It All Starts with a Dream

It all starts with a dream, as some say. Nashville says it all starts with a song. Either way, if it’s a dream, you have to get out of bed and get dressed. If it’s a song, you have to get out your pencil and paper, or at least your recorder. Then you might want to play it for other people, put it on an album, put it out on iTunes. You can’t just lay around and “think” about these things.

Every year I dream of doing a  Christmas show, and beginning in January, I know that December is coming and my show won’t happen with my head on a pillow dreaming about it. I can hear Auntie Em telling Dorothy “there’s work to be done.”

One element of planning a show is deciding how to tell other people about it.  You can’t just hope that people will show up. “If you build it” a few might come, but just building it isn’t enough. 

One day as I was brainstorming on the phone with a coach about all that there is to do, including the marketing, he said, “Why don’t you bring your audience in on the planning of the show. Give them a peek into the planning part.” 

So I got to thinking; I wonder what my audience would want to know about planning a Christmas show. Instead of me trying to guess, why don’t I just ask them? I did and people responded.

Sorting through the questions, one in particular, catches my eye. I squirm in my office chair. I always struggle when someone asks this question: “What is your favorite song on the album?” 

The problem is, it’s hard to pick one favorite. Songs are three-minute audio journals of my life. Each song has a unique significance and is part of the whole.

Though the question wasn’t specifically about the show, it’s a good question because the show actually started with a song. Ok, so Nashville was right. It really does start with a song.

It was a wintery January morning in 2000 and I was on my way to a local recording studio to record my first album. The snow was blowing and drifting across Route 696 in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania—a scenic road between two mountain ranges. I probably shouldn’t have been driving.

But I was in my element…SNOW! 

The first line said it all…

Whispery winds of winter white

The blizzard-like winds seemed to applaud my bravery for driving in these conditions…

Dancing across the starlit night

Twirling and swirling and sweeping the lane

Whisking the blues of the season away

These are the portraits of white

I knew it [the song] was special the day I wrote it. I could hear the polished production of it in my head. Even though it would be years before I’d actually record it, I knew it would sound Enya-esque.  I had just encountered the music of Enya, and her stacked vocal approach resonated with me. Every time I’d listen to her, I wanted to sit down and write music. 

Portraits of White Album 2013

Years later, when I decided to record a Christmas/Winter album this song was a definite favorite. I learned to respect Enya’s music all the more during the process of recording. It’s not easy to stack vocals. You must follow every single intonation and nuanced note of the original take each time you sing a new take. For some reason, I really enjoyed the challenge of this style of recording. 

When it came time to choose a title for the Christmas album, Portraits of White felt the most magical. Portraits of White, both the song and the title would become the inspiration for my holiday show. If that makes it my favorite song on the album, then so be it.

The album title was just the beginning…

This week’s video:

Farm Girl’s Fascination with Musical Fantasy

In last week’s blog, I introduced you to my “Kansas” — the one-red-light-town of Newville, Pennsylvania. If you go another three miles past the red light, you’ll come to the farmhouse where I was raised. 

I can still picture my mother’s brown Wurlitzer piano sitting in the living room. It was a treasure to her because as a young woman she purchased it with her own money in the 1940’s. It was the centerpiece of my life.

Frances at the Wurlitzer piano.

I have no first memory of the piano…just a collage of memories. In fact, it feels as if the piano and I were womb mates and we grew up as playmates. 

According to my mother, I started playing by ear when I was two or three years old. In her opinion, one thing that separated me from other children was my approach to it. While others would bang on it, I’d touch the keys very gently, one note at a time. I later learned that there is a time and place to play fortissimo (very loud) but I had to come out of my shell before that ever happened. 

Together, we [the piano and I] would put on little shows for my “Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.” I must have had a thing for shows because in the winter, I’d perform little dances on our farm pond—ice skating to music and creating lovely choreographed movements. I tried to be just like the Olympic skaters I saw on our black and white TV. I’m sure I was just like them. LOL!

Sometimes, I’d create a little choir with the chess pieces from our chess set and of course, I always lined them up according to their height. The piano, the shows, the skating…these were all indicators of the creative path I would choose in the future. A convergence of skill and desire.

Angie — after her bath.

In addition to musical fantasies, I suppose every farm girl needs a dog and we had many. My personal favorite was Angie; a lovely apricot-colored poodle. Sorry Toto, nothing against Terriers. My mother liked poodles and picked Angel from a December litter—a Christmas dog. She followed me around the farm and sometimes she’d sit on my lap when I practiced the piano. Yes, I was one of those odd children who loved to practice

It’s pretty clear that my fascination with performing started with living room shows around the piano, skating to music and arranging plastic chess choirs. Once I began writing music and recording albums, I started getting invitations to sing at various churches and events. 

About fourteen years after my first album, Under The Big Blue Sky, I began to dream of doing a big annual Christmas concert and in 2014, I started Portraits of White.

This week’s video:

Welcome to Kansas!

My studio.

Outside my music studio window is a busy state road. If you head East about three miles, you’ll arrive in Newville, Pennsylvania. It’s my “Kansas” and I’d like to take you on a little tour of my town. I often refer to it is as a one-red-light-town. I’m not sure why I say red. It could be yellow or green, but it often feels red to me. Perhaps because I’m usually in a hurry?! Busted! 

According to the Newville Historical Society, Andrew Ralston first settled near the shores of the Big Spring in 1728. William Laughlin and his brother soon followed. The Big Spring is the second largest fresh water spring stream in the country and as such, it drew settlers wishing to capitalize on its potential. Laughlin built the first mill on its banks in 1762. By 1817, the town of Newville had incorporated and the economy began to grow and thrive.

Laughlin Mill – four seasons.

Photo credit is given to Steve Kennedy of Newville.

We moved to Newville in 1968 when I was two years old. Over the years, I’ve grown to love my little town with its nooks and crannies. I became much more observant of Cumberland Valley’s beauty when my husband and I started riding motorcycles over ten years ago. We enjoy a nice leisurely ride on the back roads, not to mention the destination—soft serve ice cream. Chocolate/Vanilla twist please. In a cone.

During Covid, I started riding those same back roads on my pedal bike, often riding for hours just to enjoy the sites. With very little traffic on the roads, I felt like I had the valley to myself. I could tell when restrictions were lifted because I had to share the road once again. We have a lovely trail rail, but I prefer different views every day so I often ride the road instead.

It was over this time that I began noticing how beautiful my “Kansas” truly is. Here are a few of my daily views…

According to the World Population Review, Newville has a population of 1,341 as of 2021. Though it’s very small, we have big appetites. Who wouldn’t after all of those bike rides? We have a few places to satisfy your cravings.

Now that restaurants are open again, as you are going through town, you can stop for a delicious “Skirt Burger” at Jaymee Lee’s Diner, or Stromboli with fresh made bread at Kane’s Korner Pizzeria. Craving a cheeseburger sub with crunchy-crispy-but-airy french fries? I recommend Brother’s Pizza. You can park your car (or bike) at the fountain and walk to all three eateries. I recommend going back to Kane’s for some Goose Brother’s homemade ice cream. 

Sorry, we don’t have a fitness center. But you’re welcome to ride your bike on the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail and you can easily get to downtown Newville from there. Just be very careful about speeding through town. I can tell you from experience that it is well patrolled by our local law enforcement. 🙂

I love our Newville Print Shop where the owner puts out soft water taffy for his customers during the summer—when he comes back from his trip to the shore. He keeps a small spiral notebook with a hand-written record of the copies I make there in his shop. I pay him every few years when he remembers to tally up my tab. Every time I go into the shop, he tells me he needs to get my total figured up and I always say, “sure thing, just let me know when you do.” 

Then there’s the local bank where they feed the local cat. I barely had the front door open one day when something dashed around my feet into the bank. A bit alarmed, I mentioned it to the teller who nonchalantly said, “oh…that’s the neighborhood cat. It’s ok, we feed it every day.” The cat ran back behind the counter to its usual feeding spot. I smiled. Only in Newville, I muttered to myself.

I shop at the same grocery store where my mother shopped when I was a little girl. We don’t have the fancy organic section that many superstores do, and sometimes I ask for ingredients that seem foreign to the stock clerks, but Saylor’s Market has THE best homemade Bavarian cream filled chocolate icing donuts you’ll ever taste. Just make sure you get there early in the day. The early bird gets the…donut.

As I’m writing this, I keep checking the clock—it’s gotta be time for lunch soon!! All this writing about food is making me hungry and I think I might be forgetting the purpose of this particular post…
Ah yes. I just wanted to show you around my town and welcome you to my “Kansas.”

Mother’s Day Musings from a Childless Musician.

It’s September 7, 2018 and I am on my way to Ontario, Canada, to participate in a “Mother’s Blessing.” My niece, Paige, is expecting her first baby and my sister, Aspen, has planned something unique. This isn’t going to be a normal baby shower, if I know my sister.

Aspen will do all she can to make sure the women gathered will connect with each other on a “below-the-surface” level, even though some of us will be meeting each other for the first time. Our common bond is womanhood and Paige. We are there to celebrate and to offer emotional support in Paige’s final stages of pregnancy.

At this gathering, we most likely won’t be playing games (which is fine with me.) It will be filled with ceremonial-type experiences; singing, candles, sharing, laughter and tears. That’s just the way my family is. 

My siblings and I were raised to contemplate. We went deep. Our conversations were usually centered around spirituality—serious matters. Our words and activities were chosen carefully. We continue that tradition, even today. So I know this upcoming occasion will be meaningful.

We’ve all been asked to come prepared to share nuggets of wisdom. (See what I mean?!) Not words written in a card or in the front of a baby book, but spoken out loud, in front of the group. Just the thought of this makes me nervous. I tend to be very quiet when I’m at a baby shower. I feel awkward…like a single woman at a friend’s wedding. 

I’m puzzled by this rush of feelings. As a musician who performs in front of people, I love sharing songs, stories and life-experiences (wisdom) with audiences. But for some reason, I feel very inadequate and unworthy to give advice in this scenario. 

As I drive through the mountains near Williamsport, PA, I realize I probably feel inadequate because I’m not a mother. I’ve never conceived or given birth to a human. I’m a daughter, sister, aunt (even a great, great one) and wife. But I’m not a mother and I’ll never be a grandmother (a reality that I didn’t fully grasp until my friends started having grandchildren.)

So as I’m making the eight hour trip, I ponder how to handle the upcoming gathering. I have plenty of time to think. 

A voice in my head says, “Who are you to share any wisdom with Paige? What could you possibly tell her? You don’t know anything about being a mother. People will think you’re stupid for even thinking you have anything to contribute. Your words will seem useless.”

The childless part of me wants to turn around and go home. The aunt part of me keeps driving.

Another voice, more soft and barely discernible, seems to say, “Talk to her as a woman, not as a mother. Tell her what you wish you could tell every woman—mother or not. You’ve heard the lament of enough “empty-nesters” who say that once their babies grow up and leave, they [the mothers] wonder who they are and what their life will consist of beyond their family.” 

The creative musician part of me thinks about writing a song. 

I pull into a McDonald’s in Bath, New York, order a sausage, egg and cheese McMuffin (a treat usually reserved for road trips) and start writing. 

What is the one thing I want to tell Paige? It will take me the rest of the weekend in Canada to finish the song just in time for the celebration. 

As Mother’s Day 2021 approaches, I still feel the complicated feelings many women feel at this time of year, on this weekend. But as I’ve had time to reflect and think about what I’d say to women in general, not just mothers, I’d still say what I said in this song to Paige…

And oh, by the way…Paige gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Nova Rose, on October 6, 2018. 

The song has not yet been professionally produced, so I feel like I’m showing you a newborn baby. 

At Home?!

Are titles significant?

I believe they are!

Coming up with a subtitle for Portraits of White every year is a challenge. Even if ticket buyers never see a subtitle printed anywhere, it helps me focus and serves as a compass for the year’s worth of necessary planning.

By Candlelight – 2019For example, in 2019, once I decided on the title Portraits of White By Candlelight, I was able to imagine what the show would entail and could structure my ideas around those two words…By Candlelight. 

Ivory & Ice – 2020? I was 95% sure that the subtitle for this year’s Portraits of White would be Ivory & Ice. I was 100% determined to find a way to incorporate ice skating into the 2020 production. Since you’ll see some footage of me skating in the DVD we’ve created, I guess you could say it sort of happened. Not quite the same but…

When I was a young girl, I had two loves…playing the piano and ice skating. The show has the potential to bring those two loves together IF I could just figure out a way to have the show at an ice rink. LOL!

You can see a mockup of our idea…a rough draft poster idea for what might have been.

When we landed on the subtitle Ivory & Ice, something else happened. All of my bells and whistles went off inside and I had the strange sensation that it could also be the title of a book…my book perhaps?!

You see, there’s a much bigger story behind the show than just the loss of my two brothers and my journey with Christmas. Something powerful happened to me when I took up figure skating the same year that I started the show in 2014. It’s as if I stepped into a time machine, was transported back to my childhood to a place of freedom and joy. It had such a profound affect on me that it became the seed for my 2016 album release, Brand New Me.

I don’t know if I’ll actually ever really finish this book, let alone allow anyone to read it. I don’t know if I’d actually end up calling it Ivory & Ice either. I DO know that I sense the need to write the story down, for my own sake. Writing organizes my emotional closet. I think you’ve heard me say that before. I’ve heard others say that too.

When COVID hit, I not only wrestled with parting with this year’s subtitle idea, but it looked like the show itself wouldn’t be happening. In fact, by August, I had given up on the show for 2020.

At Home – 2020!

My team had played around with various subtitle ideas appropriate for everyone’s new 2020 “normal” and the moment someone suggested At Home, something inside me said, YES! Then, I got the DVD idea. I poured myself into the Portraits of White At Home idea and I am delighted to have something to offer that everyone can watch while they stay home this year. 

Now, as I start to recover from trying to cram a year’s project into about four weeks, I find writing is a great way to rejuvenate the creative side of me and I’ve picked up my pencil again.

Now that you know all of that…this journal entry will make more sense.  😉

Journal entry: March 16, 2020 – Monday

“Sunday morning I got up and started writing my book “Ivory and Ice”. I feel compelled to write it, now that I have a title and I’ve finished Robert McKee’s book, Story. (Due to the Corona Virus, we didn’t have church, though it was online.) 

Reading the intro of Richard Paul Evan’s book, The Broken Road, has inspired/compelled me for the first time to START! I had inklings before, but it never felt quite right. When we came up with Ivory & Ice for Portraits of White, something clicked inside. 

I have pretty much been forced to put Portraits of White on hold with this virus. Trying to confirm a venue just got even more complicated. So it’s on hold, which somehow frees up emotional space to write…or start writing my story. I pulled out more journals yesterday to research the one big inciting incident that began to separate mother and me. [A crucial part of my story.] It appears that it happened in 1997, but so far I can’t find any writings on it. 

But one thing has become clear to me as I read back through my writings. I’ve sown a ton of seeds of prayer and scripture. It has certainly been my life-line. Yet, I feel as if I don’t see much fruit as a result of it. In fact, in the natural, things look more bleak than ever. 

Father, do you hear me? Do you hear my cries? Am I totally missing something? If so, what? I keep calling out to you. Show me great and mighty things I haven’t known or seen. Please. 

Father, I’m asking for an entire, strong, powerful encounter and outpouring of Your divine love.”

Order your Portraits of White At Home DVD HERE.

Deeper Trust

The Spring Concert Series that never took place due to COVID-19.

Journal entry: March 14, 2020 – Saturday

“Postponed video shoot for my Spring Concert Series…

Email from Senator Bob Casey made me decide to wait. Why risk?

Did my usual housecleaning and my 1 1/2 hour bike ride along the spring. Worked in the yard after lunch—head start on the spring weeds.

Church cancelled tomorrow…virus.

Listened to an interview with Rick Bright on research for a vaccine. Fascinating. A Kansas farm kid, government chickens, eggs…the process for making a vaccine and the market needed to produce it, buy it.

For now schools are cancelled…more gigs lost. 

Oh well. 

Deeper trust.”

I was reading The Broken Road, by Richard Paul Evans at the time. (I highly recommend it.) When I’m reading a book, I often copy phrases into my journal that stir me or help me express what I’m feeling. It takes me longer to finish a book when I do this, but I find that the impact of the book lingers long past the reading of it. 

The phrase I wrote in my journal on March 14 was a perfect way to describe how this unwanted virus was making me feel at the time…and I still feel this way today.

“It was a game of emotional chess.”  

A Mixture of Joy and Depletion.

I feel a strong mixture of joy and depletion. It’s a familiar feeling that I’ve grown accustomed to when it comes to sharing my music with the world. 

I have just completed the first phase of the Portraits of White 2020 At Home DVD/USB project.  It was a last-minute idea that took me by storm the day it popped into my brain the last weekend in September.

This project is a collection of all the things people have loved about the winter concert over the years, all in one package! It’s really a Portraits of White musical scrapbook containing video footage from the past six years, a few new surprises and some bonus features all woven together into one delightful experience.

My hope is that you’ll feel as if you are attending this year’s Portraits of White, in person, while staying at home.

The video masters and project artwork are now in the hands of the manufacturer and we are planning on it being ready in time for Christmas. Once again, people have rallied around my idea and are placing their orders!

I started out in January with lots of creative ideas for Portraits of White 2020, but they were slowly swallowed up by the pandemic. I soon lost my creative spark for the beloved winter show and poured myself into my daily Hit Pause sessions on Facebook LIVE. 

The fact that I have anything to offer related to Portraits of White this year is a miracle. It has not come without a struggle, but nothing of value rarely comes struggle-free.

I have found that when we share our struggles, others often find encouragement. So for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing excerpts from my journal with you and it seems appropriate to start with that frightful day in March…

March 13, 2020 – Friday

Corona Virus has caused a lot of shutdown. 

Church, government. Encouraged to stay home and only go out as necessary. 

Concerts cancelled. Baseball. Boston Marathon. Maryland schools closed for two weeks. 

I was supposed to shoot a video for my Spring Concert Series tomorrow, but I’m not sure we should do that. I’m waiting to hear from the venue.

I’m trying to find my way through so much muck. I usually have a scripture I hold on to through seasons like this, but I feel like I’m grabbing at straws. So I go to the last time I felt the whisper of the Spirit…Song of Songs…”let Him kiss you.” 

A few phrases from Song of Songs that jump out at me:

“I am at rest in this love.” I want to know what that feels like. Lord, please skip over the hills that separate you and me and come to me. Gaze into my soul, peering through the portal, blossom within my heart! Draw me to your heart and lead me out. Father, help me identify the little sly foxes in my heart that hinder our relationship, for they raid our budding vineyard of love to ruin what you’ve planted within me. Help me catch them and remove them. Please, can we do it together? I give you permission.

I know for sure that this book (Song of Solomon) is calling me closer to Him as I read. I can tell He must want to love me and tell me of His love through it, but my heart has so much resistance (or maybe my soul/brain) that I can tell it will take lots of soaking time to penetrate my terrorized soul. 

To learn more about Portraits of White or to order your DVD/USB, click here

Thanks Mother!

Since my Mother was the one who made sure I had time and resources to nurture my love for the piano, it seems appropriate to start this special week of ticket sales off (honoring National Piano Month) with a tribute to her life and to all mothers who take time to invest in their children.
September 24, 2014, my Mother, Bertha Mae Sollenberger Crider Heisey went home to heaven. It was the first year of the Portraits of White concert and she never got to see it.
My sister posted this on FaceBook the day she died.
Wednesday morning, 7:48 September 24, 2014
Bertha is gone. It is done.
Just a gradual fade at the end,
less and less breath….
And then the last.
I was with her all night and at the end.
No struggle.
Peaceful departing.
This part of the journey is over, and a new one begins.
September 24, 2014 6:55 am
Sunrise officially is 6:59 …. Good choice, Mother.
Bon voyage!

“Go Figure!”

I spend anywhere from four to seven hours a day practicing the piano for the annual Portraits of White music extravaganza. The first year I decided to do the show, I prayed that God would confirm that His hand was in this adventure by leading me to a grand piano of my own.

If you’re going to spend that many hours practicing, it’s important to have a good piano to practice on. Every piano has a unique touch and feel. I wanted a piano that would make my muscles work hard and be ready for the grand piano we would rent for the show. Just like you don’t want to run a marathon without having spent a lot of time getting your muscles in shape, so you want your fingers to be ready for the show!

As we celebrate National Piano Month, it seems appropriate to tell the amazing story behind the piano that I now have in my studio. It all came about thanks to Portraits of White.

Ever since I was a young piano student and my piano teacher purchased a new baby grand piano, I could tell a big difference in the way the new grand played compared to her old spinet. From that moment, I began to dream of, wish for and beg God for one of my own.

I spent all of my life practicing on my Mother’s old Wurlitzer and was grateful to have it when my husband and I bought our first home.

In January of 2014, I asked my husband if this could be the year I could get a grand piano. Most of my music income has been invested back into my CD projects and building a career in music. Since I decided to move ahead with the first Portraits of White concert, I felt it was time to look for a baby grand. I knew I’d be spending lots of time at the piano preparing for this concert.

We agreed that this would be the year, determined a budgeted amount we could afford for a used grand and I prayed that God would lead me to the right one for me. Tom was going to talk to our man at the bank and see if we could get a loan.

I had been in counseling working through some issues and my counselor advised me to take up skating—knowing it was something I loved to do as a young girl. I took her advice and loved it so much, I hired a coach to work with every week. I skated a few hours a day, five days a week, I loved it so much!

The week after Tom and I decided to commit to finding a piano for me, I walked into the rink (around 6:00 a.m.) and my coach greeted me in his cheery British accent. (He had been Great Britain’s men’s figuring skating champion in 1989). He said, “You’re a musician, do you happen to know anyone looking for a grand piano?” I think my jaw must have dropped to the ground. But not for long! I eagerly said, “Yes, I AM!”

They were moving to London, England and their newly purchased grand (barely used) couldn’t go along. I went to their house and played it. We made an offer and they accepted. It was less than we budgeted and we didn’t need a loan!

On February 6, 2014—my Mother’s birthday, it arrived. Dare I mention that we were in the midst of a heavy snow when it came! Perfect for Portraits of White.

There are many times I sit down at this piano and thank God for the privilege to have one of my own (after 40 years!!) and with such a special back-story. Who would have ever thought taking up figure skating could lead to an answered prayer for a grand piano! Go figure.

If you want to come to the 2018 show, click HERE for more information.

We are offering 20% off all tickets September 24 – September 28, 2018 to celebrate National Piano Month.

Highlights from Portraits of White 2017

Here’s what people have said about the 2017 show:

“I was in awe of the army of volunteers that helped make it all happen.”

“It’s unlike any other show I have gone to see. Combines that hometown feel with a professional show.”

Portraits of White 2017.

“Portraits of White is the highlight of my Christmas season and I have traveled from Houston, TX the last 3 years for this spectacular performance. I would love for my entire family to be able to attend.”

“Attending Portraits of White is like opening your Christmas present early! Once you’ve gone once you’ll anticipate it all year and you’ll never guess what surprises are in store!”

Frances Drost sings “I Love Snow” while the snow falls. : )

“Portraits of White is an evening that allows me to push pause on the chaos that typically accompanies Christmas. I get to relax and relish the joyful wonder of the holiday season. Aside from our Christmas Eve candlelight services, Portraits of White is where Christmas happens in my heart.”


“Commercialization of Christmas has worn me down over the years to the point
of numbness, but Portraits of White has rejuvenated my heart again!”

Photos by STEPH ALEX Photography.

West Shore Drum Line plays “Pat-A-Pan”.

Award-winning guitarist, Tom Hemby with Frances Drost.

Nashville conductor – Ed Kee.

Dr. Mark Hartman – Principal Violinist.

Nashville conductor – Ed Kee with Wayne Fox on piano.