Writing

Sneak Peek at My New Novella, Shadows and Nightmares!

As promised, here is the first chapter of my new story set in the Giftless Chronicles universe. If you like it, I will be sending an extended sneak peek (more chapters!) to the people who’ve signed up to my email list on Mon, Jan. 14.  Enjoy!

Prologue

“I told you we’d have to kill them,” Emilee said as she  ripped her sword out of the cowering werewolf’s leg. She pointed the sword at his chest, her blue eyes flashing with anger. “Would you care to accept our agreed-upon offer now, Ben?”
Ben yelped, then nodded. “I’m sorry, Emilee. It won’t happen again. We lost a lot of the pack trying to get this. The Knights—”
“Not my problem. You try that stupidity again, and Donovan and I kill even more of your pack.” Emilee glanced over her shoulder, her blond ponytail swishing to the side. “You see, Donovan, this is why you never make a deal with a werewolf if you can help it. They always try to rip you off in the end. Bunch of bottom-feeders.”
Donovan, a tall, dark, and muscular young man, dropped the female werewolf whose blood he’d been draining. She plopped onto the ground, her neck completely chewed through. His sleeve smeared her blood across his face in a failed attempt to clean it off. “Thanks for the lesson,” he grinned, “and the snack.” His teeth, currently two rows of razor-sharp teeth, vanished into a normal set.
Emilee smiled her beautiful white teeth back at him. “Well, if you’re finished playing around, Rybak could use your help with the artifact. It’s a little heavy. I need to pay Ben here what we owe him.”
Donovan nodded and cocked a dark eyebrow. “Yes, ma’am.”
She turned to Ben. “Shall we conclude our business? I have places to be. Walk over to my car, nice and slow. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Y-y-yes, of course.” He limped towards her car as quickly as he could, the sharp point of her blade poking in his back. Emilee always breathed easier after the shoe dropped with these deals. Werewolves might be carrion eaters, but you never knew when they might go feral, particularly during the full moon when they could transform into their powerful wolf-man hybrid forms. That’s also why she insisted they have their meeting during the crescent moon—less chance of getting overpowered. Not that the werewolves hadn’t tried. She glanced at the ten semi-hairy corpses that littered the ground.
When they arrived at her car, Emilee pushed a button on her key, and the trunk opened. “Go ahead and take the first briefcase. The money’s all there. We pay our debts.”
Ben placed the briefcase on the ground, popped the clasps, and lifted the lid. He checked the money, and nodded appreciatively. “Thanks for money. We—”
“You’re going to leave $50,000 because of that little stunt.”
Ben flinched, his stringy brown hair jerked in clumps against his head. “Yes, yes.” He picked up several thick stacks and handed them to her. He closed the case with a look of satisfaction. “Let me know if we can do anything else for you,” he said.
Emilee snorted. “I doubt we’ll need to hire you for a while. You tell that to your boss.”
He fidgeted, and held up the case against his chest. “Understood. By the way, what is that thing?” He lifted a bony finger towards a large, gray stone cube that Donovan and Rybak were lifting onto the truck.
Emilee had already turned her black-clad body away from him. “That’s definitely not something you need to know, if you want to live.” She left him standing there and walked to the truck-bed where Donovan and Rybak, a tall, thin, pale vampire, had finally placed it.
Rybak grunted. “Next time, bring more vampires. I don’t like all this heavy lifting.”
Emilee traced her hand appreciatively over a series of Anglo-Saxon runes etched into the artifact. She knew the other side had the same inscription in Latin. She’d been there when it was made.
“It’s been a while,” she said, smiling as her fingers slid into the grooves on the cold stone. “Strap this down well. I don’t want it sliding around during the long drive back.”
She was about to give them more instructions when her phone rang. She frowned as she saw who was calling, but she answered it with a sigh. “What now?”
“We have a new problem,” a gravelly male voice said with a thick Scottish accent.
“If I have to clean up another one of your messes…”
“This is not my fault, I assure you.”
Emilee sniffed. “Whatever. What’s the problem?”
“One of our residents is coming your way.”
“Really. Who and what is it?”
“I’ve emailed you a complete dossier. I wouldn’t waste any time on this if I were you. She’s very dangerous.”
“Like I was planning to?” She said sarcastically.
“She knows you from the old days.”
Emilee’s pale face turned even paler. “You mean…her?”
The gravelly voice rumbled in the affirmative.
“I’ll handle it.”
“You’d better,” he said.
Emilee finally regained her composure. “I will. I definitely will.”
She hung up and turned to Rybak and Donovan. “We have more work to do. This could wreck all our plans for The Return.”

Thanks for reading! Again if you want the extended sneak peek, please sign up. If you haven’t read my first novel yet, here it is!

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The INTJ Musician’s Top 7 Nonfiction Books from 2018

Hello Everyone,

It has been a while, so I thought I’d let you know about some great books that I’ve read this past year. This year was a first for me. I don’t usually read nonfiction, but I decided I needed more skills and knowledge. To help matters, one of my jobs allows me to read during lulls. I’ve squeezed in a lot more reading this year than usual, and you are the beneficiaries!

Disclaimer: 1) Some of these books can be directly applied to life as a working musician. Some will not. They’ve all helped my understanding of the world, though. 2) I have linked to their Amazon pages, but you could do what I did, which was order them from the library. I don’t get any money from sharing these links.

Without further ado, here are my top 7 books of 2018:

your creative career

7. Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino

This was an excellent book with a more philosophical take on being a creative. I would recommend it for those who need to get into the mindset of being an artist and a businessperson. It’s very pithy. It’s got great aphorisms that you can take to heart.

war_of_art

6. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This short book will inspire those of us who want to create but are too afraid of taking the plunge. I don’t agree with all the language in it or even all the ideas. However, it has helped me focus, and I read it every so often in order to reorient myself.

hillbilly_elegy

5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I descend from hillbilly stock on both sides of my family, so this book was eye-opening for me. I even grew up in a place nicknamed “Hazeltucky” (that wasn’t a compliment, either). Even though I’m a few more generations removed than Mr. Vance, I still could see some of the same mindset struggles in my own life.

ren soul

4. The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine

Those of us with multiple interests and skill-sets often struggle. We don’t know how to use our skills to create an income and a life we actually want to live. Thankfully, Ms. Lobenstine specializes in helping people with multiple skills/interests find careers. I highly recommend this book if you are of this mind and are looking to change your life.

intellectuals and society

3. Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

This was the first book that I’ve read by the great thinker, Thomas Sowell. To be honest, it was a bit dense. I struggled to read some of it. What kept me going was the fact that the material was so great. Having spent  a lot of time in academia, I’ve met people with the bias Mr. Sowell is attacking. All too often, people with degrees look down on people who don’t. We should value people’s opinions based on the merits of their argument, instead of judging them based on how wittily they express their opinions or how many letters they put after their name.

ethnic america

2. Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell

I know, two books by the same guy? This was much more readable than the other book I read, and it was a fascinating read. Learning about the struggles of the major ethnic groups (at least, up to the 1980s—seriously, it needs updated) in America gave me a lot of context. Highly recommended!

the money book

1. The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-timers, and the Self-employed by Joseph D’Agnese

The Money Book has changed my life more than any other book this past year. It contains a ton of helpful information on how to deal with personal finances when you have irregular income. Because of this book, I have saved more than I ever have! If you are a working creative, you need to get this book!!!!!!!

Life Update December 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so please bear with me. Life has been quite busy, and December is a musician’s money-making season. I will have done 10 different performances between Dec. 1-22! Add that to a novella in my Giftless Chronicles that I’m editing, and I’m keeping busy! So, without further ado, here is my life update.

*Inhales Deeply*

Vessel for the Arts presents The Story (Dec. 7-16)

While I have participated in theater productions as a singer, this was the first time I have ever conducted a musical. It certainly has been a growing experience for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Learning words such as “vamping” and “striking,” working with an orchestrator, voice coaching, conducting actor/singers and orchestra—it’s all been a blast. All the people involved have been wonderful. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

You all need to see this production. It’s pretty cool. And you’ll even get to watch the back of my head for the entire performance! We have four more performances this weekend in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Check out this link to find performance times & locations.

A Celebris Christmas (Dec. 22 @ 7 pm)

I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride with the Celebris Ensemble, and I’m excited to say that we’re performing our first Christmas concert! Come to the Celebris Ensemble’s first Christmas concert! We’ve got some wonderful music lined up for my concert next week. The singers are all top-notch and the repertoire is not too shabby, if I do say so myself. We’ll be singing Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, some Praetorius, some Whitacre, and more! Finish off your season of attending Christmas concerts by coming to ours at Oshtemo United Methodist Church.

West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts

My kids will be singing tonight! They have done great work, and I’m excited to announce that we will be participating in the Michigan School Vocal Music Association’s Choral Festival (MSVMA) this year! It’ll be fun taking on the public schoolers!

Branch United Youth Choir

We finished the first half of our season by singing with the Branch County Community Chorus on Dec. 1. The kids did a great job. I’m very proud. Now, I need to prepare for the second half starting on Jan. 22…

Miscellaneous

It is always thrilling to see my students grow as singers and artists! To that end, I’m still teaching voice lessons. I also am performing with different ensembles here in MI! I think that about wraps it up. Have a Merry Christmas!

Life Update August 2018

Well, the fall season is fast approaching, and I am busily organizing things in order to be prepared. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities the Lord has given me,  and I even have some opportunities for others that I can share!

Vessel for the Arts—The Story

This fall, I will be the music director for a production called “The Story.” It is a series of vignettes from the Bible (Adam & Eve, Esther, Daniel, Jesus, Mary Magdelene, etc.). I’ll be conducting the orchestra and working with the voices. The performances are Dec. 7, 14, 16 at Comstock Community Auditorium and Dec. 8 & 15 at Caledonia High School Fine Arts Center.

*Big Announcement!!!!* 

We are hosting auditions on Aug. 21-25. If you are interested in the mission of Vessel for the Arts and want to try out, please come. The project will be a lot of fun, and we’ll present gospel truth in an engaging and artistic manner! Click Here for audition and rehearsal information.

Branch United Youth Choir—Coldwater, MI

We’re starting our fifth year (can you believe it!) of empowering young singers in this rural community in south-central MI. We just hosted a wonderful choir camp on June 25-28. The kids enjoyed themselves and learned about musical theater. Our next season looks like this:

Fall Semester:
Oct 2-Nov 27—Rehearsals
Dec 1—Concert
Fall Tuition: $80
Spring Semester:
Jan 22-Feb 26—Rehearsals
Mar 1—Concert
Spring Tuition: $80
There are tuition scholarships available for those who are interested but aren’t sure how to pay for the choir. We want to make music training and empowerment available to all.
As a cool thing, if you are a homeschooler, you can get your tuition paid for by the Gull Lake Partnership

West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts

I will continue to conduct the Kalamazoo Jr./Sr. High Choir for the WMHFA. Even though last year was a first year for all of us, we made some great strides. My goal is to keep the momentum going. We’ll be participating in MSVMA this year and everything. To all my school teacher friends—I’ll see you there!

Celebris Ensemble

This last May, I started a small vocal ensemble in Kalamazoo. We sang a fun concert with some early music, contemporary music, and vocal jazz. We’ll be singing some concerts in the next few months, including in October and December. Stay tuned!!!

Voice Lessons

I’m thankful that there seems to be a lot of interest in voice lessons for the fall/spring season. If you are interested in them, contact me here. My goal is to get my students to become the best singers they can be in the shortest time possible. You’ll get a solid foundation of healthy vocal technique, and I will get you to the next level!

Book Stuff

Those of you who’ve been following me know that I put out a book in April. I’m happy to announce that I’ve completed a novella in my same Giftless Chronicles universe. I’m currently finishing the first round of editing. I hope to get this out soon, with perhaps another related project!

My Music

I also published a song called The Hunter and His Love. Listen to it on Spotify and buy it and stuff.  The more you listen to it, the more bills I get to pay and the more music I get to create!
Okay, I think that’s it.

My Single Is Out!!!!!!

 

Hello Everyone,

You heard it right. My new single is now posted to the cool places on the internet! This post is a one stop shop for my ballad. Take a listen, add to your playlists, and all that other stuff you whippersnappers do!

As always, I also want to let you know that the book that inspired this song is available for sale at Amazon and Kobo! Buy it! Buy it! Buy it! You know you want to. Support your local (or not so local) artist. Thanks, and enjoy!

Here are some links:

Spotify

iTunes

Amazon

Here’s another Youtube version!

 

 

The Ballad I Wrote Is Coming Out Next Week!

I recently told an extended family member that one of my goals in life is to create things. Hence, if you look at my Instagram account, you will notice it is called @joel_creative. This is not a label of what I think I am, but rather what I aspire to be.

Many creative endeavors are linked. Sometimes, I’ll write a solo song and then turn it into a choir song, and vice versa. I wrote a solo arrangement of Danny Boy and then gave it to a friend to write a piano accompaniment. Instead, he turned it into a choral arrangement, which my Celebris ensemble sang at our concert a couple months ago (he was in the group).  I call this confluence of ideas, people, and products “synergy.”

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of my ballad. If you want a sneak peak, please sign up to my email list by Wednesday, July 11!

My Ballad: A History

Another example of synergy is when I wrote my young adult novel The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy. I decided that one of my characters would sing a portion of a folk ballad. Since he’s part of a community that hunts monsters, that would be the subject matter. Folk ballads tell a story, so I chose to have two characters (a hunter and his love) go into the woods to fight an evil witch. Things get messy from there.

The Melody

Inspiration hit me like a Mack truck. I’d already written a folk melody (in Dorian mode, for all you music nerds) that would work perfectly. What if I wrote the whole text? I decided it would be like an old ballad, with old-timey words and everything. I finished it, and that was that.

Arranging the Song

Then another thought occurred to me. What if I made a recording? It would work well for promotional purposes. Other authors use skills that they have to promote their work. As a singer, conductor, & composer, I have a very particular set of skills (say that in your best Liam Neeson voice). Why not use them? I’d need to arrange the song, so I spoke with a friend, Joel Myers of The Founding, and he gave me some wonderful ideas.

Corralling the Musicians

After that, it followed that I would need to record it. I started corralling musicians, which is a lot like herding cats. Getting them all into the same room at the same time is quite difficult. In fact, I had two different musicians bail on me at the last moment. I was afraid that the recording wouldn’t happen, but I eventually ended up with Flute (Maria Gugliemina), Alto soloist (Daniela Peña), Bass-Baritone soloist (Me), Violin (John Robey), Cello (Samuel Kelly), and Mandolin (Joel Myers).  They’re all talented, dependable musicians, and you should hire them!

Recording the Song

Eventually though, we ended up in the recording studio and knocked it out. I sang and conducted at the same time, which I think helped keep us together and cut down on rehearsal and studio time.

Next, my studio technician (Garrett Gagnon) worked his magic. He cut/spliced things together, changed the balance on things, and then sent his versions to me. I listened and asked for some changes. All-in-all, it turned out to be a fun project, and I’m excited to share it with you soon.

One of my sisters told me that it was weird to write a song that goes into my book. It probably is. I’ve never been accused of being a normal person! Normal is boring, right? She also said that I should say that it was inspired by my book. I think either way works: the song can stand on its own or fit into my Giftless Chronicles universe. You can decide what you want it to be.

Life Update July 2018

All of us know that life can get busy. Most of us, however, like to work on one project at a time. There’s only one problem with all of that for me: I’m a musician. My life is a continuous set of gigs.

The good thing about this is that I rarely do the same thing in the same place for more than a couple of times. Variety is the spice of life, and I love the challenge of taking on a new project, performance, or job. For a professional musician, life is a like a box of chocolates…and stuff.

The downside is that sometimes I don’t feel like a professional musician, but rather like a professional plate spinner.

Such a lost art!

Anyway, without further ado, here has been my life since my last life update:

West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts

I concluded a wonderful season with my homeschool choir. They were a blessing to me, and I don’t say that lightly. The kids brought an enthusiasm and focus to choral singing that I have never seen in that age group. We learned a lot and made some wonderful music. I greatly look forward to conducting them again in the fall.

Branch United Youth Choir

We finished our season with a collaboration with the irrepressible Nancy Brown and the Union City Community Chorale. The chorale was excited to have us there, and we even sang a song with them, which is always fun.

We also recently finished our annual choir camp (June 18-21). I taught them how to sing and gave them some basic sight-reading skills. Our theme this year  was Musical Theatre. The kids learned about the history of musical theatre (yay for learning stuff!) and how we got to styles that are used in musical theatre performances today. We did a scene from The Pirates of Penzance and sang some wonderful music from different musicals.

The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy (Book 1)

A couple months ago, I had the privilege of publishing my first book. It’s a Young Adult novel and it’s about (hard to guess, I know) a vampire conspiracy. It’s a been an intriguing opportunity to learn about the self-publishing world. One of the best compliments have received multiple times is that readers “had to know what happened next.” To me, that is a sign of an engaging book. Please take a look at it and buy it!

I’m also excited to announce that I’m 14,000 words into a novella (17,000-39,999 words) set in the same world. This time, I’m focusing on one of the other characters, Corinne, and her adventures as she learns to be a Chronicler. Lots of exciting action, drama, and new characters to meet as I delve deeper into this rich universe!

Celebris Ensemble

It’s been a dream of mine to sing with a dedicated, talented group of singers. I formed an small choral ensemble here in Kalamazoo, and our first concert was on May 22nd at Bethany Reformed church. You can listen to some recordings and learn more about us at my Celebris tab. I’m working on next season, which should be some exciting performances. If you want to hire us for a gig, contact me at celebris.ensemble@gmail.com.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Gig

At the beginning of June, I performed with a large group of professional singers (mostly made up of Audivi and Opera Modo) which sang in the DSO’s rendition of Puccini’s Turandot. It is some truly glorious music, and it was nice to sing in a mass choir of that caliber. The voices were powerful and resonant, and the musicianship of the singers was precise and focused.

DSO Gig 2018

Upcoming Gigs

I’ve already listed a few in my other sections, but here goes: My Detroit Choir Camp is the last week of July and the first week of August. If you are in the Detroit area and you want your kids have fun singing musical theatre, contact Noelle Stiekes here.

I made a recording of a folk ballad that I wrote, orchestrated, and produced.  It’s based in my Giftless Chronicles world (one of the characters sings the first stanza in my novel), and it’s about a Hunter and his love who go into the woods to fight an evil witch. The song turned out pretty cool, if I do say so myself. If you want to get a sneak preview, sign up to my email list. You get access to behind the scenes stuff there!

I signed on to be the music director of a production of “The Story.” It’s traces the gospel through various Bible accounts. It should be a great time of collaboration and I’m looking forward to our performance in December.

In March 2019, I’ll be singing a gig with Sounding Light, a professional choir based in Oakland County, MI.

I think that’s about it. If you have any interest in voice lessons, hiring me for a singing or conducting gig, please contact me. The more work the better.