welcome to the season. I hope you'll mark your calendars and join me!


I confess: I went to Paris. Again.

I know I was conspicuously absent — from this blog and from my "normal" life — October 4-21. And now I'm 'fessing up.

It was the siren song of Paris, calling me back.

Back, you ask? Yes, back. Mom and I went to Paris in late April. That trip was every cliche you can say about a mother-daughter adventure in Paris. I didn't blog about it for just that reason: nothing I could say hadn't already been said, nothing I could write would do it justice.

But I also kept it a secret from the blog and from the greater public because that first trip was made up of a string of surprising and intensely private moments that...shifted...me somehow. It awakened me in ways that I didn't know I needed and taught me some lessons about the way I'd been living, the dreams I'd been hanging onto and the cage I'd been keeping myself in for the past 10 years.

I'm not going to go into detail because it wasn't all pretty and it was so subjective that if I wrote about it or told you about it you'd probably say, "Is that all?" and wonder why what moved me moved me and you'd be disappointed. Let's just call it tough love from The City of Love. You can use your imagination (which will probably be a lot more exciting than what really happened).

Anyway, all summer I tried to go about my life. But my normal walks weren't enough...so I started running, topping 6 miles by August (not bad for a new asthmatic). Normal house cleaning wasn't enough...I purged the thing, digging through every closet and drawer and nook and cranny and ending up with five truckloads of stuff to take to the thrift store. Normal summer cooking wasn't enough...I decided that the only bread I would eat had to be homemade and the only produce I would eat would be hyper-local.

But nothing I did could make me forget Paris.

So one day in late August, sweaty and blistered and limping after running for miles, I made a decision. It was a revelation, really. I was free. I had no ties, no responsibilities other than my cats and my house. And here was the ouch: I was the only one keeping myself in my cage. So I raided my savings account, bought a plane ticket, contacted some friends I'd made during the first trip and started planning. I asked my courageous and dear friend Ursula to house-and-kitty sit for me. I left right after playing for a wedding and would return 17 days later, just in time to play for another wedding.

I didn't have any expectations of the trip other than "exploring possibilities." Despite the kind of obsessed craziness I exhibited over the summer, I'd made some great personal strides (more stamina, a lighter possession load, better health thanks to all that homemade bread and a clearer mind after all that jostling from running), and I was open and ready for anything.

And everything is what I got. In ways I never could have expected, of course, which is the beautiful thing about going into something with no expectations. I did learn about my independence, my strength, my excellent communication skills despite my abysmal French, my confidence, my beauty (thanks to the guy in the Louvre who complimented me and then magically disappeared, leaving me stunned and teary-eyed in front of a Michaelangelo). And, strangely, I learned even more about my freedom.

It was an artistically productive trip, too. I was by myself most of the time and, because of said abysmal French, not doing a lot of talking (except to order another hot chocolate). I was inside my own mind and listening to the words coming up from my soul and the music my heart was playing for me. And so I started writing.

I filled up an entire journal while drinking all those hot chocolates in cafes (yes, the cafes are as charming as everyone says). I started writing music and ended up with a song for Prima Vox...

...composed with the help of a rickety piano upstairs at
Shakespeare and Company bookstore...

...and in a harp in a shop under the Arc de Triomphe. That piece will be performed at my holiday concert November 28th and Prima Vox's Fire & Ice concert December 19th.

I also did plenty of wandering.
Walked miles and miles along the Seine in fashionable shoes.
(All that running came in handy.)

I cried in front of statues.
Like this one, Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova.
I consider it the symbol of my awakening.

I went to Notre Dame. A lot.
Heard vespers. Walked around reverently.
Breathed in the incense.
Knelt on that 700-year-old floor and prayed.

Lit candles. Lots of them.

Frolicked with unicorns.
(Doesn't he look like Harry the Cat?)

Went to concerts at the Musée de Cluny, Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame.

Went to a wedding show with Kim Petyt, an American wedding planner in Paris.
Saw a harpist wearing something I hope I never think is a good idea to wear.
And yes, her harp lights up.

Dreamed about where I'd live...

...you know...

...if I decided to sell my house and what's left of my possessions
and pack up three cats and four harps and my good silverware
and move to Paris.

Like I said, exploring possibilities.

I can't say I figured out what exactly the Parisian pull was, or why I needed to go back so desperately or even what my next step is after coming home (reluctantly). I'm sure with time it will all sink in and unravel and get clearer. For now, I am still reveling in having escaped my normal life and flown from my self-imposed cage, if only for a while.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this adventure will continue to inform and inspire my artistic endeavors. Already I've turned that inspiration into a concert of French carols and my new original music on November 28th. That journal I filled up? Lots of stories waiting to be finished. Lots of poetry that may even see the light of day sometime (eeek).

My heart? My mind? My soul?


Vive le Paris.


Prima Vox sings for the bishop

Three music stands, shining in the Sunday morning sunlight.

The Church of the Holy Communion, the artistic residence of Prima Vox, was hosting a visit from the bishop this morning and they invited Prima Vox to sing during the service. We performed Alle Psalite Cum Luya (with my lap harp, which you can see peeking up from the bottom of the photo), Hildegard's O Cruor Sanguinis and Salve Virgo Virginum.

It was our first addition to a full Sunday service. It was something special to be a part of the Episcopalian rituals, the regalia, the richness.

We're looking forward to adding our music to more services at the church...and to performing our Fire & Ice concert there on December 19th.


Women & Spirituality Conference 2009

This was the fifth time I've participated in the Women & Spirituality Conference at Minnesota State University, Mankato. It would have been six years in a row, but my cousin Jenny got married last year on the conference weekend and asked me to play for the wedding (those families...no matter how hard I try, I can't get them to arrange their lives around ME). This year, I was ready to join in the excitement again.

So were Harry and Sam, making sure my CDs
and presentation materials were well-imbued
with good kitty energy before I set off for the weekend.

Each year, I've given a workshop called "Feminine Perspectives on Celtic Spirituality and the Music of the Celtic Harp." The title of my workshop pretty much sums up my spiritual life. The feminine perspectives? Mine, gained during this almost-20-year journey with a harp into the world of Celtic music, and deeper into the Celtic spirituality (and Celtic Christianity in some cases) that informs it.

I've learned that women of the Celtic world were revered, respected and given rights equal to men. I've learned that Celtic women were proudly matriarchal and honored as keepers of the music and the history and the stories. I've learned that the Celts believed listening was true worship, and that when we listen with our souls we can hear the rhythm of the universe. I've learned that it was a woman who set the great harper Turlough O'Carolan on his path. I've learned that Celtic bards had an honor price equal to that of a king's, i.e., if you happened to kill a bard, you had to pay the same amount of gold to his or her family that you would pay if you'd killed a king (remember that the next time you don't hold the door for a harpist..ahem).

As always, I came away fulfilled not only from having shared with open-minded, like-minded women my research, my views on spirituality, my music and how they're related...I've come away inspired by them.

Just one example of the weekend's synchronicity: I was telling my workshop attendees that anything they feel passionate about can be their vehicle for exploring and expressing their spirituality. Mine happens to be the harp. Theirs could be, for instance (and I have no idea why I said this, of all things)...turtles.

And after the workshop a beautiful woman with a lovely European accent approached me and said, "How did you know that I rehabilitate turtles?"

I didn't. It's just one of those Celtic things. But it made me smile, and out of it I made a new friend. And that's what the conference is all about for me.

Here I am playing at my booth in the exhibitor area.
I loved it when people wandered by, stopped to listen,
got a dreamy look in their eyes
and then wandered on.

And as always, my mom was my faithful helper for the weekend.
She just haaaaates it when I take these self-portraits of us.
(I have some doozies, too.)
"You won't put that on your blog, will you?" she asked after I snapped this one.
"Are you kidding?" I answered. (hee hee hee)