Lori Gray Muligano – My Musical Story

I was four years old and lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was dark and cold there much of the year and not a lot to do . . . so mom, an avid pianist, took me to a local piano teacher and I began taking piano lessons. Within a year, we moved to Illinois.

We had a baby grand piano in the living room and mom played it every day. I remember being so little that I wasn’t able to touch the piano pedals when I was practicing. My feet dangled as I played! In Illinois I took lessons from the same teacher that taught my mom years earlier. 

By the time I could finally reach the piano pedals with my feet, I was learning more difficult pieces.  I remember trying to “change” a Mozart piece in one place because I liked the way the F# sounded better than F natural.  My piano teacher would say “If Mozart had wanted an F# sharp there, he would have written it that way!” I often wonder if my piano teacher said similar things to my mom.  I did learn to play Mozart and the classics as they were written, but found my real inspiration playing popular music because I could stylize songs the way I wanted.

Growing Up with a Musical Mom

I grew up hearing my mom play piano. She played pop and classical standards, almost always adding her own sweet touches to whatever she played. For years, she played at church and for students participating in solo and ensemble. She had her own gigs and enjoyed it when she could play whatever she wanted for a house party.  I heard “Misty” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played in my mom’s style along with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.  These songs and so many more became engrained in my mind.  It was wonderful to hear her music fill our home!

In grade school, about 5th or 6th grade, I really wanted to sing in the school choir.  It wasn’t a big fancy choir like they have these days for kids. Singing came naturally to me and I enjoyed it immensely. I asked my school music teacher if I could join the 5th/6th grade choir and she told me “no” and went on to say that I can’t sing!  WOW – really! Why would any teacher ever say that to a child?

Apparently undaunted by this, I approached my church choir director and he discovered I had perfect pitch and took me under his musical wing.  By 7th grade, I was singing in both the junior and senior choirs at church.  By high school, I was singing alto in the big high school choir as well as performing duets with my friends.

Musical Immersion

In high school, I completely immersed myself in everything music – choir, musicals, Madrigals, music theory, playing and singing pop songs and performing in the school music assemblies.

By senior  year, I was in 9 of 10 acts in the music assembly (much like a variety show). In my ’70s peasant dress and boots, I sang lead for my friend Mark’s band on the Kiss song “Black Diamond” in one act and then (nearly back to back) with another act singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” with my friend Scott.  I arranged a flute part for my friend Debbie for that song too.

Singing away on stage in high school
Singing Sound of Silence on our high school stage with my friend Scott

Almost always, I had someone on stage with me, but I did do one solo song that senior year. I was very nervous about the solo number, but I remember doing okay.

I am proud of my accomplishments, but life wasn’t all roses and successes for me. My senior year of high school, I was called back 3 days in a row for the lead in “South Pacific” only to lose out to another singer/actress and end up with a very minor role.  

Although I don’t remember saying it, my mom told me later that I came home that week and said something like, “Well, I am upset that I didn’t get the lead and I’m going to allow myself to be upset for a few days but then I’m going to move on”.  WOW – really! Where did that come from at 18 years old?

It wasn’t until college that I had my first official private voice lessons.  No one that I knew (at that time) took voice lessons in high school or before.  Taking voice lessons in college was a very different experience from my years of taking traditional piano lessons. It was interesting and strange, all at the same time. I played a lot of piano bar in college and afterwards. In addition, I enjoyed providing background music at big presidential dinners.

Spotlight? No, thank you!

I didn’t like the spotlight then.  In fact, I was uncomfortable with the focus being on me.  So for years, I hid in bands and groups, playing it safe and hiding behind my keyboard.  Yes – hiding behind my keyboard!  I was okay with singing backups and harmonies. On occasion I would step out from behind the keyboard to sing a song or two. After that, I wanted to fade into the background and have someone else lead the show. Things have changed!

Time for a Change

By the time my husband George and I had done several musical projects and bands together, we both realized that we needed a band in order to play music together.  This seemed like a ridiculous notion then and even more so now! At that point, I decided to step things up for myself. I began taking voice lessons again, as an adult working towards being a lead singer.

One of the first things my voice coach told me was that I wasn’t an alto. WAIT A SECOND! I built my whole identity around being an alto, singing harmony.  Yes, my college prof told me the same thing, but did I believe her? Nope! Now I was faced with another voice instructor telling me I was really a mezzo soprano and NOT an alto.  It took time and I did recover and have accepted who I am as a singer! I also found out that, after working through my nervousness,  I love the spotlight! WOW – really? Where did that come from after all these years?

Next Steps

My next big musical step was finding where my musical heart really lives.  I sang and played so many different genres, but when I started listening to Diana Krall and learned both the piano and vocal parts for “Lost Mind” from Krall’s music book, I knew I had found my musical heart!

Looking back, it makes sense to me now. I’ve been stylizing songs most of my life!  Of course,  jazz is complicated with all its wonderful flatted 5 and 9 chords (and  those +11 chords too), so playing and singing together for me takes time to do well with jazz. More time than the pop songs I had sung for years,. . . but I can’t ignore where my musical heart resonates the most- in the midst of my version of jazz/pop, influenced by Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Eva Cassidy and Ella Fitzgerald… to name a few!

In conclusion, I find the next logical steps on my life’s journey are happening easier and closer together. I’ve found a place where I can share the music that resonates with me in a spiritually supportive environment at Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock. It means a lot to me. Life is always changing. We are always changing. I look forward to what lies ahead!

©2001-2020 Music 4 Living - Lori Gray Muligano 847.815.5050