Torch Singing Is My Livelihood

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Torch Singing 101, Zen’s Lounge, Lincoln, NE

About 15 years ago while living in Chicago I came across an online article about fantasy occupations. In the men’s category on the top of the list were Airline Pilot and Professional Baseball Player. On the women’s list, the top fantasy occupation was Lounge Singer. I thought to myself, that’s what I do! There is a need here I could fulfill as I was already teaching jazz voice at the college level. I needed to design a simplified course to help adults (including men) fulfill their lounge singer/jazz singer fantasies with a top level band in hip music room (about that time, “The Fabulous Baker Boys” movie was out and I recall Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in a red sequin dress, stretched across a grand piano singing a torch song which may have inspired this too).

I moved to Lincoln three years ago and thought to recreate a similar course I’d created in Chicago (which was a huge success by the way). After convincing several new friends here to be the first students, I taught the first class out of my home and we had the first show at Zen’s Lounge on 11th St. with Tom Larson, piano and Hans Sturm, double bass, accompanying them up . It has just taken off, attracting both men and women. Last fall I was even invited to give Garrison Keillor on his show, A Prairie Home Companion, a Torch Singing “lesson” at the Lied Center. It was quite spontaneous and tongue-in-cheek. We had a blast!

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Torch Singing 101, Zen’s Lounge, Lincoln, NE

The class is called Torch Singer 101 and its designed for the novice but anyone can take it. It’s taught out of my home in Lincoln’s Country Club District. Class is limited to 8 adults and meets once a week for 2 hours. Classes run 6 weeks, culminating in a free public performance at a local venue. We focus on songs from the “Great American Song Book” and jazz standards. We have fun with vocal improvisation to get singers loosened up and to get inside the harmony of a song. We discuss lyric interpretation, stage presence, stage fright and microphone technique along with vocal range and melody transposition. Singers perform one group song and 2 solo selections backed by professional rhythm section in front of friends, family and new fans!

Students get to explore singing beyond the written page with vocal improvisation in class and the thrill of doing it on stage.

Students get to explore singing beyond the written page with vocal improvisation in class and the thrill of doing it on stage. They solo with uniquely crafted arrangements with professional jazz musicians who, in addition to backing them up, follow and support them in the event a section is forgotten or beats are “dropped” in the heat of the moment. Singers experience a live, supportive and enthusiastic audience cheering them on, there’s nothing quite like it! In fact, classes usually include students who want to do it a second or third time.

For me, I learn new musical ideas from my students (who often don’t know the cliches yet) and I get to be the nervous mom in the front row, watching my students take risks, get over stage fright and entertain an audience with wit and poise. I get to know so many cool people in Lincoln as well.

Next Torch Singer 101 show:
Zen’s Lounge, 122 N. 11th St., Lincoln Tuesday, October 14, 7:30PM (402-475-2929).
No cover charge (donations for the band appreciated).

About Jackie 

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Photo by Matt Elwood

Jackie Allen, vocalist, songwriter, educator and recording artist, has toured the US, Europe, Morocco, Brazil, China and Taiwan. Last spring, 2014 she released her 10th album, My Favorite Color (Avant Bass). Her group includes guitar, piano, acoustic bass and percussion. “Allen’s greatest strength is her sheer musicality and the way in which she both frames and interprets her song.” (Los Angeles Times)  “Utterly distinctive and even innovative…a masterpiece. “(Billboard Magazine) “This is four-hundred-dollar-a-bottle jazz” (Rolling Stone) Musically sophisticated and artistically daring…” (Chicago Tribune).

Allen teaches voice and songwriting at Doane College (Crete) and has taught at UNL, Ball State University (IN), and Roosevelt University (IL). Allen was featured with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s Ella Fitzgerald Celebration (Auditorium Theater). She has served on the Board and Jazz Committee for the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards).  She’s married to bassist Hans Sturm with their son Wolfgang.

Writing is my Livelihood

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My interest in wordplay began in childhood. Growing up in North Omaha I found myself attracted to the wonder of certain words, usually multi-syllabic tongue twisters I heard television talking-heads wittily brandish. I also fell under the near fatal spell of alliteration.

I believe my real fascination with language stemmed from seeing my late father working his crossword puzzles, reading the newspaper and occasionally immersing himself in a book. Then there was the colorful vernacular he used around the house and that my extended family, who lived in South Omaha, used. Sprinkled in with the cuss words were  idiomatic descriptives favored by my father’s white-collar clan, whose expressions were just different enough from those of my mother’s blue-collar bunch, to stand them apart. Further seasoning this verbal stew were stray Polish words from my father’s side and occasional Italian words from my mother’s side. It was a multicultural linguistics education. As our all-white inner-city neighborhood became mixed, African-Americans introduced me to another rich vein of language flavored by their Southern roots and urban Northern street culture.

“….the simple joy of playing with words is the main

appeal to me.”

Even with all those influences I do not believe I would have been drawn to writing were it not for the Marvel comic books and high school English lit books I inherited from my older brothers. These stimulating hand-me-downs were enhanced by the periodicals that came into our home, particularly Sports Illustrated. By the time my brother Dan started writing his own personal sports column, just for the sheer pleasure of it. I, too, discovered writing could be fun. Later I found out what hard work it is. As teachers encouraged my efforts, I stretched myself. In high school I was recruited to write for the school paper and that led me to study journalism in college.

Even now, as a journalist and author, the simple joy of playing with words is the main appeal to me. Follow my work telling the stories of people, their passions and magnificent obsessions at or

About Adam

Leo Adam Biga is a working journalist who contributes articles to newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, a collectionleo of the writer’s extensive journalism about the Oscar-winning filmmaker. Additionally, Biga is the coeditor if Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores and the author of two e-books for the Omaha Public Schools.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate worked in public relations (Joslyn Art Museum) before becoming a freelance writer. His published stories for dailies, weeklies, monthlies and quarterlies number well over a thousand. As a generalist he writes about a broad range of subjects, though most of his work is arts and culture-based.

He is finishing the biography of a retired Catholic priest who served marginalized populations around the world and he has plans for more nonfiction books. A new edition of his Payne book is in-progress.

Sample his eclectic work at or

NOTE: His partner, artist Pamela Jo Berry, is a past Livelihood subject. Read more about Pamela Jo Berry here:

Fiction is my Livelihood


As a farm boy, I was a spectacular failure. I wandered off from my chores, lost in imagination, mumbling to myself as I walked in circles. Today such a child would be drugged and counseled. My parents, however, let me roam; one of the paths I trod through a patch of weeds is still weedless to this day – nothing ever grew to cover my steps. Today, I pace as I write fiction, with my laptop propped on a fat dictionary atop the kitchen counter. I mutter aloud, considering the rhythms of words, performing lines of dialogue. I do have a writing desk in a writing room but I do no writing there. I need to be up and about fussing with things, my stories coming together on the sly. For me, I guess, writing must always involve wandering away from chores, and it must never become the chore itself.

Whether you’re a writer or not, you’re developing your own art of moving from point to point.

A teacher once accused me of wanting to avoid “the dog work” of writing fiction. She said I didn’t put enough effort in moving the characters from point A to point B – she said I just wanted to jump from one vivid detail to the next. She was right, and she meant to scold, but I found myself inclined to rebel. Why must a character be moved from point A to point B? Why must there even be a point A and a point B at all? Of course I eventually came to understand that plot and technique didn’t have to muddle the art of the thing. But I remain baffled by those writers who consider fiction an obligation. (A novelist I once knew even likened writing to “factory work.”) And I’ve always found it curious that one is said to “indulge” the imagination, as if the imagination was too pleasurable to politely allow. Imagination and creativity guide your every move — you’re not just relying on your intellect and your sentiment to navigate your days; you’re inventing your own character as you go along, devising a kind of mythology based on all the aspects of your own spirit, and sense, and gesture, your daily tasks, your loves, your frustrations. Whether you’re a writer or not, you’re developing your own art of moving from point to point.

Please join us for (downtown) omaha lit fest on Sept 12-13 for literary readings, panel discussions, and an opening night party. “Like” us on Facebook (Omaha Lit Fest) or visit

About Timothy

Timothy Schaffert is the author of five novels, most recently The Swan Gondola, set Timothy Schaffert 1_by Michael Lionstaramong the humbug artists and theatrical types of turn-of-the-century Omaha. His work has been a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, an Book of the Week, and recognized in the O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Short Stories anthologies. Novelist Kurt Andersen called Schaffert a “master of Great Plains gothic” on his public radio program Studio 360; on the NPR program On Point, Paul Ingram said “[Schaffert] is an Omaha writer the way Faulkner is a Mississippi writer – he has a deep historical connection to the area, and you learn so much.” Schaffert grew up on a farm in Nebraska; he lives in Omaha and is a professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is founder/director of (downtown) omaha lit fest, to be held Sept 12-13, 2014 at W. Dale Clark Library.

Celebrating Art Is My Livelihood

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Kara’s Story

The art that our society as a whole creates, supports and preserves speaks for all time about who we are as a people right now at this time and in this place. I look at the art world from an art historian’s point of view and that obviously influences my opinion on the historical importance of the arts. But long before I began my formal education in art history I was a young girl in Wayne, Nebraska who was moved by the power of the arts. My earliest art memories are like jewels that I cherish; powerful bursts of color, light, sound, emotion and creativity that set my life path in motion. But in my heart and mind I truly believed northeast Nebraska was not the place to discover great art nor a place that would ever celebrate creativity and artistic communities. As the executive director of the Norfolk Arts Center I strive to present programs that inspire our patrons by fully celebrating the brilliance of creation and the boldness of both exhibition and performance.

I believe one of the true powers of great artists is their ability to facilitate communication across boundaries; whether the boundaries be social, economic, generational, ethnic, or regional. The arts allow us to communicate, one soul, one mind, one human to another. When one travels to another part of the world the art may look and sound very different; yet a visitor will be moved by the rhythm, shape, or design of that art.  You can comprehend a foreign artist’s struggle or passion even if the exact context is lost in translation. The arts facilitate communication at many levels.

Patronage speaks loudly and as a non-profit administrator it is my task to listen …

The arts are a window into a society.  A piece of art obviously speaks about the creator but it also tells us about the audience for which it is produced. As we look back through history and analyze various civilizations it is often their artwork that gives us a true measure of the people.  What does the art that we produce and support say about us as a people?  By purchasing a ticket to a performance or buying a painting from a gallery today’s audiences are letting us know which art forms they find valuable. Patronage speaks loudly and as a non-profit administrator it is my task to listen and help facilitate this conversation between artists and patron.  And believe me that task can sometimes lead to amazing rewarding opportunities such as watching a theater full of elementary students transfixed by actors bringing storybook characters to life or the waves of communal joy during a musical performance.

Today my life is dedicated to proving the misguided thoughts of my childhood wrong. Northeast Nebraska is the perfect place to discover great art! This opportunity has once again reminded me how much I adore artists and the thoughts they think and the artworks they produce. These people are not setting out to change the world, they are setting out to produce great artwork and in turn the world is changed. That is what I’ve now dedicated my life to celebrating. The power of creation. The open mind. The willingness to play and discover and push boundaries and then take a moment every once in a while to look around and celebrate our creative Nebraskan selves.

About Kara

Kara Weander-Gaster holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Art and Art History from Kara Prengers croppedthe University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While attending UNL Kara worked at both Morrill Hall and Sheldon Museum of Art (then called the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery). She attended Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York working on a Masters Degree in Art History while also taking graduate courses in the Museum Studies program. She has worked in a variety of art settings from student galleries and poster shops to for-profit galleries and corporate art sales before taking on the position of Executive Director at the Norfolk Arts Center.

Kara has served as the Executive Director of the Norfolk Arts Center for nine years and has spearheaded the current vision and direction of the organization. She has raised the Norfolk Arts Center to a new level of excellence, embraced by the community and strongly supported by area individuals, businesses, and organizations alike. Kara is the northeast Nebraska regional captain for Nebraskan’s for the Arts and serves on the Philanthropy Council of Northeast Nebraska. Kara grew up in Wayne, Nebraska and has a passion to see the successfully presentation of the arts positively impact the communities and citizens throughout northeast and north-central Nebraska.

Textile Art is My Livelihood

Robert’s Story

I use dance as a metaphor in describing the process through which I create textile art. My goal is to produce dazzling effects of rhythm and movement by manipulating and modifying fibers and fabric to bring about new and dynamic forms of art. In doing so I create objects of fine art for residential and commercial interiors as well as one-of-a-kind garments and accessories for special occasions or the stage. My textile art is exhibited in galleries, public spaces, and performance situations.

I start the process of creating new art by gathering threads, yarn, braid, tape, and yardage, all of silk, wool, cotton, linen, or other natural fibers. First, I consider their inherent characteristics along with the extent to which they are suitable for becoming the basis of artistic form. Then, I contemplate various ways through which their surfaces can be embellished using such techniques as stitchery, silkscreen printing, airbrushing, and hand painting with dyes. At this stage curiosity develops, questions arise, experimentation is needed, and creativity soars.

…curiosity develops, questions arise, experimentation is needed, and creativity soars.


Then comes the dance of textiles! Those textile materials and I form a symbiotic relationship. We become partners. Sometimes I take the lead by initiating the first step. At other times, characteristics of the materials inform me of the next move. The pace starts out slowly as each responds to the other, then gains momentum. As we go back and forth, rhythms develop, patterns emerge, and art forms evolve. The dance often goes on for weeks, even months. It’s an exhilarating process which I refer to as “choreography in fiber.”


About Robert
Robert Hillestad is a studio textiles artist and design educator.  His designs have been shown in more than l50 juried and invitational exhibitions and stage presentations throughout the U.S. and abroad and are included in numerous collections. He is the author of Robert Hillestad: A Textiles Journey (2008) and 50 articles about textiles and costume.

He is a Fellow in the Costume Society of America and the International Textile and Apparel Association. He received the Lincoln Mayor’s Arts Award (1996) and the Nebraska Governor’s Arts Award (2008). When he retired from a 31-year career at UNL (1996), the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery was named in his honor.

Dr. Hillestad earned degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Drexel University and The Ohio State University, did post-graduate work at the Art Institute of Chicago and completed a year-long study in the Paris couture. He works and resides in Lincoln, Nebraska.

All photographs by John Nollendorfs Photography, Lincoln, Nebraska