Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Fan" mail

I've been getting cards and letters from some of the residents from a nursing home.  Notes telling me how much they appreciate my singing and playing there. At times it is very hard to read their handwriting and it reminds me of the days before my cochlear implant, when I had to listen very hard to understand at least one word being said out of a whole sentence and piece it all together. One  may not understand handwriting but I do understand the gesture of appreciation and it means a great deal to me.

I remember some years ago I was working in housekeeping at Omega (in NY) and I was cleaning the room of a then famous singer. (name withheld) In the trash can were several letters, cards and  notes from people telling her how much they loved her music.
I remember being stunned to find them in the trash!

See these cards pictured above? I don't plan on throwing them away. They are what gives me motivation to keep doing what I do. Thank you, M.J. for the nice letters! See you Monday! :)

Friday, December 28, 2012

This Little Light of Mine...

I'm gonna let it shine!

What fun we had today out at Mountainside Senior Living.  The group started off rather small and a bit sleepy when all of a sudden, during, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" came a big voice from behind me.   I turned to see a sprightly African American woman singing louder than any of us as she push herself in her wheelchair to join us. Or should I say, lead us. From there we sang, "Down by the Riverside", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and by the time we got to, "This Little Light of Mine" a crowd was gathering around. Usually the people in the group sing softly but this woman was a powerhouse! When we sang, "Wade in the Water" she harmonized with me as if we had been a professional duo for a long time. The others in the group noticed it too. "Wow! you are a good team!"

After each song, we gave a hearty laugh until the next song started up. We sang a bunch of Christmas songs too and ended with "Happy New Year to you" (to the tune of Happy Birthday)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Blue Christmas

Riverdale is an assisted living center in Cville and I adore the residents there.  Of all my holiday gigs, I was looking forward to this one the most.   We had a delicious lunch together and sang just about every song I had (over 40) and all the while, Misty (puppy pictured below) seemed to enjoy herself.
This gig is the last Christmas gig of the year and so it's time to put my holiday song binder away. Not just yet though.. I will leave it out on the kitchen counter where it has been since October.
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Think globally, act locally

So much sadness in U.S. lately with the shootings in CT. Sometimes it is hard to know what one person can do to make a difference. Yet I will tell you that just about every day I see people who make a difference. Ok so they are not in the National news, but here in our community, they make a difference.

Today was the annual Christmas party at a Region ten based organization. Most of the participants have severe disabilities and many of them do not have family in the area.  And yet Santa comes and brings each and every one of them not one--but a few presents! To see the joy, surprise, gratitude in their eyes as they hug Santa and receive their gifts!

This is a non-profit organization, so you have to know that it is the staff members themselves who buy the presents out of their own money. Who stand in long lines to shop. Who listen to each of them and hear the longings of what they want and go and buy it for them.

This is no small thing.  They make such a difference with so many people.

I try to do the same with my contribution of music. We sang Christmas carols until Santa arrived. After that I stayed to watch the giving of the presents--or should I say Presence.

Some of the folks are shy and won't approach Santa for a picture with him on their own. So I sought of them out and accompanied them to Santa where they got their picture taken.

If only I could be that simple again, that gleeful to be with Santa---who we all know is not what he appears to be--but we choose to believe anyway.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Glad to not be "normal"

Last night I was talking to a friend about where we find ourselves in our lives now.  I can remember times when I was younger, how I wished I could be "normal". I know, "what is normal"? well there is no normal anymore.. I don't think.  I guess whatever we are not, we sometimes think we should be.

As a child, I went through a period of standing out for various reasons (new kid in town, academically ill prepared, dressed funky when funky was not "in", etc). Secretly, I wanted to be just like others but I didn't know how to do that. (they were "normal")

Today I sang with a group at a club house where people with mental health issues hang out.  How I love their refreshing world views and delightfully eccentric ways. What I love about them is that some of them appear to be rough and tough on the outside --a person you might not want to pass walking alone on a dark street. But when they sing they are so gentle and sweet. Even a tear comes to their eyes at times.  You see how music can do this to people?

I got lots of hugs today too. I love where my life takes me now--in club houses for people who don't fit in other places. I am finding a sense of belonging with them. Growing up, I never felt I "fit in" but it's great to be with group where none of us fit into any mold or convention. We are our own unique selves. Our singing unites us with common memories of songs from the soundtrack of our lives.

No, I am not missing anything from a life I thought I should have had. I am glad I am not normal!
(above picture is from singing at Mary Williams yesterday)

Also the good part about my early years when I did not "fit in", that is when I found music --or it found me. And that has made all the difference.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I have really been enjoying singing Christmas songs with lots of groups recently. Last week I did a family holiday sing along at a library in a neighboring town.  This week and next, I sing with my nursing home groups.

This year I learned a lot more old songs and I love how the spark of recognition comes with a light in someone's eyes, a smile, tears, a look of surprise. Here are some favorites:

I'll Be Home for Christmas
Blue Christmas (of course :)
The Christmas Song
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Silver Bells
Winter Wonderland
Let it Snow
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

What are some of your favorites? Any requests?

Let's do a virtual Christmas carol event!  Skyping---that would be fun, huh?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Heart of the Forest Lives Forever

I love nature and enjoyed living near a forest out behind my house where I live. It was there I saw the Owls in the trees which inspired my song, "Owl's Dream".

 The week of Thanksgiving brought bulldozers to destroy the forest in order to build Dunlora Forest. (a new housing complex) Many of my friends keep hearing about how devastated I have been with the forest removal here.

Of all the trees in my yard, I was most attached to the one right outside of my window. There was a hollowed out hole where a family of squirrels lived for the last couple of winters.

I was happy to see that the bulldozers left this tree but then a few days ago I  was told that the tree would be cut down because it is dead and about to fall. (on my house!) This morning after a gig at a nursing home, I saw the the tree crew preparing to cut it down. I left the house to escape the noise but all the while I felt strangely calm and ok about it. I think because I know it was dead and it would not hurt the tree.

When I came home I was stunned to find the stump the way I found it pictured above!  A big beautiful heart!  I was so happy and relieved to see this! I can't help but to think it is some kind of message.  I have been asking others, "what is the good in all of this?"

Each time I look out my window now, I see this lovely heart the tree left behind. 

Love cannot be killed and the heart of the forest lives.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Peaceful music

I love to play special music for church services.  Pictured above is from an Advent service I played for at the Park Street Christian church.  Especially this time of year, I really need  quiet peace anywhere I can find it.

On that note, local folks may wish to come to the monthly Taize service I play on the second Wednesday of the month. (Dec. 12th) --it is lovely! Tonight in fact we are learning some new music! Here is a little info about it:

Taizé Evensong

Organization: Charlottesville Mennonite Church
Description: Find a little peace and stillness within the hecticness of daily life at this ecumenical Taizé service held every second Wednesday evening of the month at 8 pm at the Charlottesville Mennonite Church, 701 Monticello Ave, Charlottesville. The hour-long service follows the format of evening prayer used in the ecumenical community of Taizé in France. It is mostly a service of sung prayer with additional periods of silence, scripture reading and intercession. Other languages are used at points in the service to symbolize the worldwide Christian community.
Coffee, tea and cookies are served after the service with time for fellowship with each other.
Address: 701 Monticello Avenue
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
Contact Name: Maren Hange
Contact Phone: 434.293.8306
Contact Email:
More Info Link:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Music for cats

Hello world! This is Jasper and I am Blue's cat. I was born in her loft apartment in Nelson county nearly 7 years ago. Anyway, she does not no I am writing to you! (so don't say anything)

I wanted to tell you that sometimes I help her with her shows.  If I like a song for instance, I will let her know staring at her so hard she can't help but stop what she is doing and eventually look at me.

Today I made her laugh because I got in the bag (pictured above) and told her I wanted to go with her to her gig. I tried to tell her that I could get us more money when I do my 1-800-Save-the Animals Look.  We could have tuna every night for dinner then!!

Anyway  today because I made her laugh, it gave her the idea to find some Christmas jokes to say at her Christmas program at the library next week. Here are a few (they made me laugh):

Q. Why is Santa so good at karate?
A. Because he has a black belt!

Q. What do elves learn in school?
A. The elf-abet.

Q. What did Mrs. Claus say to Santa when she looked in the sky?
A. "Looks like rain, dear."
What does Santa Claus use when he goes skiing? A North Pole.

What do you call a chicken at the North Pole? Lost. 

Ha ha! Ok I have to go because mommy is home!--jasper

Friday, December 7, 2012

Goosebumps & grey days

Sometimes a grey day makes the simple things stand out all the more.  The nursing home where I played today is out near Madison county (pictured above is a photo of the view from their yard). I have craved a quiet place amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season upon us.

I had the day to myself, so when I started singing, it was the first time I heard my voice out loud today. I sing with a microphone here and this is something most homes don't have. Usually it is noisy and chaotic with many distractions to overcome.

As I sang, a few times I got the goosebumps. I love it when that happens! To me that says, magic is afloat. I am not claiming that it comes solely from me--it is about all that is taking place in that moment. Something about the quality of presence of everyone in the room. The alchemy of spirit the music brings that transports me.

The goosebumps came during some Christmas songs. Some of those melodies are haunting, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "O Come all Ye Faithful."
The whole time I was singing above the smiling faces and singers among me I could see out the window the view pictured above.
Such peace.. I needed it, don't we all? I  will look at this picture when I feel stressed and remember there are quiet places and places where I shared music.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tears & Laughter & Christmas

Today singing with a group, there were tears and laughter as we worked our way through the soundtrack of our lives. Songs from school and camp days and now holidays to come. I've always thought that when a song brings you to tears, that is one of the best feelings there is. It is a kind of sadness that feels good. I've often been brought to tears from hearing a song, even if I didn't know the words to it. Then I cried even more once I learned the words.

Christmas time comes during a time when the dark comes early. Both literally and figuratively speaking. With all the commercials to spend money (we don't have) or visit family (who have passed on for some), it can be a challenging time of year.

All religious parables talk about finding the light in the darkest days. That is what winter time is about. Music brings us there faster than anything. No sooner have we been brought a shade of darkness, a ray of light comes up with another song. And so it goes.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A rose is a rose is a rose

How I love roses. Today I was feeling tired but drove out to a nursing home out in Crozet and sang with a group out at the nursing home there. They were so lively and animated and into it that I forgot all about being tired. They helped me so much. That is what some people don't understand. They think I am nice for doing what I do but in reality--the people I see and sing with help me! It is a two way street. I need them, they need me. Together, we help each other to remember the good things in life.

I was given this bouquet of roses by the activities director today from all of the residents and I was so touched. I am so happy that every day I can do something I love and they love me in return. We all benefit. That's the way the world should be, I think. What about you?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Just another day

I'm enjoying the holiday spirit already in the air.  I especially love the decorations and lights. I have been polishing up my Christmas songs. I am very pleased that I decided to not go away for Christmas and instead, I will be playing at some nursing homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. One of them put on her calendar, "Blue Christmas" --ha ha. Yes, I know that song and I play it on my dulcimer.

Tonight I was playing at another nursing home and encountered a daughter of one of the residents. I said something about being happy for it being the holiday season and she said about Christmas, "it's just another day!" and walked away.   I said we should try to feel this way all the time, not just on one day.  And she replied, "it's still just the same day!"

But I don't feel that way. Look at the picture above and what you cant' see are all the names of the residents on the stockings. Some of them will not even know their own name is up there but that is what the staff does at these places.

Some nursing homes I believe the staff buy things for the residents out of their own money.  This is what I see in my work. It makes me feel that Christmas is not just another day, but an attitude, a spirit to cultivate. I am getting there, how about you?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sweetest are shortest

Have you ever noticed that the sweetest and prettiest songs are the shortest? Songs like, "Let me Call you Sweetheart" for instance.  On the other hand, the funny songs like 'Clementine" go on and on.  I never thought about it before but today when I was singing at Gordon House I noticed this and mentioned it. 

I loved singing with the group (seniors) today.   First we sang old songs we learned in school, "Oh Susana", "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad", "Down by the Riverside" and then we did some songs from old movies, "Side by Side",  "Cheek to Cheek", we even did a few old hymns. But no songs went over better than the patriotic ones.

We ended our session with, "God Bless America" and one gentleman stood up and most of the others had their hand on their  heart as we sang.  Goosebumps! They make me feel the importance of how these songs bring us together.

After we finished, I was treated to several hugs, handshakes and one woman came back after shaking my hand and kissed me on the cheek.

Who knew that such simple songs could bring so much love and hope?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where words fail...

Music reaches in. Today's experiences at the hospital were so uplifting. I started out in the Cardiac Transition Unit (CTU) and was introduced to a man who teaches guitar. He stood behind me for awhile and listened. I play in the hallways there so that as many patients as possible hear the music. He was very appreciative!

Then I had a request to go play for a young man who has a guitar in his room. The nurse thought he'd appreciate me playing for him. When I first entered the room, he seemed very down and withdrawn.  Then I got out my guitar and played for him the piece that inspired me to start playing the guitar which is Classical Gas.  It evolved into him and I jamming which was a lot of fun! I asked him what chords he'd like for me to play and he showed me a few of his favorite progressions and he played a lead to my chords. In all the years I've been playing at the hospital, this was a first time doing something like this.

By the time I left, the color in his face had come back and he was smiling and in good spirits. We didn't talk much but as I said.. when words fail....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A day in the life...

Do you wonder what things go on when I am not working? Well, first of all, I am always working! :) But maybe not on a job site but at home. Above is a picture of my music stand that shows a few things I'm working on.  The list includes:

  • holiday music
  • studying songwriting books for my songwriting classes coming up in Jan.
  • arpeggio studies to keep my technique up
  • new music to keep learning and growing
  • new compositions & repertoire
Yesterday I drove to Winchester, VA to video tape a PBS show called Aux Send which will be aired in March 2013.

Next week a new song, "Winter's Friend" will be released on a holiday compilation CD and distributed to folk radio stations all over.

I enjoy the work involved with being a musician. I love the challenges of always working to improve my skills to be able to reach more people.
Thanks for coming by and check my website for more info if you want!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Q: What language are you speaking?

A: Music

Played at a nursing home today and as I was singing someone interrupted in the middle of a song and asked me, "what language are you speaking?" where are you from? " (with a critical tone of voice and unpleasant facial expression).
I should have said, "I am speaking Music: the Universal language--try it!"

She was being critical earlier saying I was singing too high for them and other things. Most of my stories and experiences are very positive but once in awhile something like this happens. 

Everyone's voice is like a snowflake, unique and different. But sometimes it seems people want a voice to sound a certain way. I think embracing our own uniqueness is important.

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't sing!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Christmas is not just one day

Ok I know it is not even Thanksgiving yet but today the group I sang with wanted to sing Christmas carols.  I was reminded of something an elderly neighbor friend used to say to me, "Christmas is not just one day!"

Today's group is very special to me, they have special needs and are all very unique. What often happens when singing with them is we have several train wrecks and times of confusion. Times when some are singing another song or something else is going on in the room and things get chaotic. It was getting like this and for a moment I had to catch my breath (and turn down my hearing aid :) to get through it.

But then something magical happened and it's these moments that I live for. What happened was at one point I asked the group if anyone wanted to sing a song. Then one girl who is usually very shy (at least when I am around) said, "I do!" and she jumped out of her chair and walked to the front of the room and started singing, "Jingle Bells".  After that, several of them came to the front of the room and we featured them as a soloist who led a Christmas song.

This is why I love Christmas. It brings out such joy to these people. They are already talking about Santa coming to town and our party we will have in a few weeks.  It really made my day to see them so happy and to sing with them.

When we were done singing one of them said, "I love you". Another walked me to the door and before I could leave she said, " Wait, I have to do something to you" and reached out and hugged me. My old neighbor was right, Christmas is not just one day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Going with the flow

Remember that song, "If I had a Hammer"? It's one I've been singing with groups lately. Yesterday I sang it with the group at Post High and this is the song that inspired one of the girls to get up and start dancing. A few other kids then followed and then I stood up and danced a bit too all the while still playing my guitar and singing. Once that song finished,  I started singing, "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley and we kept dancing and laughing.   After we sang and danced a bit, the same girl who was dancing started singing that old song by Queen, "We will Rock you!"That made us laugh all the more.

This is what I love about doing music with people. If I just get out of the way and let things happen, some of the  best memories are created.  Sometimes I find it challenging to work with a group dynamic.  There is no telling what song will strike a chord or what song will be a dud. I am always surprised and always learning!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How singing transforms the moment

Each Wednesday evening I play music in the hallways over at a nursing home as the residents are getting ready for bed. The music helps them relax during what appears to be an anxious time for many of them. I usually play more instrumental music but tonight I decided to sing more with them and see what happened.

 One woman I have seen each week  but she is always sitting off near the nursing station and trying to get out of her wheelchair and always in a state of intense discomfort and anxiety. I never tried to reach out to her because it didn't seem to me that she was aware of her surroundings or that she could understand conversations, etc.

Tonight one of the nurses pushed her in her chair near me and told her to listen to the music. I then started to sing to her, "You are My Sunshine" and to our amazement, she stopped struggling and started singing with me.  We must have sang about 9 or 10 songs after that.  Finally, with great difficultly, she slowly started to talk to me.  I found out she is also from Chicago and she was a teacher for preschool children.  I was amazed to meet the person behind the face that never looked responsive for all these months. It was as if the music brought her to life and made her remember who she is. I was so moved by this experience and blown away by how singing a song can transform a mood of anxiety or fear or confusion.  I have known this but each time it happens with someone new, I am blown away all over again.

When I went to leave, Mary didn't want me to go. She looked as though she might cry but one of the nurses said she would sit with her and so Mary said it would be alright for me to come back next week and sing some more.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

God Bless America

Today is election day and after voting I went to sing with the folks at Mary Williams Center.   We sang some funny songs and old songs and since it is election day, I decided to sing some patriotic songs.  For years I sang these songs and they never drew an emotion from me. Lately though when  I have sung them with seniors and as they tear up, I can feel that these songs represent something that is important. Something that feels lost right now.  We are such a divided nation.

As we sang, "God Bless America", Rosie began to cry. This is a side I've never seen of her. She is the most animated singer I have ever known. She always sings with gusto and acts out the songs and laughs after each one. But not this time. She cried and said, "I'm so far away from home. This means so much to me. Please keep coming back.  I always love to sing when you are here, it brings us all together."

So when I feel helpless to change the things going on in the big world out there, I do feel better that today one person was moved by the songs we sang together.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A fine jam was had by us!

Ok remember a few weeks ago when I told you about the man who came to my sing along towards the end carrying a guitar? and how he surprised me with how well he could play? Well, this time I got his picture. I was to arrive today at 3:30 but I was told when Ed learned I was coming, he got out his guitar and was waiting by the door for me since 2:30! Here is where and how I found him.

And we did have a fun time jamming today. We played "I saw the Light", "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain", "You Are My Sunshine" and all sorts of other songs. I was a good time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Growing older is a privilege

Today I visited an assisted living center where I have gotten to become friends with some of the residents. After we sang, "The Hammer Song", Melanie told me about when she saw Peter, Paul and Mary in concert years ago. This led to talking about Pete Seeger and I mentioned he was still alive and still making music in his 90s. Then Helen said she is 93 and we all agreed she didn't look it.  All of this led to talking about aging and I said I thought it was a shame that so many people talk so negatively about getting older. Then Melanie said, "it's a privilege".  And when I asked her why, she said, "because we have wisdom." And then I remembered the quote above and told it to her and she said, "yeah that too."  I feel lucky to have elder friends who inspire me. I don't dread my elder years because like the saying goes, it is a privilege denied to many.

A festive jukebox

One of the things I like about playing music at different senior homes is that I love the decorations I see when holidays approach. I never decorate my house for holidays so it is a real treat to go and see each place done up differently.  I used to love jukeboxes and have many fond memories spending many quarters to play favorite songs. I think we should bring jukeboxes back, don't you? They are neat looking such fun to look over all the song titles.

Today was the day after Hurricane Sandy. I was grateful that this area came through it without power outages and damage.   I was looking so forward to today when I  would go sing at two nursing homes.  It is a good feeling to have a job I love to go to so much. I can remember many other jobs wishing for a snow day! Here I was wishing for a work day! Well.. work is play for me, so that makes a difference too.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A unique audience member

I know most people cringe at the sight of a bird in a cage but this is one bird that has a good home. This is George and he is blind. He lives at Mountainside senior living in Crozet. He loves music! He sat very still and quiet as I sang with the residents all the songs I could think of. He sure is handsome, don't you think so?

It was a good time singing too. I loved the smiles we had and the sharing of memories connected with the songs.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Keeper of Time

Today I led some rhythms at a drum circle at JABA. I showed the group a heartbeat rhythm and they accompanied me while I improvised on my Native American style flute. Then I showed them an African rhythm we played for awhile. We also played rhythms led by Douglas (pictured above) and it was just a nice way to spend time with everyone. 

Earlier this morning I did an object writing exercise I learned from a songwriting book. All you do is pick a random object and write for 10 minutes on it.  Don't think about it or try to plan or control what comes out... just keep the pen moving. I picked my metronome which was interesting to write about. I had forgotten that I would also drum later this morning. Here's part of what came out:

keeper of time, keep me in place
tick to the universe, tock to the space
numerical wheel, red light blinks
rhythm, old as an Egyptian sphinx
you tick so loudly so i can hear
you keep soundly so there is no fear.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A wedding song

I had the honor of playing my Native American style flute in the ceremony of my dear friend Kate's wedding. It was a joyous occasion and a beautiful day.  We gathered outside in the beauty of a Indian Summer, my favorite time of year. I played a melody (or should I say, it played me) for the bridal party and bride to enter the wedding circle. I love playing music for such occasions more than any other kind of gig! Thank you dear Kate for having me be a part of your beautiful day.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Keep on the Silly Side...

When I sing at Meadowcreek, that is when I can really let out my silly side. Carol (pictured above) is my partner in crime where we like to make up parodies on the fly to old songs. Today's favorite was "Hot Dog" (to the tune of Elvis's "Hound Dog")

"You ain't nothin' but a hot dog without a french fry
you said you were a cheese dog, that was just a lie"

That led to "Love me Slender" and I made up a song about being on a diet.  It keeps me on my toes to improvise with them and it is such fun.

Above Carol posed for this picture acting out a sad song.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Don't leave me out!"

Today I sang with the folks at Mary Williams center and we had a good time as always.  I was inspired to take some pictures of a group at a table who were being particularly animated. When I finished, I heard a voice behind me ask, "did you get me in there?"  I turned around and saw Julia, looking somewhat offended  (and rightly so) and she said, "don't leave me out!"  So, above she is pictured. Julia, I did not mean to leave you out!  and thank you very much for this lesson. I then asked, "does anyone else want their picture taken?" and four more people raised their hands. It is about being seen and appreciated.  I hope I never make a mistake like I did today.

I got another lesson too when I was hit (gently) on the leg by someone's cane because I had taken her seat at the table while she was in the other room. See? singing with seniors is not for the faint of heart!   (and thank you, Pearl for that reminder --I was rude to take your chair!)

Monday, October 15, 2012

From old to young

Today was really an interesting and fun time that started with my doing a sing along with a group of seniors. We sing all the old songs we learned in school growing up and whatever else comes to mind. So, while I was in the middle of playing, "I'll Fly Away"  suddenly one of the residents came into the room with an old, beat up guitar. He approached me slowly while wearing a mischievous grin on his face. He seemed up to something.

 I kept playing the song and he sat down across from me and smiled again held his guitar for a while longer. Just when I was wondering if he just came out to show it to me or help him change his strings or something--he jumped right into the song! And boy, he could pick too! He played fast country licks and bass lines and after we ended the song he laughed a hardy laugh.  I laughed too and started playing, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and he nailed it again! We went on that way for a few more songs and I really wanted to take his picture but I felt to shy about it. Instead I found a picture of a guitar that looked like his but without his smiling face, it is not much to look at. Still, what a fun surprise!

As if that was not enough for one day...I taught my songwriting class tonight and we had just two students in the class (a teenaged boy and a girl of 10).  I led them through a songwriting prompt exercise and started working on a Thanksgiving song collaboration with them but somehow things weren't flowing. Just as I ran out of ideas of what else to show them,  the girl in the class said, "why don't we have a jam session!" and so we did. And boy did we!

Wow! She played the piano, while the other student and I played guitar. I am going to upload this on my SoundCloud page for all to hear and experience. It was just delightful to play like a child again with them. To experience the sense of wonder and the beauty that came. What a gift.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Music for horses, anyone?

Look who came to great me as I arrived to the Love for Animals sanctuary & rescue fall festival and benefit.  How I love horses!  I was first to play today at the benefit which meant that festival participants were still arriving. So that meant that the horses next to me were my most attentive audience. What would you sing to a horse?

Today I tried out lots of stuff from old Hank Williams to Blue Moon to Wade in the Water and my own songs.  I played some of my own solo guitar pieces and that is when I felt like I was really in my element. A woman approached me and asked if I had been to see the Dalai Lama on Thursday. I said I was there and she said listening to my guitar made her feel that feeling again of being there.  That felt good. That and the horse who came to greet me.

Harrisonburg International Festival

I  was honored to be a part of the Harrisonburg International Festival this year on Sept. 29th. As you may guess from the outfit I am wearing, I was there teaching traditional American songs. It sure puts a new spin on the old songs I grew up singing in school to sing them with people from other countries.  Yet it all does fit since I grew up in Chicago where all of my neighbors and classmates were from all over the world.  I sure love singing these old songs. 

It's hard to tell what song I was singing in the picture --it looks to be a serious one... or me reflecting in between choruses. In any case, just wanted to tell you about another fun experience in the journey of music adventures.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Here is my presentation video from my DC experience

Remember I told you about my presentation I gave to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (see post called "A Big Deal")  today I got the video of it. Here it is:

Friday, September 28, 2012

what a quarter can't buy

Today I sang at a new (to me) nursing home to one of the most responsive and warm group of people I've ever sung with.  We sang all of the old songs learned in school, "You are my Sunshine", "Clementine", "This Land is Your Land", "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean", etc. I am always struck by how these old, simple songs strike such a deep chord in people. I never would have imagined the happiness they can bring to us.   Each of them sang loudly with a big smile on their faces and we laughed at the funny songs and talked about the more philosophical ones.

When we sang, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", I told them the story of when I was a little girl, it was my favorite song and I would sing it to myself to sleep. My father used to get angry and come in my room and scold me and say, "I said stop that singing!" and no sooner would he close the door, I'd start up again.  We all laughed today at that story and I said, "see? it paid off didn't it? --me singing in my bed all night!" I wonder if my father as an angel smiles at me from afar when I sing these old songs he told me to stop singing.

When our hour of singing together was finished, I was approached by several of the people there hugging me and shaking my hand. One woman took out a quarter from her purse and slipped it in my hand and said, "get yourself something to drink." I said, "no, you need that for yourself!" but she only drew me to her and hugged me and kissed my cheek and said softly, "I love you."

And so I just got out of bed to tell you this story and I took a picture of this quarter to show you. It can't buy much from a store but it sure makes me smile to see it. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Way Beyond the Blue

Sang at JABA today with Ben (above) and was treated to meet Felicia (above) who truly has a gifted voice. Ben and I sang for awhile when finally he asked if I knew any gospel songs and that's when Felicia appeared and wow what a voice and spirit!   My favorite she sang was this old one, Do Lord"--see if you remember it:

Oh do Lord, oh do Lord
Oh do you remember me?
Oh do Lord, oh do Lord
Oh do you remember me?
Do Lord, oh do Lord
Oh do you remember me?
Way beyond the blue

 I was feeling a little low energy today (allergies most likely) and after singing with Ben & Felicia and the JABA gang, I am ready to conquer the world! (well, not quite but you get the idea :)

Thanks to Ben & Felicia for your uplifting music today!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beautiful America

I had the honor of playing traditional American songs at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) today where they teach refugees English. We were celebrating new American citizens. I enjoyed meeting some of our new citizens and learning about all of the work and tests they had to take to get their citizenship.  It is something we Americans don't think much about but to see their eyes light up and their faces full of pride for their accomplishment was such a good feeling. Growing up in Chicago, I have memories of being in class with kids from all over the world. Back then they didn't have ESL programs and things are very different now.

After the mayor spoke today, I led our songs, "America the Beautiful" and "My Country Tis of Thee." Then people went to have cake and chat, so I got out my mountain dulcimer and played in the background. I got a lot of people ask me about this American instrument (one of few truly American instruments)  Here is a link about the Galax dulcimer written by my teacher and master player Phyllis Gaskins.

Pictured above one of the volunteers at the IRC who was kind enough to let me take her picture.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A big deal!

I hardly know where to begin to tell you about this very important music presentation I did yesterday in DC at the American Academy of Otolaryngology's  National conference.  They found out about me from the article I had published in the March in  The Hearing Journal. The article is an in depth look at the aural rehab I did with a music teacher after the activation of my cochlear implant (CI) to regain music perception. Many CI recipients talk about the difficulty in pitch perception in music and the work I did with a music teacher helped me to retrain my brain and CI for this. (see link above for the Hearing Journal article)

So yesterday it was quite an honor to play for thousands of people all over the world on the biggest stage I've ever stepped upon.  I began the ceremony by playing instrumental guitar music (many of my own originals) as audience members were being seated. After this segment,  as I walked backstage, they played music from my CD, "Choose the Sky". It was an amazing feeling to hear my own songs being piped into a National conference.

I then waited backstage while others from the organization made their remarks and welcomes. Then my name was called and as I walked up the stage, my song, "How will I know" was playing over the intercom. I will never forget this feeling of joy walking up to the podium and the bright lights blinding me as I stood there to speak.

My speech was of my story of how otolaryngology transformed my life.  Because of my CI surgery,  my dream of becoming a professional musician has come true.  As I stated in my speech, I never felt my hearing loss interfered with my music but it created a lot of obstacles in communicating with others. How could I book gigs if I could not hear over the phone? How could I converse with venue owners on my breaks at a gig? How could i explain that I can hear well enough to perform but I could not hear enough to represent myself.

As you all know now.. because of my CI procedure, it has given me my hearing back. Not that it was a "magic wand" though and what I mean by that is --I did have to do a lot of work to regain my hearing in addition to the surgery. It is not like a "plug and play" situation like a hearing aid.  Others who know of CI recipients understand this.

So anyway.. I said my speech without having to look at my script I wrote and after that was over, I moved to center stage where my guitar was brought out to me and I sang, "Choose the Sky". Because both my speech & song had to be no longer than 5 minutes, I had to shorten my song. I chose to end the song with the line, "it's never too late to dream."

and it isn't. Keep up, all of you!

it's hard to see the image of the poster in the above picture, so here it is in a close up:

Friday, September 7, 2012

A request

Here I am with Lori at MeadowCreek after our monthly sing along. She wanted to get her picture with me and that was such a compliment. It's the second request I've gotten to be photographed with me. Little do they know, I have a slight phobia about posed photos. I never seem to look like myself and always seem to have my eyes half closed, or a double chin or something very unflattering. There, I just revealed how vain really am! ha ha! No.. really.. I wanted to post this because I can't say enough how much these people inspire and uplift me. Here we are in the middle of a brutal election, a terrible recession, new cheap housing developments going up next door and all over town, etc. There are lots of negative things to think about. But a single smile from one of these people makes me know that life is much bigger than all that negative stuff.

We do look happy though, huh? Smile, you're on candid camera! (not really...and yes I just dated myself! :)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Rainy day picnic

There was a time when rain on a day of a picnic was bad news. But considering the drought we have been having after this really hot summer, a day of soaking rain is good news!  It has been a long standing joke that if you want to bring rain, have a picnic or any outdoor event and it will happen. So.. I like to think maybe we helped bring it on.

Today was the annual city therapeutic parks & recreation picnic. We had lots of fun.  Even the major, Mr. Huja graced our day and we also met Ms. Wheelchair who gave a motivational speech. We had quite a few very talented singers come up and do a number. Chris was there and sang, "Under the Boardwalk", "Stand by Me", "Sugar, Sugar" and Jessica sang some patriotic songs and Christmas songs too. We got kind of rowdy after lunch and Barbara played a bunch of Elvis songs and we played "name that tune".

Just plain, simple fun. I was just thinking the other day-when was the last time I did something just for the fun of it? It seems so much of my activities involve a goal or practice for something. So not only did we help bring on the rain, we had some fun and yet another great memory to cherish. Thanks, everyone!

The above photo is not the most exciting one of the event but the other photos came out too dark. I am waiting for other people to send me some. In the meantime... name that tune..  it is the unofficial anthem of New Orleans, the most requested Dixieland song of all time... give up?

When the Saints Go Marching in..  yes we sang that one too!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Take Me Home Country Roads

This song  is the #1 most requested song of all time in my work as a certified music practitioner at the hospital. It's not  surprising in a way though because it says "take me home".  We all want to go home. And many people I see at the hospital are from West Virginia, so the songs strikes another chord with them.

Today I was playing on one floor when a man came up to me and asked me to come with him to his wife's room.  The was a rough and tumble way about him that told me he was a country man. And sure enough, the song he wanted me to sing was the one I just told you about.

I don't often sing in patients' rooms because I mostly play quiet, soothing music to help patients relax but every now and then a patient like the one today got the good news that they are going home and that is a time to celebrate.

So I started playing "Take Me Home Country Roads" and the man sang along with me. His wife was sitting on the bed with her bags packed and looking a little embarrassed by her husband's exuberance. Next we sang "This Little Light of mine".. and changed the words to, "getting out of the hospital, I'm gonna let it shine.." and somehow that flowed into Johnny Cash, "I walk the Line" and I left them with ,"You are my Sunshine".

I enjoyed that a lot but I have to say that it was a little uncomfortable at times because the patient wasn't as into it as the husband of the patient. Sometimes this happens. The family thinks that they are doing something wonderful for their loved one to have me come in the room and they get all excited an it turns into something that is not really why I am there.

Even so.. I suspect some of her reaction was not really how she really felt because as her husband sang, "because you're mine, I walk the line,"  I could see the glimmer of happiness in her eyes and a shadow of a smile she was trying not to show. She seemed to think we should be more quiet (hospitals are worse than libraries in that way) and so I suspect that was part of her reaction.

Anyway.. a few happy songs did us all some good.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What about a sing along...

I so enjoy singing with people. My singing voice is a part of my musical life I feel most unsure of. I certainly do not have what is considered to be a "beautiful" voice.  But I have had the discussion many times about the difference between a good singer vs. a good voice. A good singer does not necessarily have to have a good  voice. They are someone who is able to communicate a feeling or message of the song. They can bring people together over a shared memory and experience. 

Today I sang at the Colonnades,  a place I've been singing at for 7 years.  I notice with interest days when everyone is very into the songs and sing along enthusiastically and everyone seems to be really enjoying it. (and I also notice the off days when no one seems to be listening--although thankfully, that hasn't happened as much lately)

So today I sang for the biggest group I've ever had there. It seemed the whole room was full and I think my favorite moment came when I was singing, "Hey, Good Lookin'" and I saw across the room  a young girl and her mother dancing around the room. The girl had been watching me with great interest for awhile and I was happy to see her dance. How to follow that one?! I sang, "Stand by Me" next.. but that is not a dance song.

Later, one of the elderly residents said to me, "you keep your singing up--it's very meaningful."   I am glad she feels that way because I sure do too. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A chairitable gesture

Today I played my shift at the hospital in the Pediatrics ICU. I play just as much for the frazzled & worried families as I do for the children.

When my work day was over, I met my one of my friends who works as a chaplain there for coffee. We were joined later by an intern chaplain  and we had a lively discussion about how every job is of equal merit. We traded stories about the folks who take our tickets in the parking lot and we were saying that there should be no social distinction between doctors or housekeepers. That everyone and all jobs are needed and valued.

As we were telling these stories, the section we were sitting in at the cafeteria was being closed down and there was a worker stacking up all the chairs on top of the tables.  Suddenly both of the chaplains  got up and put their chairs on our table and I did the same.  The man working smiled to thank us and one of the chaplains touched him on the shoulder as we walked out.

I had been feeling really tired all day but that meeting with them and esp.  stacking the chairs with them really lifted me up. (by the way, forgive the pun of the title of this post but I could not resist !: )

Friday, August 10, 2012

A gift...

Today I was singing for a group of elderly friends at one of the homes I play in monthly. I complimented one of them for her beautiful watch she was wearing. She immediately took it off her wrist and told me, "it is yours to keep!"  She smiled brightly and there was a twinkle of mischief and laughter in her eyes. I said, "no! I can't take this! you won't have anything to wear!" but she insisted, saying, "you do so much for the people, it is yours to keep." And again I tried to give it back but I could see she really wanted to give me a gift.  So I put it on and I said, "thank you." and she smiled again and did a "thumbs up" gesture.

As I was walking back to my car, I lifted it up to look at it more closely and saw that the watch is broken and does not tick. It will always read 6:25.  You can see in the picture a crack in the face of it.

but does that matter? not at all. It is all the more a sweet and thoughtful gift. It makes me smile every time I look at it. Does it matter what time it is anyway?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Songwriting classes to start in Sept!

Hello out there aspiring songwriters!

I am pretty excited to announce that I will be teaching a songwriting class at a wonderful music school out in Fluvanna, Stevens Music School. It is just 12 miles outside of C'ville. It is going to be on Monday night from 7-8:pm beginning Sept. 10th.

The class will have some structured writing exercises and we'll talk about chord progressions, techniques to use to add color to your guitar playing and all sorts of things.  We'll have time to share our songs too--there will be no critiquing --as there is no right and wrong way to write a song!

It is going to be a lot of fun, a lot of learning and sharing and growing! Come join us in a supportive and nurturing  setting.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Something in the way chi moves...

Today I went to Mary Williams Center, thinking it was my day to come sing with the folks there. Well, it wasn't the right date but they fit me in anyway and I am glad I stayed. For, after lunch, I was treated to finally meet Hiromi, the Tai Chi teacher I have heard so much about for many years. I joined in her class and I was very impressed with her gentle, strong presence and skillful ways.  I loved how she made Tai Chi accessible for the elderly and people with limited mobility.   Many years ago I took a Tai Chi class and I never envisioned being able to do the same moves while sitting in a chair.  Hiromi guided us through some deep breaths and moves and at the end she came around to everyone to see where they had pain.  For some it was their shoulders, others their knees and she came around to each of us and put her hands on wherever we hurt. I had a small pain in my back and I was amazed with the heat I felt from her hands. Wow! What a powerful healer she is, I left pain free!  I felt very inspired by her and I realized that since I no longer have a 9-5 job where I have a supervisor to answer to and I am my own boss, I am lacking in daily personal reminders of doing the best job I can do.  It is good for me to have role models and Hiromi is definitely that for me. I hope I can take more classes with her soon.

Above is a picture from the class. All ages were welcome!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Here is a video I had done for my title song, "Choose the Sky"  featuring  beautiful photos of the sky submitted to me by friends. (and some of my own) Thanks to Rachel Chaikof for compiling this video for me!

Fun at Meadowcreek

Here are some of my friends I sing with at Meadowcreek each month. Today's highlight was making up our own words to songs.  It can sometimes get to be a bit chaotic in the room as sometimes attention wanes or other things are going on.  To remedy this, I just "go with the flow" and get spontaneous and make up new words. This gets us laughing and being in the moment. It is a lot of fun when that happens!

We sang, "Someone's crazy Lord, Kumbaya" (laughter) and "Someone's lazy my Lord, Kumbaya"
and made up new verses to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken".

I asked them what language the words, "Que Sera Sera" were in and everyone said English.   Interesting that when a song becomes so well known, you can pass over the words without thinking about the language or what they mean. I believe they are in Spanish (looked it up) although I always thought the language was French. What do you think?

Back at WTJU

I was a radio announcer at WTJU from 1990-2009 or so.  I stepped back from it to focus on other things and this past July I have returned to the Eclectic Woman Show.  It was given a new time slot which is Tues. 12-2pm. Tune in and have a listen! Rebecca Foster is the main host and I help out once a month or so. You can hear the live stream by going to the

The picture above was taken by special guest and local Charlottesville songwriter Anne O'Brien.  That's Nathan Moore, the station manager setting up the mics and Liz plugging in her amp and me at the soundboard.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Just minutes before everything went dark....

These are photos my friend Norm Carter took of the concert at Rapunzels. Above, we were having a jam session just minutes before the power went out! Some folks are still without power from that storm 5 days ago!