Name: Barbara

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    Fun in the studio with Elaina…

    March 18th, 2014


    This is a cover song by Emblem3. Elaina is my 12 year old and this is her first cover recording. I love ear candy bubblegum pop so this was a treat to produce. After all, we are “addicted to sweets…”



    Letting off Steam: The P.O.’d Playlist

    September 12th, 2013

    The Real Angry Bird Yesterday I posted on Facebook that I was “really pissed off and wanted to blare some loud music” and asked for suggestions. 90 some-odd comments later, I had a kick-ass playlist and had to laugh at the nerve that the post touched. Either that, or as my friend Kate said, I know a whole lot of pretty pissed-off people.

    Just the violence in the song titles is cathartic. Pantera: F @&%ing Hostile. Beastie Boys: Sabotage. Dixie Chicks: I’m Not Ready to Make Nice. Tom Waits: 16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six. I did listen to a good handful of them throughout the day. I also found one in my daughters’ CD collection – a scathing diatribe against the record biz by Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis called simply “Jimmy Iovine.” Last line is “I’d rather be a starving artist then succeed at getting f@&%ed.” Hell, yeah!!

    I read the Dalai Lama was once asked “do you ever get angry?” to which he replied “Of course! Things happen. They aren’t what you wanted. Anger arises.” Yup! “But,” he supposedly continued, “it does not have to be a problem.”

    Without getting into the context (someone I love and cherish being treated badly; ‘nuff said), it’s obvious how rarely and how reluctantly I dip down into anger. I am a perennial bright-side-looker; a positive-reframer; a riser-above-er. As Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar (who teaches a course in positive psychology I’m currently enrolled in) refers to it, I naturally incline toward “benefit-” rather than “fault-finding” (at least regarding others; I’m masterful at pointing out and dwelling on my OWN faults…). However, as I push myself to grow and get more real – more “authentic” to use the current buzz word – with myself, I embrace the idea of being fully present with the emotions I experience, however negative, before I rise above them.

    Don’t get me wrong: you could visit my house on any given day (my house now, or when I was growing up), and you’d witness some sort of angry outburst, however fleeting and however insignificant the cause. But this is more “reaction;” a non-conscious, automatic response in a moment. Rising above is not an option when you’re reacting. When I was younger I used to pride myself in how good my family was at letting things out, not bottling things up the way I saw some families do. But the sort of “righteous anger” I was feeling yesterday, this is harder for me (a natural born “goodie two shoes”) than for some other people I know. The power in deeply feeling and then letting your anger out can be intense! At this point in my life, I’m curious about how that works.

    Over the years, occasionally a listener will admit to me that they are a fan “of my darker stuff.” My “bright side” songs don’t do it for them so much. They want to hear me brood, lash out, maybe even complain a little bit? When I do, it is always cathartic to let those songs out. Not always as much playing them night after night… Maybe that’s an issue with the song itself and its composition or execution – a sign that I didn’t quite get it right. Or perhaps it is selfish to want to do what makes ME feel good at a gig. As Jerry Seinfeld said to Michael Richards (Kramer) on a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, “our job [is] not for US to enjoy it, our job is to make sure that THEY enjoy it.” Perhaps I provide a service by venting through music, for those who don’t (or think they can’t) make their own songs up. And possibly people just need more help venting the anger than acknowledging all the good stuff.

    My last album was full of mostly uplifting, good-feeling songs. Lots about giving and small moments of appreciation of the simple family life. And I do come by it naturally – no BS! I recently took a “values assessment” as part of an assignment for the above-mentioned course I’m taking, and my number one personal value was “gratitude.” That’s because I do make continual, conscious choices to be grateful, and to appreciate what is. And I mostly feel worthy of all that good juju I cultivate.

    But when I dig into those deeper recesses, the negative emotions and my “shadow side,” it’s powerful but also pretty scary. That’s why it felt so good yesterday to lash out (I did scream and yell and cry first; then I reached out and posted about it on Facebook). And I sensed such compassion in the swift and steady flow of responses. Everybody’d been there, for sure. No judgment. For several the Sex Pistols work best. Others the less loud but often acerbic Bob Dylan. The Clash. And one orchestral suggestion called “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. Mars is definitely pretty bombastic stuff.

    My friend Julie says she always challenges her design and branding clients to “emphasize the side of themselves that they tend to keep hidden; that’s what’s most interesting to people about them.” So I will have to take that challenge myself, and try using music to explore this anger stuff a little further, if I ever do make another album… Or maybe a metal cover band? Who’s in?? For now I am going to compile that playlist.

    Thanks again for all the comments and support.


    In my head: A Singer-Songwriter’s Experience with Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence

    January 9th, 2013

    So it was one year ago this December that I found out.

    I want to describe what it’s like. What it’s like to hear your own voice, amplified in your own head. Kind of like a bad monitor mix. Too much me. Like it’s time for a new sound guy. Pro-audio metaphors seem to work best.

    Turns out, it’s not just neurosis, I actually AM “in my head too much.”
    I actually DO have a kind of “hole in my head…”

    More than 5 years ago, after getting over a monster cold – head stuffed up like it was going to explode, accompanied by all the usual symptoms, as well as my signature irritability (I now recognize that my irritability mostly CAUSES my ill health, not the other way around…but, I digress), I was left with that stuffed-head feeling. It was more like my left ear was still clogged, like it sometimes feels for a while after a plane flight, or after swimming. It was – well, irritating to say the least (hmmm…a permanent symptom).

    I continued to have this feeling for years, saw several ENT specialists, was checked for earwax (none), tested for hearing loss (also none) and told “well, at least your ears are not ringing” (some comfort, but no relief). As I grew used to this clogged feeling, I realized there were other, less easy to describe sensations. I especially noticed these when singing. It sounded like my headphone monitors were out of whack; there was “too much me” in the mix. I could hear my voice in my head really loudly, and certain frequencies and tones created a sort of internal feedback, from a mild buzzing in my head to an extreme sort of jack-hammering and vibration against the inside of my skull, which may or may not be accompanied by dizziness. Performing certain vocal warm-ups while driving became almost dangerous.

    My 2nd to last ENT (ear nose and throat Doc) was the most thorough up to that point, hearing out all my varied complaints and using a variety of low- and hi-tech diagnostic methods to check me for possible inner ear disturbances. He spun me around in circles blindfolded as if we were in a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and then let me walk in a “straight” line as I veered off into the wall. He also strapped on the high-tech goggles and conducted videonystagmography, a series of tests to determine the cause of dizziness or balance disorders. All of this led to this medical conclusion – and I quote – “you may or may not have a problem in your inner ear, but either way, I cannot prevent your fate.” He actually repeated that line (in case my hearing WAS affected?) One of the most mystifying things I’d ever heard from a western medical doctor!

    One day while scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I noticed a link shared by a fellow singer-songwriter (one that I am “friends” with on FB but actually have never met and don’t know at all – Tracy Grammer. Although I look forward to opening for her at The Uncommon Coffeehouse in Framingham this week, January 11 2013!) Her post was something like “This poor guy – I would hate this” and contained a link to an article describing the symptoms of something called “Superior Canal Dehiscence.” The condition caused, among other things, autophony (according to Wikipedia, “the unusually loud hearing of a person’s own voice, breathing or other self-generated sounds.” He could hear his eyeballs move, for instance. Well, doesn’t everybody?

    Me, I also hear myself chewing. I have to cup my hand over my ear, old lady style, “eh?” when having conversation in a loud room or if I’m also eating. I hear my heart beat. When working out it can get pretty loud, and sometimes the whole scene in front of me jumps up down like a hand-held camera in documentary footage or reality TV.

    I left a comment on the Facebook link, thankful for the help in finally identifying what was going on with me.

    I’ve since read lots on this condition, but before I read this article on Facebook I had to wonder if I was going mad or if aliens had indeed surgically implanted something in my head.  So I called the office of the doctor who performed surgery on my vocal nodules in 1998 (Dr. Steven Zeitels, who recently operated on pop superstar Adele). It was time for a no-nonsense recommendation for the best medical opinion I could find. I got a referral to Dr. Jennifer Smullen, an otologist at Mass Eye and Ear. I told her, I think I know what’s wrong with me and can we just skip straight to the CT-scan to confirm it? The first thing she did was strike a giant tuning fork and stick it on my forehead. “Where do you hear this?” I pointed to my left ear. “Well, that tells me a lot.” She did skip fairly quickly to the scan (a cone beam, to minimize exposure and just examine that narrow area. Which of course left me paranoid that maybe I DID have a brain tumor somewhere that the limited range of the scan would not pick up… but I’m not dead yet, so I guess I’m ok). When she came back with the results she said, “Congratulations – you’re a genius. You diagnosed yourself.” Proud of myself I then thought, ‘oh shit. Now what?’

    It turns out the only way to correct this is surgery (read: cut into scalp, lift brain, plug or patch hole, set brain back down, sew up hole in scalp…) Oh yeah, and there is a 1 in 10 risk of total hearing loss in that ear. Wait, what? When I research SCDS online and read about others’ experiences, I am frankly shocked by how many people casually talk about their upcoming surgery, or their completed surgery, and in some cases, resulting hearing loss. “Well at least I have my life back.” One of them said. All in all, I definitely prefer the “too much me” and occasional “feedback” and dizziness to losing hearing in that ear altogether.

    But there was a time of grieving my gradual loss of normal hearing and permanent change in audio perception. I felt like my singing and recording careers, while I was just resuming them, could never be the same again (well, of course they couldn’t – this just made it more so, in a more concrete physical way.)

    I have been trying to “wrap my head around” what it means to me to perceive in this way; trying to explain the sensation of what it’s like in my head. There is a clever if lo-fi youtube video called “Inside Todd’s Head” that Dr. Smullen told me about that attempts to capture some of the sensations of this condition. FYI, his eyeballs scrape way louder than mine do, but the heart beat is realistic.

    My diagnosis coincided with my 50th year, the release of my first CD in more than 11 years, as well as some family issues that brought my own life-long experience with anxiety into sharp focus. These echoes inside my own head seem like a fitting physical manifestation of my experience with aging, mortality, and my coming to grips with fear and anxiety. They also seem a sort of ritual drumbeat calling to remind me of some notion of “my purpose…” something to do with my eternal urge to create and express and share some of what it’s like “to be me.” What it’s like to be here, now. What it’s like in my head.

    But now I want to know, what’s it like in yours?


    What you keep… and What to pack?

    October 10th, 2012

    Mixed Media Painting by Sue Pelletier

    This past weekend I was invited to perform at the Art Is…You art retreat in Stamford, CT. Sue Pelletier, my wildly talented neighbor and friend, taught her mixed media “sweater sculptures” class. Sue is the artist who created the work for the CD cover for What You Keep. Sadly, I was only prepared to share my songs – I was unable to take any of the classes. This time.

    The theme of the gathering where I performed was “being brave,” and I got to play my song Way To Be Brave for an audience who really got it. It was so inspiring to see so many women (and a few men!) “playing” bravely and exploring themselves through artwork. Can’t wait for next year!

    This weekend I am hitting the road and heading to Florida for shows in the Tampa and Miami areas. Please check the “Tour” page for details. Excited and a bit nervous. Like riding a bike, I hope – the whole travel-play-travel-and-play-some-more thing…

    Hope to see you out there soon,


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    Leap Year

    February 28th, 2012

    Click here to play Leap Year

    This song could have been called “Daddy’s Little Girl Had a Little Boy,” but the fact that this all happened on leap year made that the more relevant song title for my co-writer.

    I’d written one other song in the past with Michael Erdos, and when his wife was about to give birth to their son, after just losing her Dad, Michael asked me to co-write and produce this song for her as a surprise gift. I know, right? How amazing. (You should hear the story of how he proposed – and that other song we wrote! If I can find it someday…)

    The song still gets me a little weepy (although it has quite a breezy feel, as was his mission), especially when it gets to the very end: My daughter Emilia, only 9 at the time, sings the background vocals with her friend Anna.

    Enjoy the extra day this month!

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    Digital Chocolate! Well, almost as good…

    February 14th, 2012

    Happy Valentine’s day! There is a new gift for you here – a “BK Sampler,” with a handful of my songs for you to enjoy – and of course, to share – it’s free! Click on the “New to BK?” button on my website home page (or here: Give it a few seconds and… Voila! Thanks for sharing the love.


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    Official CD Release and New Website Launch!

    January 14th, 2012

    Today is a big day – I’m about to have a VIP CD Release celebration with the full band in our barn, right where the new album was recorded. We will be recording the show so stay tuned – there might be some new tracks available soon.

    I’m also launching the new site, and will be adding new music, video and news over the coming weeks.

    The PledgeMusic drive was a huge success – I really appreciate all the support! With all your help, we easily reached our goal of creating a budget for radio and publicity. Hope to see you out there in 2012.

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    Official CD Release, January 14 2012!!!

    January 14th, 2012

    … and Brand New WEBSITE! I’m looking forward to a band show tonight here in our barn. We’ll be recording it, so stay tuned for fresh live tracks!

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    Featured Homepage Spot A

    January 4th, 2012

    Barbara Kessler What You Keep CDNew Album: What You Keep

    “After taking a decade-long hiatus from record-making and touring to focus on her family, she’s back with 10 gems wrapped in her exquisite voice and shining with the joy that comes from aging, acceptance and boatloads of gratitude.” Performing Songwriter


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    Featured Homepage Spot B

    January 4th, 2012

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