GRAMMY Diaries

DIARIES:    MICHAEL      ELISABETH     SHARA     DEBORAH (coming soon)     JONATHAN (coming soon)
"Invention & Alchemy" received a 2007 Grammy Nomination, so Deborah headed off to the Grammys with Producer Jonathan Wyner, conductor David Lockington, Elisabeth & Mike from Deborah's office, Shara the 'Invention & Alchemy" project manager, sound engineer Tom Bates, Tom's son, Deborah's cousins and Aunt, and some friends from New Zealand. Deborah walked the red carpet, everyone sat tight-jawed as they announced our nomination, everyone cheered, everyone sat stunned when someone else was named the winner, and everyone had a fabulous time. Read our accounts below as we get them on line. Check back often, we'll soon have the rest up.
Above left: Gloria, Elisabeth, Deborah, Mike & Shara. Note the illuminated Grammy symbol behind their heads. Gloria is Deborah's Aunt and life-long friend; Elisabeth & Mike are the folks who hold down the fort at Deborah's office; Shara was the project manager for "Invention & Alchemy" and is currently in Graduate School. Above right: Conductor David Lockington, Deborah and Producer Jonathan Wyner at the exclusive "Nominee Only" party the night before the Grammys.

Above - our Grammy Nominee Medalion

By day, Mike is in charge of publicity in Deborah's office. By night, he writes screenplays and novels.


I have mere moments 'til I hop in the car that will lead me to the red carpets of the Grammy ceremony (Actually, I have heard they are green, but let's not split hairs). That means one moment to breathe, another to tighten my tie and one to wish with all fingers, toes and any other appendage that can be crossed.

I have no idea what to expect. Will people know I am not a star? Do they have some, like, non-star radar and then brand you with non-star tattoos? And the most important question: Will Deborah win? Only time will tell...


It took merely moments upon landing in California to realize we were in for, as wise young Aladdin puts it, a whole new world.

The first clue: the baggage claim was located outside under the hazy stars. Where I’m from, an outdoor baggage claim is like an invitation to join the ice sculptures at a wedding. Even in mid-February, the air was balmy and fragrant. Jackets were merely a comfort, not a necessity. And everywhere there was a buzz. I couldn’t yet tell what it was, or even if it were a real noise. I could hear the buzz like one hears the sound of a city from the suburbs: quiet, constant and lulling. It was in the tanned face next to me; in the lopsided smile of the crossing guard; in the blue and orange hues of the lavish airport exterior. And when I turned to look at Deborah, there it was. The buzz had infected her too, right there in the soft curves where her cheeks met her lips.

Waiting for our rental car we were cordially invited inside a small booth: “You should come in from the cold.” Cold? “I’m used to snow drifts and parkas stitched up to my nose. This is like heaven!” The invitation was repeated almost every where we met. Blankets were offered. Heaters were provided. And each time, the same response: “Heaven!”

The market was filled with fruits and vegetables of all persuasions...including the prickly, outerspace kind

“Heaven” was a word I found myself saying a lot the next few days. Whether walking in the white, crisp sun of an open air market – my eyes blinking slowly like a content cat – or eating a panini under palm fronds and thin umbrellas, I felt the inner glow of a spring that never seemed to end. People seemed to smile more. I seemed to smile more. And if you think I was blissful about the beaches and the shopping that ensued in the few free hours we found throughout the trip, you can imagine what a kid in a candy store I was when it came time for the Grammys.

Here it was…Grammy day. Or D-Day as I liked to call it in my head. Deborah-day. The day we had all worked so hard to reach, none more than Deborah herself. Having poured her heart and soul into “Invention & Alchemy” – a project that took many years of work and painstaking day after painstaking day of tweaking every note, every flourish, every transition – it was now out of Deborah’s hands. And I could see the sense of anticipation and bewilderment in her eyes. How does one know how to handle such an honor? How does one prepare for such a momentous occasion? The answer is they don’t; they can’t. You just have to ride the crest of one of those perfectly curled California waves and hope for the best.

Me and Shara get psyched up before heading to the ceremony

So that’s what we did. We put on our tuxedoes and dresses – I opted for the former – and we put on our ties and our jewelry – again, the former – and we slipped into our Grammy shoes. We posed for pictures. We smoothed creases. And we hugged. Then we hugged again. Then we were off to see the Wizard.

And we were definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Seeing the pre-telecast Grammy auditorium was like seeing Noah’s ark. It was big. It was filled with occupants of every shape, size and exotic persona. I’m assuming most of it was wooden. And it was what we were all going to ride the wave in together. Having always considered artistic endeavors as the essence of my own life, I was in a giddy state as I became surrounded by a community of such prolific artists. And I couldn’t have been prouder than when I sat down with Deborah in front of the stage. Here was a woman coming from outside all the glitz and glam of superficial Hollywood persuasions to vie for an award that thousands strive for and almost no one ever gets close to. Not only that, here was a woman doing it on her own terms, in her own way and with her own special flair. Here was a winner, and I knew right then it didn’t matter what the outcome was going to be.

The iridescent lights of Grammy magic

As time ticked by, one award after another was handed out – look, there goes OK Go, look it’s the impossibly tall Imogen Heap and her gravity-defying feather hat, look that’s Lynn Redgrave giving out that golden gramophone, and over there, it’s Miss Universe about to pop out of her dress. Artist after artist thanked their colleagues, their peers, their agents…on and on…and the excitement rose…our category drew near…and then…

The list of nominees. That’s Deborah’s name! I let out a scream, pouring all of my pride into the congratulatory roar that escaped my throat. Then, without pause…

“And the award for ‘Best Classical Crossover Album’ goes to…”

I flung out my clammy hand to meet my co-worker/friend Elisabeth’s sweaty palm. We held on tight, squeezing with hope. I looked to Deborah. And in less than the time it takes to breathe a sigh it was over.

Someone else went up those carpeted stairs. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you who. All I remember is a collective escape of air, like a Whoopee Cushion pressed lazily by persistent, but soft pressure. Deborah was clapping. I looked down and so was I.

It took an hour or so – including a walk through a bustling crowd and some metal detectors and a sweeping entrance into the massive Staples Center for the televised Grammy ceremony – to process everything that had happened. What confused me the most was a terrible thought I kept having. I wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t feel, well, much of anything. I didn’t know if it was natural. I didn’t know if maybe I was a bad person, a bad friend, a bad employee.

It took the smell of hot dogs and greasy fries to teach me the answer.

Crowded in like penguins in a Pringle container, the crowd entering the Staples center passed through a row of concession stands. Ketchup dripped down fists pushing cheeseburgers into mouths. Fries dangled above hungry lips. Sodas slurped. Chips crunched. Celebrity and celebrity-not were indistinguishable. All were reduced to the plain and simple truth: they were all human. And hungry humans at that. All had wishes and hopes and dreams of the shine of gold on their dresser. Some were glowing from a win well deserved. Some were reeling from a loss neither deserved nor controllable. Some were tired. Some were bored. Some wanted a shake with a side of chicken fingers. This was just life. It went on. Disappointment would mean there was something to be disappointed about, and that was just not the case. It was just life. And it went on.

After stuffing our faces with some much needed grub, we took our seats for the show. Here is where the “Heaven” part comes back in. The long and the short of it was the experience was the epitome of “cool.” However pointless or superficial, it was all just so…cool…even if from where I was sitting the performers looked like gyrating ants. I would have killed for one of Deborah’s premium seats!

For those who didn’t watch the Grammy telecast, a recap would go something like this: Sting and the Police! Mary J. Blige wins, performs, wins and performs again...yippee (sense the sarcasm). Justin Timberlake gives some “Love,” Lionel Richie says “Hello” and Gnarls Barkley go a little “Crazy.” One of the, like, four awards given during the telecast is handed out (remind me again…this is an awards show?) Christina and Beyonce bring down the house with vocal pyrotechnics. Shakira and Chris Brown shake their booties. The Dixie Chicks win and stick out their tongues at the collective establishment (rinse and repeat).

Watch out, here comes “Heaven” again. By far my favorite part of the Grammy experience most definitely has to be the Grammy after party (and no, the open bar had nothing to do with it…I swear). I’ve never seen anything like it. Professional dancers gyrated on top of every available surface. Lights, huge plants, catwalks, OH MY! Famous restaurants offered a smorgasbord of culinary delights so rich in flavor the food seemed to burst on the tongue. Chaka Kahn took the stage. Then Kool and the Gang. Then DJ Chris Cox. The dancers continued to dance. A mini Cirque de Soleil took place in every corner – limbs flying, acrobats twirling. Pure unadulterated extravagance from start to finish, and I was lovin’ every minute of it.

Like all good things, the party came to an end. Or rather, our dancing feet. Weary and over stimulated, we dragged our bodies out with the crowd, plopped ourselves into our car seats and drove off into the night. The spotlights above the Staples Center waved a cordial goodbye and our headlights became one with the lights of the highway and the true stars in the sky.

All good things must come to an end...

The next day, readying for the airport, we shared a meal with our hosts – who so graciously opened their home to company – and laughed over two big dishes of lasagna. Not a single part of me wanted to go home to chilly Boston – not when the beach was calling my name from the open window – but there was a big job waiting for us and it was time to leave our dream world and head back to reality. So, luggage in tow, we said our goodbyes.

At the airport, suitcase in hand, Deborah turned to me. All she said was, “Next time.” And that’s all she had to say. Somewhere, in the breeze or from some distant highway, I heard the buzz again; that whispering persistence. But it didn’t come from the wind. And it wasn’t the sound of car wheels on pavement. The buzz was the sound of hope – of the eternal, often devastating, sometimes fruitful, beautiful struggle of life and the dreams that never die, with or without a gold gramophone. The buzz of each spirit – Deborah’s, mine, yours – trying to speak to one another.

Voices whispering…

“Next time.”

By day, Elisabeth is the Artist Relations Manager in Deborah's office. By night, she practices photography and sings in a local choir.


Packing is something I've had to do a lot. Packing for moves, packing for trips, packing packages, packing picnics...but this pack was different. I had been focusing on coordinating 12 people to attend an event across the country for weeks and hadn't done laundry. So 2 loads of clothes later, triple checking that I did in fact have my Grammy dress and shoes, and leaving room for work materials in my carry on - I was ready to go.


So today is the day we depart for California. Putting in an almost full day of work before leaving had to be the most difficult thing in the world. I packed the binders, triple checked that I had every shred of Grammy correspondence sent to us in case we needed it, emailed my itinerary to mom and dad, and gratefully loaded myself into Bea's van. Having to leave her behind was the second most difficult thing of the day. After our goodbyes, my first duty was to call Shara. Before finding my phone, she walked up and greeted us all with a huge smile and hugs. She completed our group of 5 to fly to LA. We managed to check in and get through security with our 1 quart zip top baggies, grabbed some coffee and snacks and sat ourselves down to await departure. Tom and his son joined us, making 7 for the flight.

Time flew, and with just enough time to hand out food and snap a few pictures, we were on-board. I immediately connected with our in-flight crew and let them know about where we were going and why. The excitement hit me then - we were going to the Grammy Awards. People were jealous. We were going to LA.

A long, but enjoyable flight later (complete with choco-billy cookies) we arrived in Los Angeles. Along with their farewell speech, the flight crew wished us well and announced to the entire cabin that we were on-board and that Deborah was on her way to the Grammy Awards nominated for Best Classical Crossover Album. I could see Deborah's arms fly up in excitement, and everyone clapped. The family next to me in the aisle was on their way to the awards as well. One of the girls looked at her mom and asked "Who is on board?" Her mom answered that a woman who had been nominated was on board, but that it wasn't a big deal because they were going too. The young girl looked at her and snapped, " Well, we aren't NOMINEES, mom".

The first step off the plane met me with warm, non-jacket 9pm! A short jaunt away was the outdoor baggage claim (WHAT!?!). I left the group, hoping they would get my bag, and got in line for our car. The crew surfaced in the crowd, all correct baggage in tow, and we made our way to the car. Upon arrival we were invited in, out of the cold, and I informed them that we in fact had shed layers of winter clothing after getting off the plane from the artic of Boston. Our car was upgraded to an SUV (apparently Deborah and Jonathan were offered a Hummer!), and we were on our way.
We found our way to Nancy and Guido's house (Deborah's amazingly hospitable, talented, and loving cousins) with no problem and were greeted by Nancy and Gloria (Deborah's beautiful and gorgeous-voiced aunt from NY). We loaded in, and Shara, Mike and I were settled in our spaces. We caught up and talked for a good while and decided to take a walk. Deborah and Jonathan departed for Rochelle's (Jonathan's aunt), keys were distributed and Shara, Mike and I made our way down to the main strip. We decided to go right and made our way past Pico Blvd and found a 24 hour Jack-In-The-Box. There are stories enough from that hour to fill pages. We filled our bellies with curly fries and various other fast foods, and headed back to crash. We all crowded into the bathroom to brush our teeth and made it into bed around 4am EST.

One big happy, teeth-brushing family


I woke up early and called my dad to let him know I was safe. He was so excited I was there and instructed me that I had to put my feet in the Pacific Ocean and should go knock on some doors to find out who lived in the area. He was so funny, I wished I wasn't so groggy and could focus on what he was saying. We decided to catch up again later (which ended up being a harder task than usual). I showered and got on my way to get the tickets. I found my way to the LA Convention Center early with no problem. I had 45 minutes to waste before the ticket office opened, so I took a walk and photographed for a bit. I got back just in time to be the 6th or 7th person in line. With my binder in hand, organized and ready to go, I seemed to have my act together more than they did (they asked me to stay!). So, I signed for all of the tickets...and nervously tucked them into my binder. As I left the office, Bea called to check in and see how things were going. I let her know about the weather, and how beautiful Santa Monica was, and then I noticed a mass of people down the street. With Bea on the phone, I explored the situation – we were both disappointed to find out it was simply a meeting of limo drivers getting drop-off instructions for the event.

The sights of Santa Monica were diverse and beautiful - the perfect peaceful paradise

I then called my mom, who thought it was the best thing that I was driving around town on the Santa Monica highway. I got back to the house right before Deborah and the rest of our group returned from the farmer's market with the most delicious fresh strawberries ever. While everyone relaxed and enjoyed some sun on the roof, we made plans to meet for lunch with most of the crew. We met and enjoyed a delicious Italian meal and great conversation. Deborah and Jonathan returned to Rochelle's to get ready for the Nominee Reception and Shara, Mike, Gloria, and I made our way down to the Santa Monica Pier. What great fun to be a tourist. The pier was so fun, a mix of a carnival and the St. Charles Bridge in Prague. We took lots of pictures, and put our fingers in the ocean. After an hour or so, we returned to the house to take naps. I couldn't nap. I called my friend Paul who lives in Washington and tried to convince him to fly down for a day with no luck. Around 8 everyone stirred, and we decided to try and find our way to Hollywood Boulevard to see the stars. We got incredibly lost...but finally found our way and parked right across the street from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. We walked the stars, people watched, and grabbed dinner. Then we went on a search for the Hollywood sign. We didn't find it (too much fog), but found ourselves in a very exclusive section of the hills.

We got home and crashed, all excited for the awards the next day.


We woke up to the smells of fresh coffee and breakfast cooking. Since we weren't sure what the food situation would be for the day, Nancy treated us to a gourmet breakfast. The morning flew by and after showers and getting ready, we had just enough time for a few pictures (we were a good looking group of people!) before we were on our way.

After making our way through airport type security (and sneaking in cameras), we entered the LA Convention Center for the Pre-telecast ceremony. It was beautiful. We secured seats in the 6th row center, and made discussion of useless things like why they wouldn't let anyone in with covers on their bottled water. Then they started. We were 19th on the list of awards. By number 13, I was clammy and nervous. Miss Universe was embarrassing, but the amount of air she inhaled when laughing and the squinting to read the tele-prompter is a great story. Best Classical Crossover came up on the board, I snapped a picture and grabbed Mike's hand, we held our breath. We exhaled as someone else's name was called, and looked at each other blankly as someone else accepted and didn't hear a word. Mike and I departed to make a round of calls. I called Bea and Catharine (our co-workers we had to leave behind in Boston)...and the same thing was repeated over and over again - that being a Grammy Nominee, one of five for that category out of hundreds who were in the running was winning enough - we had done it. We had made it - with or without a shiny gold gramophone.

More to come soon!

Shara was the Project Manager for "Invention & Alchemy." She is currently in Graduate School and teaching classes.


I teach a college writing course on popular culture at UMass Amherst. At the end of class on the Thursday before the Golden Cage Music crew and I headed to L.A., I announced to my class that they’d have a substitute the following Tuesday. “I’m going to this thing—I’m not sure if any of you have heard of it—the Grammy Awards?” After their shock and excitement calmed a bit, they became curious as to why and how on earth I got the opportunity to be present at the most celebrated music event of the year. That’s when I told them about my work with Deborah and “Invention & Alchemy.” My students were particularly intrigued by the idea of hip harp. “Hip what?” “Harp,” I told them. In a class that focuses on pop culture and the homologous effects that for-profit industries have on cultural forms like television, film, and music, my students seemed truly in awe of something so original and outside-the-box.

Reflecting on my experience at the Grammy Awards, my awe resides in a similar place. Sure, Deborah and the Grand Rapids Symphony didn’t win this time. But that’s almost beside the point. The fact that “Invention & Alchemy,” the true love child of a few intimately connected and extraordinarily creative minds, made it all the way to the Grammys is incredible. It’s incredible because it got there on the wings of its intrinsic beauty, its humor, its stories…its alchemy.

I communicated the concept rather crudely to Deborah at the Grammy Awards after party that her outside-the-box creation was better for not winning. I believe my words were, “Grammy nominees have more street credibility.” And I wasn’t saying that to make her feel good, or make me feel good, in the aftermath of a supposed loss. And I surely wasn't saying it in the sense that every single Grammy winner ever doesn't have credibility or that the nominee that won her category doesn't, but that it is much harder to go against the grain. It is much harder to do exactly what it is you love - stereotypes thrown out the window. It is much harder to stray from the safe path that often leads to Grammy gold.

Me and MY Grammy winner

Looking back on the experience, I am most happy to simply have been with Deborah and Jonathan, their families, and the Golden Cage Music crew at such an exciting time. It was fun and glamorous and we all certainly had cause to celebrate.

Special shout outs to Elisabeth and Mikey for all of their hard work in the office. Perhaps the thing I regret most about leaving Golden Cage Music for my graduate school endeavor is that I didn’t have the opportunity to work alongside those two smart, dedicated, fun and creative souls.