Saturday, March 25, 2017

Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, Part 6

I figured out pretty early on that the only way I could make this series work is if I was completely honest about what I struggle with myself. So before I get to the songs that I've chosen to feature in this installment, I'm going to tell you a little about what's been going on with me this year. As some of you know, I have rheumatoid arthritis and was first inspired to start this series during arthritis awareness month (May) last year. The first post wouldn't end up going up until June. The best laid plans and all that. I decided to keep it tied to arthritis awareness, but really, the goal behind this series is to use music to try to encourage anyone going through a tough time. Whether they also have rheumatoid arthritis or not.

It's been over a month since I last posted. 2017 has been a tough year in regards to my health. My rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has spun completely out of control and I was without a rheumatologist for a few months. My pain levels have been so far above what I can handle a good part of the time and it's taken a toll. The depression that so often accompanies chronic illness has gotten worse. My anxiety has been through the roof. A couple of months ago, I started having panic attacks after years of not having them. Some of them have been the worst I've ever had. Where's Jack Pearson when you need him? Seriously.

If you don't know who that is, Jack is the patriarch of the Pearson family on NBC's hit shot This is Us. I only just got into it in the past six weeks or so, but I'm completely hooked. Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia, has quickly become one of my favorite fictional fellas. The reason I bring this up is because some of my favorite scenes from the first season are the ones between Jack and his adopted son Randall. I love their relationship and I find myself relating to Randall because we see him struggling with anxiety. We also see Jack calming him down.. Anxiety is such an awful thing on its own. Throw the depression and RA and everything else in there and things can get out of hand very easily. They all feed off of each other. We could all use a Jack Pearson to help out us in those awful moments. 

In any event, pain - chronic pain, especially - is a tricky thing. It can be a dangerous thing, especially when it's unrelenting. It doesn't just affect you physically; it messes with your mind. It can cause you to lose your grip. To lose yourself as a person. It impacts everything. I have not been in a good head space for most of this year. I've been sad and scared, angry and frustrated. I've been bitter and resentful. I've isolated myself from friends. I have felt useless and worthless and my self-esteem has pretty much been in the toilet. It felt like I had lost my voice. That I had lost my hope. I've been tempted to give up. I had turned into someone I barely recognized and I hated it. I needed a change and I needed it badly. 

The first step was to get a new rheumatologist and come up with a treatment plan to get the RA back under control. Find better ways to deal with the anxiety. Make an effort to stop isolating myself. I decided that I also needed to reclaim my voice and get back to writing again. This was hard at first as I couldn't bring myself to start working on anything. Then something happened. A somewhat new friend of mine inadvertently gave me the inspiration that I needed. 

See, pain has a way of causing a kind of spiritual amnesia. I'm a Christian. I believe in God and yet I struggle with my faith. It's not that I start questioning if He exists; I know He does. It's that I focus on the pain and find myself forgetting things about Him. Like His faithfulness, for example. I forget that as big as my problems sometimes feel, my God is bigger than all of them. I forget that God is still God, no matter what happens. I forget that my God is a healer. I forget that He still has a plan for my life, even when it doesn't seem like it. I forget that God can turn our biggest messes into something beautiful. I forget that there is comfort to be found in the middle of even the most horrific storms. There is still hope. Even when you can't feel it. There is always hope.

I was reminded of all of that. I was also reminded that you need to gain control over your emotions. It's not that you try to suppress your emotions; in my experience, you can only do that for so long. It's not about trying not to feel anything at all. That's not good either. It's about accepting them as they come and then choosing to let them go. You can choose not to be resentful. You can choose not to be bitter. You can choose to be hopeful instead. You can choose to be joyful. It may not be easy at first, but you can do it. 

In choosing the songs for this installment of this series, I decided that I needed to go with the songs that speak the most to me in this time in my life. I'm still not in what you'd call a great place mentally. But I'm getting there. One moment at a time. It is my sincere hope and prayer that these songs may speak to you as well. 

Let's get started. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Video spotlight: Scars to Your Beautiful and All Time Low by VoicePlay featuring J.None

That moment when you were going to finish up a post about someone else, but end up writing about VoicePlay instead. Such is the life of a certified VoicePlayaholic. Of course, if they stopped putting out such great content, I wouldn't want to keep writing about them. But who am I kidding? It's VoicePlay. That's not going to happen. Alas, I have no choice but to keep promoting them to the best of my ability. I'd be a sorry excuse for a VoicePlayaholic if I didn't. That other post I was going to work on will get finished at some point. Today, however, it's all about VoicePlay and their wonderful new video.

Truth be told, I was actually pretty anxious about this video. Not this video specifically. We didn't know this was coming until right before it came. So, no, that anxiety had nothing to do with this mashup and everything to do with the fact that it is the first VoicePlay video filmed in 2017. The first one filmed since they announced that Tony had left the group. Now let's be clear. At no point did I question whether I would continue supporting the group or not. One of my favorite things about VoicePlay is that each of them brings something special to the table. I love and appreciate all of them. VoicePlay, in the time that I've been a fan, is what it is because of the individual talents of each of the five members. When combined, the result is greater than the sum of all their parts. Tony leaving did not have any impact whatsoever on the love I have for any of the others. Nor did it impact my love for the group as a whole. There was absolutely no chance that I was going to stop supporting them. None.

I knew that VoicePlay was still going to be VoicePlay. I knew that they were continue to produce quality content. This past year convinced me that not only would they maintain the level of greatness I've come to expect, they'd more than likely exceed it. That's another thing I love about them. They're not the kind of group to be happy staying where they are; they're the kind that gets better and better over time. So what in the world did I have to be anxious about?

On one hand, I know that a lot of the VoicePlay sound is going to stay the same. Oh sure, they might try new things and they might push themselves, but four of the voices are going to be the same. We'll still be able to listen to them and know, without a doubt, that it's VoicePlay just from hearing them. On the other hand, I also know what a difference one voice can make. I've been worried that I wouldn't be able to listen to them without missing Tony's voice. That wouldn't be enough to make me stop listening to them, mind, but I was concerned that there would be a void.

Before we continue, I do need to mention that the fifth gentlemen featured in this video is not the new member of the group. His name is J. None and he is one of our dear VoicePlay fill-ins. Meaning that if you've been to a VoicePlay show over the past couple of months or so, you may have seen this guy. If not, maybe you saw Erik Winger (from ECHO) instead. I know they've had other guys fill-in, but J. None and Erik seem to be their main fill-ins. Let me tell you something: we VoicePlayas love our fill-ins. Hence, why I call them our dear fill-ins. Seriously, while I have not gotten to see either of them perform live - a most terrible problem that I need to remedy at some point - I know other VoicePlayas who have. The comments about our fill-ins aren't just good. They're glowing. 

That's right. Glowing. The general consensus is that both of these guys are wonderful. Not just really talented and entertaining, but really nice as well. I've been a fan of Erik's for months now. He's great and if you've never listened to ECHO, you need to. No, really. You do. I've written about them a handful of times and you can find all of those posts here. Get on that. As far as J. None is concerned, this video was my introduction to him. I'm going to be talking more about him after the video, but spoiler alert? I only have good things to say about him. If you've never heard of either of them, you have a couple of choices. You can go get your ECHO education (ECHOcation?) on and come back afterwards. Or you can keep reading and get acquainted with J. None first and then learn about ECHO. Whichever way you choose to do it, I do hope you check them both out because they're both pretty wonderful.

As for VoicePlay? No, I didn't forget about them. This video has effectively put my anxiety to rest. It's exactly what I needed. It's proven to me, once and for all, that I am able to listen to them without missing Tony. Because you know what? I actually did not find myself missing him at all. That is not meant as an insult to Tony, but rather a compliment to J. None. Again: J. None is just featured on this video. He's not the new member of the group (though I would be completely okay with it if he was). But this reaffirms my belief that whoever VoicePlay ends up bringing up will be someone that can stand on his own two feet. Someone who will bring their own unique talents to the group and make it better. I said this in my "Still Alive" video spotlight and it bears repeating. VoicePlay is still going to be wonderful, no matter who they end up bringing on board. They'll just be wonderful in a different way. 

If this mashup is any indication, this is going to be an outstanding year for VoicePlay and their VoicePlayas. Check it out. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, part 5 - Beauty and Self-image

It's been way too long since I've gotten up a new post in my Music Therapy series and I thought it might be a good idea to go with a theme this time. Namely, beauty and self-image. In this society, it's so easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that we have to look a certain way. To think that if we don't fit in, if we don't look that way, that there's something wrong with us. We might feel insecure. We may feel ugly and unwanted and unlovable. This can lead us down some dangerous paths if we aren't careful.

The way I see it, even the most secure of us need some reassurancesometimes. Maybe we don't fit into what Hollywood considers beautiful. That's okay. Maybe we've been picked on and made to feel worthless because of the way we look. That's not okay, but you know what the good news is? Our worth does not come from other people. As a Christian, I believe that our worth is given to us by God. We are beautiful because we're His creation. I know that not everyone who reads this will be a Christian, so I hope no one takes offense. The point is that we all have something about us that makes us beautiful. Even if there are those who can't or won't see it.

So I've put together this list of seven songs that all have to do with beauty or how we see ourselves. Please note that some videos will be included in the posts and the others will be linked.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Video spotlight: Still Alive by VoicePlay

2017 is off to quite a start, I must say. There's good news and not-so-great news. The good news is that if you're a male who sings in the baritone/tenor 2 range and have dreamed about being in VoicePlay, well, you just might be in luck.

I imagine that most of the people who come across this have already heard and those of you who haven't can probably guess. The not-so-great news is that that means that someone has left. If you've been paying attention over the last year, it shouldn't be too hard to guess who. Here's their announcement.


Yeah.

Tony is no longer with VoicePlay. It's funny because this was obviously coming and yet the news still managed to hit like a ton of bricks. I was going to write this a couple of days ago, but decided to wait until I got myself in a better frame of mind. This more or less cause a tidal wave of feels. I've cried. I've been upset. I've cussed. I've prayed. I've said goodbye, shook my fist and asked God why. I've...launched into a Lee Brice song.

Get it together, Alexander.

Okay, so maybe I didn't actually do all of those things. There's been no fist shaking involved, for instance. There have been tears. A lot of them. What can I say? I'm an emotional person. I cry every time I watch Tangled, for heaven's sake. But that's okay. I have a habit of getting attached to groups as evidenced by many of the posts on this blog. I've had groups I loved break up and I've seen members come and go. It happened with Home Free last year and now it's happened with VoicePlay. I will say that if there was one group I hoped that this wouldn't happen with, it was VoicePlay. But it is what it is.

Does this mean I've given up on VoicePlay? Um, no. I don't mean a regular ole no either. It's a big, fat, resounding heck no! Give up on my guys? Never! If anything, this has renewed my commitment to the group. Am I still sad that Tony left? Yes. But I know that it'll be okay. The important thing is that Geoff, Eli, Layne and Earl are still together and looking for a "new Tony".  I have a lot of love for these four men and am not about to abandon them now. I'll miss Tony's voice and what he brought to the group. I'm so grateful for all of the music and videos he helped create. It's definitely not going to be the same, but you know what? That's okay. It's still going to be wonderful. It'll just be wonderful in a different way.

We already know that Geoff, Eli, Layne and Earl are crazy super talented. Today's video is just one example of that. I don't think it's possible for these four men to get together and not come up with something great. I have so much faith in these guys. I have no doubt that I will end up loving "new Tony", whoever he turns out to be. I'm looking forward to meeting him and I'm so excited to see what VoicePlay does in 2017.

Still feeling unsure about all of this? Maybe today's video will help.

Monday, January 2, 2017

My Favorite Musical Discoveries of 2016

In a perfect world, I would have gotten this up while it was still 2016. Alas, the world is not perfect and neither am I. But you know what? That's okay. I still wanted to do this because I wanted to give these acts some love. There are four total and they're all acts that I wrote about in 2016 to surprising success. You never really know how something will be received, especially when writing about someone new. And especially when it's someone you're really excited about. So the fact that the posts about these four did well makes me very happy. 

As the title states, these are my four favorite musical discoveries of 2016. If you know me, you know that one of my favorite things is coming across more acts to love. As if I don't love enough already. Honestly, it's never enough. Not with all the time I spend listening to music. How about we get to it?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favorite VoicePlay Videos from 2016

Once again I've gone and saved the best, i.e. my absolute favorites, for last. If I were to make a royal court out of my favorite artists, VoicePlay would be King. Given the way that they have catapulted themselves into that position this year, it seemed only right to end 2016 with them. After all, I did write about them 22 times this year - this post included. Granted, some of those weren't exclusively VoicePlay, but still. I think it's safe to say that my love for this group is pretty well documented!

One of my favorite parts of 2016, aside from the guys themselves, has been the friendships that I've gotten to make because of them. I'm slowly getting to know more VoicePlayas and I know I've said it before, but this is a wonderful group to be a part of. We might be different in many ways, but we can bond over a love for a group. This love is always supportive and fun and it doesn't just extend to the guys, but also to anyone who considers themselves a fan.

That's one of the reasons why VoicePlay became my favorites. In a perfect world, it would only be about the content, but there's other things that play a part. Likeability is one. I've said it many times, but liking a singer (or group) as a person (or people) makes it all so much better. If you like your fellow fans too? That's the best. I'm sad to say that there's some acts that I've been put off from due to the ridiculous drama that exists within the fandom. It shouldn't play a factor, but it does. This is not a problem I have with VoicePlayas. Not at all.

You know, earlier this year I decided that I wanted to write about how VoicePlay helps me deal with my rheumatoid arthritis. Only to come thisclose to not actually posting it because it ended up being super personal. The most personal thing I've ever shared publicly. You know what? As of this moment, it is my most viewed VoicePlay post to date. I even got a few really sweet comments from a few of my fellow VoicePlayas that took me completely by surprise and touched my heart. This is the kind of group that you want to be in. You can find that post here, if you're interested.

Suffice to say, while 2016 was a really hard year in some ways, these guys helped make it better. They, and their fans, were a bright light even when things seemed pretty dark. Especially then. So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that I would save them for last.

Not only that, but being VoicePlay, I decided to change things up a bit. See, with my lists of my favorite Hollens Family videos (found here) and my favorite Home Free videos (found here) from 2016, I picked a few of their videos from the year and listed them in the order in which they were released. But with VoicePlay? All of their videos are represented in some fashion. Well, assuming that I didn't miss any by accident. What's more? I decided to rank them. You could argue that this is kind of like my take on an ACA-top 10. Sort of. In a way. Although, some got lumped together. You'll see what I mean. Okay...so I might have cheated a little.

Before we start, let me make something clear: I really like all of these videos. I definitely have my favorites, but that's because I just love them more. Not because I don't like the others. We'll start at #10 and work our way down. If it was one of the videos I wrote about this year, the link to the write-up will be included (with the video in question in it). Let's do this.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favorite Home Free Videos from 2016

Continuing my little series on my favorite music videos of the year, we have Home Free. It was a good year for Home Free, albeit one that came with a brief period of uncertainity as we adjusted to the revelation that Chris would be leaving and Adam Chance would be coming in. But as I've said on here more than once, this worked out about as perfectly as it could have. Chris is doing great things and Chance fits in seamlessly. I say this with absolutely no disrespect intended towards Chris, but in a way it feels like Chance has always been there. That's how well he fits in.

The men of Home Free definitely gave their Home Fries a lot to be happy about. All of the videos they released were wonderful. So much so that trying to narrow it down to five felt pretty impossible. So, what did I end up doing you ask? Narrow it down to seven. Which is almost half of the videos they put out in 2016, but no matter.

How about we get started?