Change is gonna come

This week has brought a lot of change. Here in the US, we have a new president! God Bless Lady Gaga who brought us the National Anthem at the inauguration (my reaction here)

And earlier this week, my husband Jordan and I found out what the next two years has in store for us. After a long process of him applying to specialty programs, we finally have a plan- and it includes a BIG move (read that news here).

With all this going on, I’ve been thinking about change and opportunity.

Have you ever felt…?

Have you ever felt stressed out of your mind trying to make a decision, not really having all the information needed or any options laid out in front of you yet? Have you ever ran through every possible scenario in your mind, well before the choice could even be made?

That’s how I had been feeling lately.

My Uncle Ralph would say, “You can’t make a decision until you can make a decision!”

Until the opportunities present themselves, there’s actually nothing to decide. 

I think our job as artists (and human beings, honestly) is to put ourselves out there for the opportunities we want.

Submit for that audition, send in a self-tape, work on your voice now to prepare for the future, apply to a lot of schools and cast a wide net, etc.  

After we’ve done all that we can do, the opportunities start to present themselves. 

But if you never put yourself out there, there’s nothing to choose from. It’s not your job to take yourself out of the running. 

Jordan and I had hoped this next chapter of our lives would include a move back to New York City.
 That’s not what ended up happening, but we’re not upset. We’ve spend the past 9 months throwing all sorts of things out into the universe and are now seeing what opportunities come back to us.

I hope the same for your and your artistry- try a lot! See what sticks! See what comes of your efforts. Then pursue those things wholeheartedly and with an open mind. 

The Reading Wilson fam, heading to Washington State this summer!

My Favorite Albums of 2020

What a year. 😆

Here are my favorite albums of 2020, with a few honorable mentions and bonus tracks.

Gaslighter, The Chicks

Easily my most played album of 2020, this is a banger from start to end chronicling lead singer Natalie Maines’ divorce from her husband of 17 years. Embroiled in a two year legal battle, the divorce was finalized in December of last year. This album exposes some of the most heartbreaking details of the experience and serves as a rallying cry for anyone who’s ever been done wrong.

Narrowing this down was insanely difficult, but check out rousing lead single “Gaslighter,” “Sleep At Night,” “My Best Friend’s Weddings,” the hilariously biting “Tights on My Boat,” and my personal favorite “Hope It’s Something Good,” full of lush harmonies and devastating well-wishes to the one who broke your heart.

Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa

Highly acclaimed and Grammy nominated, this rousing disco album accompanied my road-trips and at-home dance parties this year. It’s a good time.

You know lead single “Don’t Start Now,” so try out the sleek and sexy “Cool,” the effortlessly dance-able “Levitating,” and four to the floor stomping “Hallucinate.” Honestly, it’s a bop from beginning to end so press play and dance away.

Manic, Halsey

An early 2020 pick that combines 2000’s Paramore vibes with revealing singer-songwriter odes to love and loss. All in all, it’s an album that speaks to human experience in an eery, “did she read my mind” kind of way. It’s pretty brilliant.

I wondered if I wrote the lyrics when I first heard the vengeful “You Should Be Sad.” “3am” appeals to the ever present 17 year old angsty girl inside of me, as does lead single “Without Me.” “Finally // beautiful stranger” also felt like something pulled off the pages of my journal, thankfully reflecting a much happier time.

Solitude, Tori Kelly

Only a five track EP, this quarantine project still makes my list thanks to her insane vocals, catchy hooks and personal story telling.

My top picks include the pump-up jam “Value,” the bouncy “Unbothered,” and a love song for real people in real love (no fairy tale here), “Glad.”

Folklore / Evermore, Taylor Swift

Taylor gets a double header here. Tbh, evermore dropped so recently I haven’t had time to devour it like it deserves. For that reason, it gets to tag along to the well-worn folklore.

folklore is up for a number of Grammy awards, and for good reason. It feels at once like a recall to her early country days and a brave new frontier for her artistry. The storytelling is next-level as she expands outside of first person narratives for the first time in her career.

Best songwriter of our generation. I said it!

Check out “the 1,” “august,” “illicit affairs,” and the perfectly specific to her, but somehow also feels like she wrote it for me “invisible string.” I have lots to dig into on evermore, but right off the bat “happiness” got me amped about this sister album.

Chromatica, Lady Gaga

Initially, Lady Gaga said she wouldn’t release her long anticipated return to dance music album during the pandemic. But as the weeks dragged on, she blessed us with this album. There’s not a single ballad in the bunch (!) which means a solid 43 minutes of dance cardio. We need it #workfromhome #workfromthecouch

My faves include the outrageously PUMPED “Stupid Love,” the duet with Ariana I felt BLESSED to receive “Rain On Me,” girl power ANTHEM “Free Woman,” and the disco bop I’m hoping gets turned into a piano ballad one day, “1000 Doves.”

Dedicated Side B, Carly Rae Jepsen

We should have seen it coming! Just as she followed up 2015’s hit album Emotion with Emotion Side B in 2016, my girl Carly blessed us with Dedicated Side B in 2020. Like Taylor, she just can’t quit writing!

My faves include “Window,” “Felt this Way,” and “Stay Away.” The best and most mature track on the album is the stunning and intimate “Heartbeat.”

Bonus Tracks

You may have noticed it was quite a girls club on my list this year. But some of my favorite male artists make an appearance in my bonus tracks.

My favorite track off of Justin Bieber’s Changes is “Confirmation.” Shawn Mendes’ late in the year arrival Wonder offered a slightly underwhelming lead single, but the song “Dream” proved a magical, surround-sound ode to romantic love. I’m so sorry to say I really didn’t love Ariana Grande’s surprise album Positions. But the grand finale of the album, “Pov” gave us a career defining (?) ballad that was worthy of her talent.

Listen to my favorite albums of 2020 playlist here:

It took me 24 hours to bake a pie

In our house, we have recently taken up pie baking. 

I’ve perfected cookies, we’ve kept our sourdough starter alive since April, clocked in tens of hours watching Great British Bake-Off. Now, It was time to take our baking up a notch. 

Two weeks ago Jordan and I stumbled across Erin McDowell on YouTube, teaching the masses the surprisingly complicated and beautiful intricacies of pie making. An hour and a half of tutorials later, we were hooked. 

The next week, we rushed out to buy her newly released cookbook, loaded our fridge with butter, and declared ourselves PIE MAKERS. 

Here’s how it started: Confidently!

Here’s how it ended: disappointed, confused, and an entire 24 hours later.

Oh, and I nearly burnt the apartment building to the ground. 

It took 24 hours from start to finish because I ruined the first crust in the oven as all the butter leaked out and smoked up our entire kitchen. So I started again, this time resting the dough overnight in the fridge. When I had finally cooked a successful crust the next day (or so I thought), I waited for it to cool, then baked it all with it’s tasty pumpkin filling. 

After hours of cooling time, we were ready to eat our creation!

But alas! The pie was (practically) raw when we cut into it and the bottom crust was decidedly soggy. We ended up BAKING IT AGAIN, which did set the center but turned the bottom crust into rubber. 

Did we still eat it? Sure did. 

Would I call it a success? No, no I wouldn’t. 

Here’s the thing: watching an hour and a half worth of instructional videos on YouTube does not make you an expert.

It doesn’t even mean you have a SINGLE CLUE about the thing you’re trying to learn. 

It is a start, and we all have to start somewhere. 

If you too are a bit underwhelmed by the progress you’ve made by only watching YouTube or TikTok instructional videos… why not get some personalized help in a lesson?

Or, get on my waitlist for my soon-to-be released Warm-Up Series. These guided vocal warm-up recordings feel like I’m there with you- holding your hand the whole time. 

Ah, it started so confidently. At right: before we cut into the pie to find out it was soup.

Thanksgiving is only a week away and I am NOT GIVING UP ON MY PIE MAKING DREAMS! (also, what else am I supposed to do all winter?!)

But, going into my next pie, I am going to follow the instructions carefully, take it slow, and keep my expectations reasonable. I’m not going to be good at this for a while, and that’s ok. For now, I’m going to take alllllll the expert help I can get.

Anyone have any pointers?!

One Take Wonder: Thoughts on Perfection

My friend Stephanie asked me to record a video performance of me singing any song of my choice for a virtual fall benefit program. I’m a mentor in her awesome organization, Women’s Artistic Leadership Initiative (womensali.org), and I was honored she asked me to perform. 

I chose a song I’ve sung a lot in the past, “How Could I Ever Know” from THE SECRET GARDEN (a musical composed by two women, so it seemed fitting). The day Jordan and I were set to record the song (wow ya’ll, the perks of being married to a killer accompanist), I thoroughly warmed up and we rehearsed it a few times before hitting the record button. 

In the past, I’ve spent hours on a self-tape project like this. It’s so easy to be hyper-critical of every sound and expression and want to record take after take in hopes of reaching perfection!

In my experience- perfection is never reached. Instead, what you get is diminishing returns. After a few good takes, each one after that gets a little worse as your voice wears out and your energy wanes. 

In the case of my “How Could I Ever Know” self-tape- we ended up doing only two takes. And… we kept and submitted the first one

What a breeze!

Don’t get me wrong- this is largely because I’ve spent years training, practicing and performing– even performing this exact piece. Without that kind of experience, I may not have had such a confident go of it right out of the gate. 

But also – and here’s the point – I’ve learned to let go of my idea of perfection. 

Should we always strive to do our best? Yes!

Doing your best is not reaching perfection. It’s doing your best in this moment under these circumstances. It’s not worth it to play the comparison game, particularly when you’re comparing yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist. 

Here’s the final video if you’re interested in watching.

As a side note- I thought my performance was better in the second take, but the audio recording didn’t turn out as good. And to that I say, c’est la vie!

Love in the Time of Corona

Have all your plans for 2020 been ripped into a million tiny pieces and then dumped into the Hudson? Yeah, mine too. 

On March 13th, I drove out of New York City and headed to Milwaukee, WI where my boyfriend Jordan lived. I expected to be away for a few weeks, max. In the meantime, I’d just move my lessons online- a format I’m extremely comfortable with since I’ve been teaching online for nearly a decade. 

Later in March, Jordan and I road tripped to Utah where we planned to quarantine with family for a time. We’re both from Utah and our parents lived just a few hours away from each other. 

Well, a few weeks turned into many weeks. The winter clothes I brought with me from New York soon proved obsolete and cumbersome as temperatures climbed to the 90’s in Southern Utah. The time we spent with family was both a huge blessing (when would we ever be able to spend this much time with them, ever?!) and also challenging. We missed our own homes, routines, and lives. 

I know you are familiar with the story I’m telling you. So many of you have lived this exact scenario over the past three months. It’s been hard. Exhausting. Frustrating, saddening, and anxiety ridden. 

And yet, it’s also been wonderful. 

On May 5, 2020, Jordan Reading and I eloped in my parent’s backyard. Our parents and grandparents were present and our siblings, nieces and nephews watched via Zoom. It was the most special and beautiful day. I feel outrageously lucky to have Jordan as my partner in life, and somehow eloping during the middle of a global pandemic seemed par for the course for our whirlwind relationship.

(Did I mention… Jordan is a world-class pianist and a pretty fantastic singer. Oh, and super handsome, kind, and he loves Musical Theatre. *I won the jackpot, folks*)

We found ourselves back in Milwaukee, figuring out what was next for us. Returning to New York was always the plan for both of our careers. However, coronavirus has put an indefinite hold on in-person lessons and we’ve made the tough decision to stay in Milwaukee through the end of the year. 

Not much will be changing for the studio- online lessons will continue! I’ve loved keeping up with so many of you via Skype/Facetime and appreciate your commitment to your craft. Whether you’ve continued with lessons during this time or not, my only hope is that you keep singing! 

My heart has been on a roller coaster ride for months- saying even a brief goodbye to New York has been incredibly difficult. But, if I’ve learned anything in the past six months (or year, or two years) it’s that life has a way of working out for our good, despite our best attempts at planning. 

I wish for you peace of mind and strength during this crazy time. I hope that you find beauty in your surroundings, whether that’s your apartment in Washington Heights or the guest room at your parent’s house. I hope you are kind to yourself and others. I hope you know that I’m thinking of you, your goals, dreams, and struggles. I hope you hold space in your heart for the hope that things will turn around. I have to believe that goodness we couldn’t have imagined is just around the corner. 

If you’ve read this novel, congratulations! And thanks for being part of my life, both personally and professionally. Truly, it means the world to me.

I’d love to hear from you – how are you? Where are you? What unexpected gift has this season brought you? 

2019: Chelsea’s Favorite Albums

Here we are again!

It was tough, but I chose 10 albums I love that defined my year. Take it all with a grain of salt- these are my (completely subjective) favorite albums of 2019.

2019 favorite albums

Top Ten Albums of 2019 (in no particular order)

THANK U, NEXT, by Ariana Grande
My 2019 could pretty easily be summed up by Ariana from Jan-June and Taylor from July-Dec. Thanks for framing my year, ladies.

Truly, this album is a masterwork. Sure, Ari’s vocals were best showcased on her earlier albums and it’s looking like we’ll never get back to that prime diva era, but she’s making muuuuusic and she has things to SAY and I’m here for it. You know the hits, now try “NASA” (the best song on the album), “in my head,” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.”

FREE SPIRIT, by Khalid
At the start of the year the words “Who is Khalid? Is this DJ Khaled’s other moniker?” escaped my lips. I’m so embarrassed. Khalid’s Free Spirit bowled me over this year and was on near constant repeat. Sensual, warm, infectiously rhythmic with deep textures I cannot get enough of. You know “Talk” from the near endless radio play, so check out “Twenty One,” “Free Spirit,” “Outta My Head” featuring John Mayer, and “Right Back.”

GIRL, by Maren Morris
We got a lot of Maren this year, including her all-female collaboration The Highwomen (which is entirely different from this solo record and a really refreshing throwback to peak Parton-era country). As Spotify recently reminded me, Maren’s debut album HERO was my top in 2016, so I was highly anticipating this release. And it delivered! Despite her forays into top-40 pop (“The Middle”), Maren gives us a true country album here and she belts her way through it with gusto. The standouts are the title track “GIRL,” “The Feels,” “Make Out With Me,” and “The Bones.”

DEDICATED, by Carly Rae Jepson
I am a sucker for Carly Rae Jepson. She’s…. Everything. How does she craft such perfect pop confections? HOW DOES SHE DO IT? Toggling between lovesick and lovelorn, Carly gives us a slightly more mature look at infatuation and all its accompanying side-affects. The bops abound here. Check out “No Drug Like Me,” “Now That I’ve Found You,” (the song you’ve heard on all the Target commercials) “Want You In My Room,” and “The Sound.”

DRAX PROJECT, by Drax Project
I feel like this is the guilty pleasure item on my list this year, but I need to own it and proclaim my love for it. I saw Drax Project, a pop band consisting of four young Kiwis, play a small show at Soho House this summer, and I was hooked. That night they debuted a new song they hadn’t yet recorded called “All This Time” which included a bass thumping sax solo that had my jaw on the floor (I know this sounds ridiculous- just listen to it really loud and get back to me). This debut album is a lot of fun. Other faves are “Only Us,” and “Prefer.”

BETTY, by Betty Who
I saw Betty Who in concert twice this year- and the second time she pointed and smiled at me from the stage, so basically my life is complete. I’ve never been to a more FUN concert- you must see her live. And her dancers are hot (this is a relevant point to make). 90’s pop flavored, every track on this album will make you want to dance and smile and fall in love. Faves include “Old Me,” “Do With It,” “Between You and Me,” and the N’Sync lookalike “The One.”

SUCKER PUNCH, by Sigrid
The Elle Fanning movie “Teen Spirit” first introduced me to Sigrid (have you seen this movie? Worth the watch), the 23 year old Norwegian hybrid of Robyn and Carly Rae 😍. On a road trip to Arches National Park, my brother played the whole album and I was immediately SAD I had not LISTENED TO IT EARLIER. I’ve never heard an album that delivered straight infectious bops for the first five tracks. Like, DANCE PARTY amazing for the first five. How?! Picking faves is near impossible on this album but I’m narrowing my picks to “Mine Right Now,” “Don’t Feel Like Crying,” “Never Mine,” and the piano finale, “Dynamite.”

SATURN, by Nao
This is a late 2018 entry, but I’m going to claim some kind of outrageous Grammy deadlines for this one. This album got a lot of mileage in 2019, so it counts for me.

Dang. This is the smoothest, grooviest, best make-out album I can imagine. That’s all I have to say. Check out the aching “Another Lifetime,” haunting “Orbit,” and the final luscious track, “A Life Like This.”

WASTELAND, BABY! by Hozier
I was not a huge Hozier fan before this album, but this crooning collection of rumbly baritone folk-rock (folk-rock? What is genre is this?) had me swooning. The first half of the album is the best, in my opinion. The strongest recommendation I can make to you is this: close your eyes in a quiet place and listen to “Movement” as loudly as possible. If you don’t have a physical reaction at minute 2:46, you might be dead inside. Next tracks: “Almost (Sweet Music)” and “To Noise Making (Sing).”

LOVER, by Taylor Swift
Am I a millennial white cis woman in America? Of course this album made this list. Reputation grew to be a favorite album of mine, and I was unsure if a return to sugar coated pop was something I wanted from Taylor at this point. Thankfully, I was delighted to discover Lover as nuanced, layered, beautiful, and mature. Also, I have definitely cried actual tears on more than one occasion listening to the title track. You know the radio hits, now listen to “Cruel Summer,” “The Man,” “I Think He Knows,” and “Death by A Thousand Cuts.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS- songs I cannot get enough of.

“Gone,” Charlie XCX and Christine and the Queens.
When we got to the bridge- I was sure I knew where this track was headed BUT I WAS SO WRONG!

“Call My Name,” I’m With Her
Best listened to on continuous loop.

“How Do You Sleep,” Sam Smith
The video really did me in.

“Dancing with a Stranger” Sam Smith, Normani, CHEAT CODES remix.
Will a Sam Smith 2020 album make my list next year? Yes.

Chelsea’s Favorite Albums of 2018

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Charlie Puth, Voicenotes. You heard it here (definitely not) first. Charlie Puth is this year’s King of Pop. My Fave tracks include “Boy,” “Empty Cups.”

Punch Brothers, All Ashore. Punch Brothers make an album =  it makes my best-of list. Fave tracks include “Just Look at This Mess,” and “It’s All Part of the Plan.”

Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes. If Charlie is the king, then maybe Shawn is the prince. As my friend Renee put it, Shawn is my age inappropriate crush. Fave tracks include “Lost in Japan,” “Where Were You in the Morning.”

Third Story, Cold Heart. Three-part male harmony and expertly crafted songs that makes me weak in the knees. Soulful, folk-y, pop rock, these guys don’t bother with playing the genre game and instead showcase their killer songwriting and breathtaking vocals. Fave tracks include “Searching for a Feeling,” “Still In Love,” “Only Love.”

I’m With Her, See You Around. These three insanely talented solo artists came together for this female supergroup. Three-part harmonies (do you sense a theme here?) and stringed instruments make for endless combinations of bluegrass bliss. Fave tracks include “See You Around,” “Pangea” “Game to Lose.”

Tori Kelly, Hiding Place. The gospel album the world needed. I got to see her play Riverside Church this fall and the SPIRIT WAS FELT! Fave tracks include “Psalm 42,” and “Never Alone.”

Mumford and Sons, Delta. A late in the year release and a surprising favorite. I feel like Mumford is back in the musical zeitgeist with the arena pop/rock production on this album. Fave tracks include “42,” “Guiding Light,” “Rose of Sharon.”

Panic! At The Disco, Pray For The Wicked. Been belting it out with Brendan Urie since 2005 and I’m not going to quit now. Fave tracks include “High Hopes,” “Hey Look Ma I Made It,” “Dying in LA.”

Jess Glynne, Always in Between. A boppy pop fest with (IMO) some questionable feminist messages (looking at you, “No One.”) Overall Jess brings her funky soul vibe to pick-me-up positive Brit-Pop and I am here for it. Fave tracks include “Never Let Me Go.” “All I Am,” “I’ll Be There.”

Robyn, Honey. Long awaited and really worth it. The first time I heard the title track, I cried. Pathetic? Perhaps. Fave tracks include “Honey,” “Missing U,” “Ever Again.”

What were your favorite albums of 2018? Happy listening in the new year!

Listen to my favorite tracks from my favorite albums here:

Musicianship and the Singer

Musicianship

Have you ever heard that singers are often the worst musicians? I’d hate to say that generalization is true, but I have experienced what it’s like to realize my musicianship needed to level up.

When I was a junior in college, I gave a concert in my hometown as part of an ongoing Christmas concert series at a beautiful and esteemed venue downtown. It was a one night event put on by me; I chose the program, and asked a few friends to duet with me on two numbers.

I was rushed in my preparation- final exams and performances at school kept me occupied until what was probably just a week or two before this concert I was going to give. But at the time, I thought, “No big deal! I’m a music major, I can pull this off. Most of the songs I’m singing I know already.” That was in fact the case, or so I thought. You know when you’ve heard a song so many times, you just assume you ‘know’ it?

I asked a dear friend of mine, who also happens to be a tremendous singer and voice teacher himself, to duet with me on “The Prayer,” an epic ballad with a passage in Italian I was pretty sure I could just breeze through.

He’d sung it many times and in our one rehearsal before the actual performance, he coached me on the pronunciation and rhythm of the section. On top of that, the melody was tricky and I was unsure of what was correct versus what I thought I had heard Celine sing on the recording. I started to feel a little nervous at this point.

“But! I’m a musical theatre major! And I’ve been studying singing all my life! I’ll wow them with charisma and personality, there’s no doubt I can just wing it,” I continued to tell myself.

The concert came. There were a few great moments, there were many decent moments, and then “The Prayer” came and it all went to hell.

I’m sure my mother has video footage of this that I could share here, but I won’t because honestly it would be so embarrassing.

The point is, there is no substitute for preparation. There is no substitute for time spent rehearsing something so many times, there’s no other option but to do it right. You may be a great singer, but a great voice won’t disguise wrong notes, off-kilter rhythm, and Italian pronunciation that totally sucks. 

The fact is, I’m still working on becoming an excellent musician. As I’ve studied, listened, and learned more, I realize my very favorite singers are equally talented musicians- dedicated to their songwriting, or arrangements, or musical storytelling.

The very best aren’t lazy in their preparation, nor do they rely on their natural talent or pretty voice to get them through a song. They know they are one piece of a larger musical ensemble- whether they have an orchestra of 50 or a single piano accompanying them.

I’ve learned through personal failures and triumphs of preparation that the only vocalist worth being is one who is a musician as well.

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