About rockmommyct

I am a mother, writer, rock and roll musician, and guitar teacher.

Monique DeBose: On Creating ‘Rally Call’ and Music That Inspires Change

guest post by Monique DeBose

I am an MOB — a mother of two boys, 8 and 6 years old. They know mama is a singer and a songwriter, and that she gets dressed “fancy” from time to time to go out and make music in the world.

Before that, I was a supple, younger woman who sang in a coffee shop for tips on Larchmont Blvd. with a three-piece jazz band and then later, workshopped my own songs in that same coffee shop. I was a woman who traveled the world singing in the finest of music lounges in far off, distant places including New Delhi and Beijing. 

Monique DeBose (Photo Credit: Lift Consciousness)

And before any of that, I was a mixed-race girl (African American/ Irish American) growing up in the city of angels, who rollerskated in her backyard to her favorite albums — and her dad’s record collection — Donna Summer, the O’Jay’s, the ET soundtrack and OMD. 

She dreamed as she skated, that she would one day be famous. Known. Seen. Important.

I have been insecure about my place in the world for a long time. As a parent, that is a quality I’m hoping skips my kid’s generation. But I know that outcome requires conscious effort on my part and even then, there are no guarantees.

I write music that uplifts, inspires and encourages me. It is my safe place. I write music that speaks a truth I am desperate to put into the world as my default tendency is to keep it locked inside so that I don’t make other people uncomfortable. 

In writing my song “Rally Call,” I consciously chose to do the opposite. 

I wrote it because I was at a point where I no longer wanted to compartmentalize myself due to the color of my skin. I was done with erasing myself for someone else’s comfort and I was done with buying into the false belief that I needed to wait for someone else’s permission to live my life.



When I think about parenting my kids, I want to get it “right.” That means making sure they never feel rejected, hurt or disempowered, that they’re always invited to every birthday party (pre-covid) and that they feel like anything is possible at all times. I know, I know — a parent’s perfect formula for disappointment and self-judgment.

I want my boys to be compassionate people. I want them to be proud of all their heritage — being black, being mixed, being part Irish, being part English, being part Jewish. I want my boys to be confident enough to stand up when someone is working from a closed heart and to know the truth of who they are. 

Rally Call is a small part of the recipe for making all this possible. Watching their mom put out a song about ‘getting rid of those papers’ — a reference to a time when Black Americans had to actually carry papers to show they had a right to be out without a white person — and no longer waiting for permission from someone outside herself to fully be herself is inspiring. 

It normalizes doing challenging things. It normalizes loving oneself. It normalizes speaking out when injustice is present. 

We as parents have an opportunity to instill self-love, growth mindset, compassion and courage in the souls we’ve been asked to shepherd. We get to do that in a plethora of creative ways. 

My goal in sharing this music is for us all to keep getting into ‘good trouble’ when we feel like slinking back onto our couch and scrolling our phone or watching shows to distract ourselves. 

My boys love the song. They love the guitar riffs, the drums. They know some of the lyrics. And truth be told, there are some days when I’m grateful they don’t fully know what the song is about: I’m still trying to get right with god, the universe, or whatever it is that pulls the strings of life, about my needing to have a conversation about black lives matter at all.

It’s a delicate, complex melody to be a conscious parent, to be an advocate for kids loving and accepting themselves in a world that doesn’t support ALL kids in this endeavor. It is a delicate, complex rhythm change to move out of stereotypical thinking into radical love. 

And I can only imagine the nuance and tension of being a parent of non kids of color — there is the temptation to overlook or turn away from the truth of people of color’s experiences. 


Rally Call is my love letter to America — reminding us all that until we’re willing to own all the parts of ourselves, our country’s entire history, only then will we truly have a chance at being free…and isn’t that what we want for our kids? 

Monique DeBose is a musician and mom who lives in Los Angeles. 

Shame Penguin’s ‘Fall of the Mountain King’ Mixes Catchy Riffs with Complex Daddy Issues

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The greatest rock songs have the coolest riffs — like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Joan Jett’s “I love Rock n’ Roll.” But without lyrical substance, many these tunes would fade from memory. 

New Haven indie punk band Shame Penguin’s ‘Fall of the Mountain King’ gives us both. 

The song opens with a catchy bass riff, which eases itself into the auditory cortex of one’s brain— almost seducing the listener to sway to the mellow beat. But if you just stick to the surface, bopping along as the music segues from clean and distorted and back again, you could miss the song’s true cathartic beauty. 

Shame Penguin

Pay attention as singer Dustin Sclafani’s vocals escalate from nostalgic and whispery to the brink of anger, and you’ll learn that the idealized childhood he rhapsodized about in the first verse never actually happened.

We recently caught up with Sclafani to tell us more about this piece, and what Shame Penguin’s been up to lately.

Rockmommy: ‘Fall of the Mountain King’ is so many things — it’s easy to listen to, yet it’s catchy and it’s complicated, lyrically. What was the story you wanted to tell? 

Dustin Sclafani: The story behind Mountain King’s lyrics is an interesting one for sure. I wanted to give the sense of confusion to the listener make them lean in and go back and listen again and again. See, I grew up in a single parent household before it was considered a normal family structure. So throughout school I was consistently living in a state of confusion, forced to make Father’s Day cards for no one and really told by society I could never be a real man because I never had those critical father-son moments that drenched pop culture like ‘Field of Dreams’ — nope I never played catch or learned how to throw a spiral. 

So these lyrics are more of a statement against the nuclear family, the first verse is everything pop culture tells us is important for a father and son, the first states that, ”That was not my life….” the second chorus brings the listener into the reality of what was my life and the second verse is the imagery conversation I have had with my father that has brought me peace. I wrote these lyrics for every son that grew up fatherless to let them all know they are not alone and they are going to be OK. 

RM: Can you tell us about the songwriting process with Shame Penguin? 

DS: I actually love this question because it had so many answers … usually Tristan Powell would send me riffs that he comes up with and if one jumps out I either bring lyrics that I have already written, because I have notebooks and notebooks of lyrics, or I will find a phrase that fits perfectly too it. Then we will meet up and go over the song a couple of times before we bring it to practice and we as a band jam on it. Sometimes Jon Ozaksut will be noodling around on the bass and come up with these ridiculous bass phrases that are just too good to ignore and we write from there — btw that is how Mountain King was written. But honestly I don’t consider any songs written till we have jammed on them a couple of times and we begin to widdle at it and the song tells us what it is going to be.

RM: We’re in COVID life. Did that impact recording or writing and producing?  

DS: Covid 19 impacted everything… early March we were set to launch our EP and start playing out ridiculously… then the industry shut down and all four of us didn’t even really play together for 4 months. See, people have to understand I have a son that is the youngest survivor of open heart surgery so I have to be careful. 

In that time Vic Steffens, the most amazing producer and person ever, pulled me aside and said that the rest of our material was really good and he wanted us to do a full-length instead of our original EP. So I mean when someone of that caliber believes in you enough to invest further as the rest of the world is burning around you, you gotta feel pretty lucky. So after our lockdown hiatus we went to Sage Sound Studios, because to save local businesses you have to support local business, and the four of us had to relearn what it was like to be a band. Covid hit us so hard I have 2 grand worth of merch shirts in my closet (available on our bandcamp) lol. 

RM: Can you talk about how you’re trying to be the best dad you can be, even though you didn’t have the traditional ‘model’ in your own youth?  

Well, you see it is a blessing and a curse. Traditionally, we are raised to be better then the generation before us. So me being in my kid’s lives at all is an upgrade. But in all honesty because I helped raise my little brother and sister when I was 9 on I kind of had a cheat code. 

RM: Have your sons heard the song? What do they think? 

DS: My oldest Cash was in the studio when I recorded the vocals and to be transparent I was not in his life from when he was 2 till he was about 8 years old — his mother and I were young and I was in a very destructive relationship with my twin son’s mother at the time. So the song kind of hits him as well. But all three of my guys love the track and honestly all the stuff Shame Penguin does because they get to see me happy and they see how hard I work for them and they want me to be happy just like them. 

RM: What’s next for Shame Penguin this fall? 

DS: In October we are shooting an interesting concept video for ‘Mountain King’ and we are finishing up some final touches on the album and preparing it for release. We started a weekly livestream concert series every Wed night on our Facebook page called Maraczi Midnight Radio and we are hoping to do some outdoor, safe shows and of course we wait for our world to open back up again. Oh and the most important thing myself and R&B artist and dope dad Manny James have acquired a bus that will be taking people to the voting polls Nov 3rd because we are all about being the change we are looking for. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Mimsey Mack, Mom of 6, Proves that Making Music is the Best Antidote to Life’s Hard Turns

by Rew Starr & Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Mimsey Mack is one mysterious, guitar-wielding lady. Between the thousands of likes on her “Facebook” page, inspiring 80s-rocker fashion getups and bluesy tunes, you’d think she started playing music in her tween years. But not so. As it turns out, the self-described “indie-funk-punk rock” artist only picked up her first electric guitar in 2012, well after her kids passed middle school. 

Today, the mom of six — yes, six! — adult children is brimming with ideas and songs, proving once again that age is just a number (and sometimes an excuse). 

Mimsey Mack (Photo Credit: Chuck Thomas)

We asked the one-and-only NYC songstress (and fellow rockmommy) Rew Starr to sit down and chat with Mimsey about life post-COVID and navigating new opportunities in these challenging time. 

Rew Starr: How’s it going? What have you been doing these days?

Mimsey Mack: Thanks so much for the interview, Rew! It’s been a challenging time for us musicians, but I’ve been keeping busy. I started massage therapy School right when Covid happened and will graduate in August. I’m excited about integrating that into my career. I also took an online music therapy course to better equip me to perform at psychiatric centers, domestic violence centers and other locations, specifically for individuals who have been struggling and need hope and a new direction in life. Other than that, I have been playing lots of drums, guitar and even a little bass guitar.

Rew: You making any new music?

Mimsey: Yes! After a long hiatus, I am thrilled to be producing music again. I started writing songs again during the first week of the pandemic. I write songs about my life so sometimes it’s a little weird to sing new songs to others, especially the first time. But I am quickly reminded that we are all songbirds with a special song to sing.

Rew: What about playing out? Have there been opportunities?

Mimsey: I have been performing livestream shows and also performing as a guest on your amazing Renegade Show as often as possible. I am currently living in Virginia, a state that has been a hotspot recently, so I have not been performing live yet.

[RELATED: NYC Rockmommy Rew Starr Proves it’s Never Too Late to Take on a Brave New Role]

Rew: Tell us something we don’t know about you.

Mimsey: I like to tattoo myself. I use a single needle. I have given myself over about 10 tattoos. I’m working on two new ones now.

Rew: What’s the greatest part about being a rockmommy? 

Mimsey: The greatest part of being a rock mommy is sharing the love of the music and performing with my kids. All of my kids picked up music in their teen years. When they were younger, I was very conservative socially, homeschooled my kids and loved traditions. We listened to Classical and Christian music. After my divorce, things changed drastically. When I decided on a whim to take electric guitar lessons in 2012, and discovered I learned fast and could play, sing and perform, music brought a fresh new meaning to life. It’s funny when kids introduce me as their Rockstar Mom, because I think they are the rockstars.

Rew: Have you written anything new during the last six months?

Mimsey: One very exciting accomplishment during COVID was finishing the filming for my upcoming music video, “Redemption.” Thank you, Rew, for performing in it! It’s gonna be great! It’s a song I wrote a few years ago that expressed my transition from domestic violence survivor to overcomer. I am looking forward to writing songs about my new chapter in life, filled with hope and love. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Rew Starr is an actor, musician and performer who lives in New York City. 

Making Summer Sing: When COVID Killed Camp, I got Creative with my Kids

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by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As summer 2020 comes to a close, I’m feeling all kinds of emotions. I’m sad, mostly, but not just because I love this season, but because COVID-19 and other events of the world have created a dystopian-like existence I thought was years away from materializing. 

There were definitely many bright moments. But above all else, I’m grateful for the time I had with my kids.

When my sons’ day camp was cancelled, my mama friend Steph and I created “Camp OB” on a lark — named after Oyster Bay (the wine, not the town). Together, we envisioned a summer of activities like playing tennis, doing obstacle courses, crafting, going to the beach, and taking field trips. We planned s’mores by the fire pit and paddle boarding by the Long Island Sound. 

I’m incredibly grateful to say that WE DID IT! ALL OF IT (aside from camping outside — I didn’t feel like shelling out for a tent).

The boys of summer 2020 doing their thing

But still. With a little creativity and ingenuity, we managed to pack a summer full of activities. Our kids somehow forgot that they were supposed to be in fun camps for 9 weeks, six hours a day (although they did half-day camps for three weeks). And we somehow managed to (almost) forget we’re living in the era of COVID (and racial injustice). 

Our final big event of the summer, the Camp OB Talent Show, was appropriately fitting. While I could post a review of my own, my father in law wrote an amazing one already, which I’ll post below: 

A Concert for the Ages 

by Stuart Bloom

The Camp OB Fairstock Summer Music Festival kicked off Friday morning on the Bloom Tuller Farm grounds. After a riffin’ guitar intro by Marisa, Logan opened the show with a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony piped in from the enigmatic and reclusive artist’s home studio.  

Once the crowd settled in, the roadies, Alex and Zack – who doubled as bongo backups on many of the concert numbers — took over the stage to set up for an amazing display on the drums by Declan, who pounded the skins with the raucous enthusiasm of the great rock drummers.

Nathan brought the crowd to its feet with a down and dirty gravel voiced cover of the Scorpions’ Rock Me Like a Hurricane, accompanied by the slashing Marisa on guitar.

Then it was time to change it up, from metal to hip hop as Kellan took the stage and burst through the fog showing all kinds of ink to shout out NF’s The Search that had the crowd dancing in the aisles.

Stephanie brought the festivities to a close with a haunting rendition of A. Corelli’s Allegro.

This was a concert for the ages, and we may never again see the likes of such talent gathered together on one stage. Here’s hoping the live album isn’t too far behind.

Suzanne Jamieson & The Pop Ups’ Buoyant New Record is the Antidote to Late Summer Doldrums

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Summer 2020 will go down as the most unexpected one of my life, between navigating the cancellation of camps to surviving a tornado. And I know many moms — even those who didn’t survive tornados — are on the same page as me. Who knew vacations would only work if our kids would willingly #maskup, or that we’d be preparing for a school year where most student-teacher interaction will take place in the virtual realm?

Musician, yoga therapist and mama Suzanne Jamieson can relate. Carving out time for creativity is difficult enough with two young children, but with 2020 layered on top, it can feel downright impossible. Yet it is this struggle within such this crazy year that makes her new family album Bounce so refreshing.

Bounce Cover sm

Suzanne Jamieson

Released on July 17, Bounce is an 11-track, pop/New Wave record cowritten with children’s band The Pop Ups. The common thread: Every song is infused with joy and positivity: The single “Lemonade” is all about making the best of a situation while “Luna” recognizes the scary feelings that can come at night.

We recently caught up with Jamieson to talk about her music, motherhood, and how she’s finding joy this summer.

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your new record? Was it created in reaction to recent events?  

Suzanne Jamieson: While I hope that this album brings some positivity in this trying COVID situation, it was not born in quarantine. I actually came up with the concept of this album five years ago, when I was in a bit of a postpartum funk after the birth of my second child. I noticed that my thinking patterns had been swaying toward the negative, which is not like me at all. I said to myself, “Whenever I notice this kind of thinking, I’m just going to say ‘Om.’ Then, I thought of a song…. ‘I’m just gonna say Om. I’m just gonna say Om Om Om Shanti Om…” and I thought, “Hey! That’s a kids’ song!” The idea was born… .I would take all of my knowledge of yoga philosophy and positive psychology and write an album of songs for my kids. That’s what we’ve done with Bounce…and ‘Om Shanti’ is on the album. Ultimately, my kids love it and have taken away some really positive lessons from it, but I really benefitted the most, I think. It gave me a positive focus and the creative process is so healing. I collaborated with some amazing artists. I co-wrote the album with The Pop Ups, and had guests artists Patti Murin and the Alphabet Rockers lend their talents to it as well. It’s been an incredibly satisfying and inspiring journey and I am super proud of what we created in the end.

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Suzanne Jamieson’s new record “Bounce” has us jumping for joy. Literally!

Rockmommy: I’m digging the vibe. It’s refreshing to hear great new wave children’s music. Why isn’t there more of it?

Suzanne Jamieson: Thank you!! It’s the best to hear that. It was my number one goal when I started recording children’s music, that I was recording music that the grown-ups would like as much as their kids. That’s why I sought out The Pop Ups…I would sometimes leave their music on even after I dropped my kids off at school. The Pop Ups and I write in a way that really tries to respect that kids are just small human beings. They have full depth of emotions, awareness of their surroundings, and capacity for humor as much as anyone else. That coupled with Jason Rabinowitz’s musical sensibilities with the 80’s vibes and the sort of retro-meets-modern feel of the tunes, and you end up with what I think is a really relevant, fun album.

Rockmommy: I really like “Grateful” — how did the collaboration with the Alphabet Rockers happen? 

Suzanne Jamieson: So glad to hear it! I agree, it’s one of my favorites on the album. I met the Alphabet Rockers a couple years ago at the Childrens’ Music Luncheon that happens in Los Angeles Grammy weekend every year….actually I met the Pop Ups that day too! (I basically had to sing “Brave” to myself to walk in to that luncheon alone and go up to all these strangers to introduce myself!!) Then when the Pop Ups and I saw them again at the 2019 luncheon (as they were nominated for another Grammy), I mentioned to Tommy how much I admire what they’re doing with their music. They’ve been singing about social justice all along…teaching kids about about anti-racism, teaching about gender and inclusivity….etc…and we asked if they might like to collaborate on this album. “Grateful” is what came of that chat…and they really added so much to the song. Their lyrics and voices add depth and profundity…and ultimately that is what we are teaching….we can be grateful for everything….from the small things like “that narwhals are a thing!” to the deep, “Gratified, By the things that you say, Telling me I’m perfect, Letting me find a way.”

[SEE RELATED: Alphabet Rockers’ Kaitlin McGaw on Motherhood, Music and Celebrating Diversity with The LOVE]

Rockmommy: What do you hope that young listeners will get out of this record? 

Suzanne Jamieson: Well, my hope is that they’ll take away all these positive life skills without even knowing they’re learning them. These songs teach about optimism, resilience, grit, bravery, thought-stopping, making the best of things, gratitude, community, and friendship. Research says if we focus on “being happy,” we are actually less happy. But if we get really good at these life skills, the result is a happier, more satisfying life.
Rockmommy: You recently turned 40. Is there something awesome, and celebratory, about the fact that so many women are making music well past their 20s?

Suzanne Jamieson: I was just thinking about this idea of 40 being considered ‘old’ to do something….that’s just crazy! Literally it’s only like 2 decades into being an adult! I sure hope I have a lot of years left, and I sure plan to make the most of them by creating and growing more and more every year. It doesn’t surprise me at all, though, that women in their 30’s and 40’s are getting attention for their work. Women are doing so much nowadays, and have so much to offer. Every mom  I know is a freaking powerhouse—literally all of my friends are doing amazing, interesting things and are also great, present moms. I also think there is just this general sea change in a woman’s late 30’s/40’s when it’s like, “OK. I am done trying to be what anyone else wants me to be. Here’s me….” and that is incredibly powerful.

Rockmommy: You became a mom in 2012 (me too!) What’s it like balancing parenthood and music/creative life? What challenges did you not anticipate? 

Suzanne Jamieson: Eight years ago… what a trip! Time flies. I think the reason it took me so long to write and record this album from start to finish is that I really needed hours alone with no distractions to write music… and when do moms get that?! I would do it in airplanes, or when I got a solo night in a hotel here and there over the years. I think it can be more challenging to carve out time to work when the work is creative… there is the challenge of it not being My Boss Assigns Thing + I Do Said Thing= $$$ that can make creative types undervalue the necessity for their time and work. But I will say that when I make it very clear to my family that Mommy is taking a voice lesson or Mommy is practicing or writing or whatever, that I felt fulfilled. And as I did that more often, this album really took off.

Rockmommy: Any advice for other rockmommies like yourself, who are trying to carve out a little time to make music? 

Suzanne Jamieson: Yeah, write it in the calendar. Invite your husband or get a caretaker (obviously if that’s safe…it’s a weird time…)  or get the iPads  and let the kids know that you are unavailable during this time. What would the world be without music??? There is great value in art, and never ever forget that or devalue your own contribution.

Rockmommy: School is upon us, and most of the country is virtual or remote. Kids are scared. What is your greatest hope for your kids and humanity right now? 

Suzanne Jamieson: Great question. The answer that comes up for me is “Reprioritization.” I think COVID has taught many of us about what is—and isn’t— important. Our relationships are important. Our health is important. Our making this country safe for everyone is important. I hope that we all can tap into those lessons and—even after things re-open—and remember what we’ve been taught by 2020. Tell each other how we feel. Breathe. Stand up for what’s right. Spend time together as families or friends. My hope is we don’t forget, and that this can be a sort of spiritual catapult to a better world for us all. Oh, and keep making sourdough. 🙂

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

High-Strung And Harpy: Lessons Learned While Trying to Pass on Guitar Skills to a Toddler During a Pandemic

by Jessica Delfino

I have a pretty vast amount of useless talents. I can throw food high up into the air and catch it in my mouth, like a seal. I can whip up a stunning batch of luxurious, golden pancakes from scratch. But not all of my useless talents are food-related. I can also play any instrument you can think of, with a passable skill level, even if I’ve never played it before. Though I’ve done every kind of performance from busking in the subway to playing my original comedic novelty jams on international television, it hasn’t amounted to what I might consider a useful life skill. Fun? Yep! Necessary in the event of an emergency? Perhaps more so than I had thought, prior to March 2020, but still, not so much.

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The author Jessica Delfino jamming with her son in 2020

A sad, but well-loved guitar and a beat up, yet, used daily baby grand piano were some of my first toys, in an era when there weren’t a bajillion toy manufacturers on the market. I had some little plastic people, and the crusty acoustic six-stringed dreadnaught. I’m certain the thing was missing an E string. The little people lived in and on the guitar, and over time, I learned to pluck the strings and make music. At 14, I was playing “Old Man” by Neil Young and “Crazy on You” by Heart and by the time I was 23, I was writing and performing comedic dirty folk rock songs on stages up and down the East Coast and sometimes even on TV and the radio (mostly in the UK, because America hates women’s’ bodies). Today, I still perform, write and lately teach music from time to time. I’ve branched out from piano and guitar, and I can additionally play ukulele, sax, autoharp, singing saw, electric autoharp, banjo, dulcimer, the glockenspiel, a flute, a pan flute, heck, a skin flute. I am music’s annoying cousin who always wants to be all up in its business.

Now I have a 3-year-old son, and I’d love nothing more than to teach him to play ukulele and record a pandemic-inspired family band kid’s album. The ability to play an instrument is touted as being, essentially, a miracle drug. It develops young brains and fine motor skills, pushes back the progress of Alzheimer’s, improves math skills, memory, creativity and dexterity, benefits movement-related issues such as hand injuries, and it even lowers anxiety. Call my instruments my Xanax, massage therapist and meditation apps, all in one. Especially during this pandemic, more than anything else, my guitar and my ukulele, especially, have been what I reach for when I feel tense, bored or sad. Playing songs I know passes time.

Figuring out or writing new songs keeps my brain engaged. Trying to teach my son to play ukulele; well, that’s a lesson in patience and letting go. He wants to run his trains over the pretend rails of the neck of the thing, he wants to smash his fingers over the strings with the showmanship of Pete Townsend, he wants to put stickers on it or lay it down altogether and turn it into a home for little plastic people. His lack of interest allows days to slip by where I forget to encourage him to pick up the little four-stringed thing.

“The cobbler’s son wears no shoes” often comes to mind when I think about my inabilities to teach my own son to play an instrument. I scowl and fume as a universe of YouTube’s countless two-year-old’s pluck Bach out on their Lanakais. Then I am ashamed of myself. What do I care what these other kids can do? My kid is my kid, and I have everything — and nothing — to do with that.

But I did witness a magic moment and hope for his musical potential when I broke out my harmonica one night. As annoying as it is easy to play, my son was immediately drawn to it. He ran his little face up and down the harp, making all kinds of weird and wonderful sounds that I didn’t even know a harmonica could make. He was pleased with himself, and I felt like the mother of the year.

Maybe there’s hope for us as a future family band, after all.

Jessica Delfino is a comedian, musician, writer and mom who lives in NYC. Follow @JessicaDelfino on Twitter and Instagram.

A Masked Singer Dilemma: Is it Fair to Expose Fans To Your Possible COVID?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Singing with a mask on isn’t fun. To keep from passing out, one must pace themselves, carefully planning each whisper, hum, or caterwaul. It’s natural for the mask to slip down under the nose. If the singer is playing another instrument, like a guitar, he or she must find the right split second between measures to yank it back up, without missing a beat.

Singing with a mask on isn’t attractive. This is a problem, because we singers don’t like to feel unattractive. We’re the front women and front men in our bands, the Mick Jaggers who wield charisma and high energy as we move our bodies to the beat.

Singing with a mask on also muffles the sound of the singer’s voice — which is the biggest issue that I have with them. 

I know all these things because I sing while wearing a cloth mask. So badly do I want to yank it off during outdoor band practice, inhale the crisp air through my nostrils, hear the even crisper sound of consonants captured by my microphone. I want to enjoy the freedom of breathing, unencumbered, and exhaling sound without feeling like I’m trapped in a sauna. 

But I don’t because of COVID. 

I’m the lead singer of Trashing Violet, a hard rock band based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and over the summer my bandmates and I have been practicing in each others’ backyards, in front of each others’ kids. I sing with my mask on for up to 90 minutes, taking occasional breaks to take a sip of a drink. Wearing a mask makes my lead guitarist, bassist, and drummer more comfortable. It makes their spouses and kids more comfortable. It makes me feel better because I know I’m doing everything possible — outside of quitting my band — to prevent the spread of COVID. 

While I’m fairly certain I don’t have the coronavirus, asymptomatic transmission is a real thing. And with singing, the consequences are potentially deadly. 

An April study published by the CDC noted that the “act of singing” in a March Seattle-area choir practice had likely contributed to 53 of 61 attendees getting sick with COVID-19 — and two dying. As the LA Times noted in an article on singing and COVID-19, reports have surfaced of other outbreaks after choir performances, including one in Amsterdam that claimed four lives.

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Trashing Violet plays Cafe 9 in New Haven, Conn., in January 2020

Yet these articles mainly address communal singing, and are primarily focused on indoor settings, such as churches. They don’t address the safety of singing outdoors when the singer isn’t wearing a mask.

This raises questions for rock bands like mine, with just one lead singer: If I have COVID-19, what are the chances I could infect someone several feet away (like a bandmate)? Have there been any outbreaks of COVID triggered by an infected singer? Is there any reason patrons in a restaurant need to worry about the outdoor live entertainment?

There are no definitive answers to these questions. We’re still learning more about COVID everyday. As one July study published in the peer-reviewed voice medicine publication J Voice noted, “there is a paucity of data about both how SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted by singing and how to bring communities of singers back together safely.”

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At band practice with Trashing Violet in June, wearing my cloth mask, ready to sing.

Fortunately, we know a few things. 

We know that outdoors is safer than indoors. In Connecticut, where I live, this is why we’re still in Phase 2 with reopening, which limits live entertainment to outdoor settings, and requires that entertainers stand 12 feet away from their audience — and each other. We also know with a pretty high degree of certainty that masks, coupled with social distancing, can help reduce the likelihood of virus transmission.

Meanwhile, in the two months since the NYC tristate area has reopened restaurants, singers and bands are playing everywhere they can. While a handful of musicians are wearing masks when they perform, many are not. When I was in visiting Narragansett last weekend, I saw a singer on the outdoor porch of a restaurant by the peer belting out rock covers, standing possibly less than 12 feet away from the nearest group of patrons. Sights like these are not uncommon. 

I can’t help but wonder how many of these singers have children or live with older relatives. Just the thought of passing on the coronavirus to a dependent gives me the shivers. 

I understand why some singers might not even entertain the thought of singing while wearing a mask. They can feel suffocating, and may distort the vocal output. Working musicians are paid for the quality of their work, and if they can’t execute properly, it calls their professionalism into question.

I also understand that life isn’t fair. Working singers — those who need the $500 they make from a gig like a wedding to pay rent — are accustomed to playing in intimate settings, where the distance between the entertainer and patron is closer. 

 

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At least my eye makeup is awesome, right?

Unfortunately, the safest and best live opportunities for performers in the coronavirus era are inaccessible to most everyday working musicians: I’m talking mainly about the “drive in” outdoor music shows that are happening now, where an entertainer performs on a stage at least 20 feet away from the audience. In settings like these, which feature well-known, original music acts, the big concern isn’t whether the singer is wearing masks so much as the lack of social distance among concert-goers (just ask Chase Rice or the Chainsmokers).

To be fair, I must admit I am not a working singer who relies on $500 gigs to live. Though I make a little cash from playing out with my band and as a solo artist, my main sources of income come from writing and teaching guitar (which, right now, is 100 percent masked and social distanced in backyards).

Yet while I am sympathetic to the plight of all musicians — whether they are reliant on performance income or not — the fact remains no working singer can guarantee that he or she doesn’t have COVID-19 unless he or she is tested. 

While outdoors is safer than indoors, restaurants may want to consider requiring singers to wear masks in all settings when at least 12 feet of distance between performers and audiences cannot be guaranteed. If and when we move into Phase 3, which allows indoor live entertainment, I probably won’t go to a concert where masks aren’t required (unless, of course, we have a decent COVID-19 vaccine). 

And while I am sympathetic to musicians, I’m so sick of the whining about masks or face shields. Singing while wearing a mask is hard, it isn’t impossible. And as performers, it is our obligation to ensure our audience can safely enjoy themselves. 

One bright piece of news came across my radar recently is the patent-pending mask that singers can wear so they can more safely sing in groups. I am about to pre-order mine. I have to admit, it looks about as “natural” as condoms probably did in the 1970s, and there’s no doubt we’ll have complainers among us. But this is life. We must adapt to our circumstances (and as we learned in the sexually liberated ’60s and ’70s, asymptomatic individuals can transmit STDS).

Until we know more about COVID, we need to remember that our personal freedoms are less important than the collective good. If we have been gifted with beautiful voices and the opportunity to play outdoor shows, we need to be grateful to our audiences — and committed to protecting them. When I play my only outdoor gig this summer on August 7, I will most likely be wearing a mask or using a face shield/microphone shield.

Like all musicians, I cannot wait until the day when we can experience live music like it’s 2019, when drawing a large-enough audience for a Tuesday night show was my biggest concern. Until then, I will do whatever I need to do to play music and bring joy to others through playing music — even if the sound of my voice is a little more muffled.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.