Monday, December 30, 2013

Hello everyone, Goodbye 2013


I am writing you from gloomy, cloudy and cold NJ. I've been here for Christmas visiting my family. I have had a break from my music and work and I am really looking forward to getting back to it. I went up to New Paltz this past weekend and attended a sacred chanting meditation at the Unison Arts Center.   (pictured above) It was the only music I took in this week and it was calming after a week of riding buses and trains in the traffic and pouring rain.

2013 has been a good year for me and I am looking forward to the new year ahead. I have some ideas I want to explore for music work. For one thing, I plan to record my wedding repertoire and work on doing ceremony gigs. I also want to do something new I will call for now a Sound Journey. It will be a meditative musical journey using my HAPI drum , Native American flute and guitar.  I have been experimenting with ideas and look forward to offering more new experiences with music this year.

In the meantime,  local readers please consider coming to see me perform at First Night Virginia! I will be part of a singer/songwriter series and my set will be short but dynamic and fun!
I am sure I'll be blogging about that adventure.

Meanwhile, time to pack up and catch the Northeast Regional train back to Virginia.

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas  holiday!



Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter's Friend

I like winter. I grew up in snowy, windy and cold Chicago and I remember some bitter cold winters there.  I used to take long walks to school in the snow.  Even though I had my gloves on, I can remember not being able to write with a pen for awhile as my hands were so frozen. Sometimes I couldn't talk very well either, as my face was frozen. Yes, cold!

What I love about winter is that it is so quiet.  In the summertime one hears constant streams of noise from car stereos blasting, people playing in the park, lawn mowers and weed whackers. In the autumn we have leaf blowers. Winter.... no one is around! Look at the picture above, quiet and peaceful. There is something about winter that invites us to go within.

In summer I feel pressured to go, go, go and be out until it gets dark around 9pm. But winter? It is ok to spend hours inside playing my guitar. Reading a book. Drinking coffee or hot chai. I love the smell of a wood stove burning. I don't even mind having to wear sweaters and such.

I know many people really dislike winter and so I wanted to write a song that talks about all the things I like about it. I feel that winter gets a bad rap. So here is my song "Winter's Friend" to hear and enjoy. This may be my last post for awhile as I leave on the morning train for NJ for the holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone!!



Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday cheer


Today I went to visit a friend who is in a mental health facility and I brought my guitar on the chance the staff would let me sing with the patients. It's always a bit difficult getting such things approved for places like that but the man on duty was immediately open to the idea.  We had to wait awhile for him to gather the patients and get an extra staff member to accompany us.

We were led to outdoor balcony where we sang for nearly an hour all the Christmas songs we knew.  It was really something to see faces people's faces change from looking sad and overwhelmed to smiling and laughing and clapping.

By far the favorite song was "Feliz Navidad". When I introduced it, I said: "This song makes everyone want to get up and dance!" and that is just what they did. There was a woman visiting her mother and as they danced happily together dosey doeing, I wanted to stop and take their picture.  Another woman tried to get someone to dance with her and when no one agreed to, she danced by herself.

Later as we sang some of the more contemplative songs, I saw one mans eyes fill with tears and a tear came to my eyes too.   The whole setting and time we had together was heart warming. As my father had mental health issues (a result from his service in the Korean War), I have always had a soft spot in my heart for others who suffer from such an affliction. I also know that this time of year can be especially difficult for people without family or friends around them.

Once again I was touched to bear witness to the power of music to transform. Even those who came out on the balcony initially skeptical or seemingly reluctant to join in did so.

Have you done much holiday singing?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The holidaze are definately here!

So how are you all doing with the shorter days, the cold and the intensity building as Christmas approaches? I know tonights' full moon is partly responsible for feeling overwhelmed.  I hope you can stop and fix yourself a nice cup of tea and relax.

For me I am taking things one day at a time. Today I sang at two different places.  The club house I have told you about before. What I love about it is that some of these people look on the outside jaded and harsh. But they will sing, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and all the rest of the favorites with as must gusto as anyone else.  I was pleasantly surprised  when the music session became focused mostly on one man who appears kind of quiet and shy. He sang along quietly with me and told stories of his Christmas celebrations he spent in FL as a child.

Next I went to a nursing home where most of the residents were napping but a man named Tom and I spent a good hour singing every Christmas song we knew and when we ran out of holiday tunes, we sang old folk songs. He particularly likes the upbeat songs where he likes to hoot and holler in a fun and rowdy way.   Whatever the song, he puts his whole heart into it.

Yesterday I went to visit my former Galax dulcimer teacher whom I studied traditional mountain old time music with a couple of years ago. We jammed on some of the tunes she taught me and then started playing Christmas songs. I wished I had recorded her playing, "O Come Emmanuel" on the dulcimer! Wow that was haunting.

Here is a video of me with my teacher playing in a the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase back in 2011. I feel so lucky to have been her apprentice and now it is my job to pass on the tradition. So here goes:



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa came to town

When was the last time you sat on Santa's lap? For me... I don't know if I've ever done it before and I am not quite sure what possessed me to do it last night but it felt good!  However I was unprepared when he asked, "What do you want for Christmas?" I said, "I don't need anything." And he replied in a surprised manner, "You don't need anything??!"   Well... I would like to be happy and at peace and for everyone to be happy. I would like to be given the opportunity to continue to do the work I love to do and feel I was meant to do.  I did get a nice pair of new socks! :)

Last night though I wish you could have seen the children around me as they jumped and clapped and danced around singing, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Frosty the Snow Man."  I was playing for a group of deaf families (most of the children are hearing) and I have known these people many years. You would have loved to see the two sign language interpreters next to me signing to the Christmas carols. I especially liked to see them signing, "Fa la la la la la la la la..." Some things in sign just look funny. One deaf girl put her hand on my guitar to feel the vibrations as I played.


After singing each of the kids got their pictures' taken with Santa and were given gifts. We were in a big gymnasium which made it a good place for them to throw their new glow in the dark sparkling balls.  When the mom's took their turn on Santa's lap, that's what gave me the idea to do it too. Give it a try!

Speaking of Santa... perhaps you'd like to give my CD "Choose the Sky" to a friend or for yourself.

Also feel free to write me an email or post a comment here. Hope you're enjoying the holiday cheer so far! (email: blueoconnell@gmail.com)


Saturday, December 14, 2013

On the 11th Day of Christmas

Ok this is a quiz--remember that song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas"?  What was on the 11th day? ..... (music playing......) Give up?

11 Pipers Piping

Yesterday I sang this whole song for a group and of course everyone's favorite part is when we sing, "Five Golden Rings!"  It is a good one for people with Alzheimer's as it is a good memory based song. Other favorites there were, "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Silver Bells", "It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas."

I am struck by how some songs are feel sad.  At the end of, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" for instance it says, "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." and I think of people who are at war who long to come home and be with their families during the holiday. I always think of the letters my father wrote to his mother from Korea and how much he wanted to be home with her.

So many times it seems Christmas is played up to be this big, happy time. But we are nearing the darkest night of the year and Christmas is also about struggle.  Like all of the religious parables, it is about finding the light in the darkest days. So if you are feeling a little blue, you are only linking with all those others who are tuned into the dark times of the year.

The photo above is from Gordon House which is decorated so beautifully now. I play there monthly for the residents with dementia. I usually play relaxing instrumental guitar music as they get ready for bed. Last night I experimented with playing some instrumental Christmas songs and one woman sang all of them. She otherwise does not seem very verbal but when she recognizes a melody, she loves to sing. I really enjoyed playing the tunes while she sang. "We're a good team!" I told her.

I love this time of year for the darkness and the light. For the happy times and the sad. For the new year coming and the old one leaving.
How about you?

PS Looking for a unique Christmas gift? How about some original music by me? ! My CD, "Choose the Sky" was released in 2011. It took me 5 years to complete! (long story)  You can go to the link for info about it or you can also email me here: <blueoconnell@gmail.com>
Thanks! :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Christmas Spirit is here

Q: Why is Santa so good at Karate?
A: Because he has a black belt

Q: Why does Santa have 3 gardens?
A: So he can Ho Ho Ho.

Mrs. Claus looked up at the sky one evening and said,  "Looks like rain, dear."

Q: Where do reindeer vote?
A: The North Pole

~~
These are a few Christmas jokes I've been telling at the nursing homes and they always get a big laugh. This week I've had a few really good holiday sing alongs. Everyone seems to love Christmas music.   What I love most is how not just the residents sing but also other people working nearby come and join in.

The other day I was at Heritage Inn singing with a group and one of the women who was cleaning put down her broom and began dancing and singing along with, "Feliz Navidad."   Everyone was delighted with her spontaneous  show of holiday spirit and it was contagious. Those who were not singing were laughing and clapping along.

Then the other night it was the same kind of thing. I was singing in the hallway to the residents as I do each Wednesday night as they get ready for bed.   One of the nurses came and sang harmony on several of the songs, "O Come all Ye Faithful", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."  Even one of the office workers who worked late that night came and sang. I wished I had a picture of the occasion.

I love how Christmas music can bring out this kind of spirit. To me music brings the Christmas spirit every day and that is what I try to do.  "Christmas is not just one day," an elderly neighbor was fond of saying.  That is true.

Do you feel the Christmas spirit? What gets you there?

Here is a link to some Christmas Carols sung with my friend Mary Gordon Hall. They are our "Mixed up Carols Medley" where we sing one song to the tune of another. You'll just have to listen to understand! :)


Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter daze




We got our first snow (and ice too) but winter is upon us. I actually like winter. As someone with a hearing loss and who hears with hearing aids, I love how quiet it becomes outside. There is a stillness like no other time of year. Last night I was walking a friend's dog on a country road and saw many deer grazing. I also saw a pheasant or an owl, I'm not sure but the wild life was loving the stillness of no humans around. (except me)

Yesterday as I was snowed in, I used the time to practice my holiday repertoire. This year I will be playing holiday music in ICU at the hospital.  As some of the tunes are very short, I was improvising introductions and variations and I recorded this and liked how it turned out. It is a simple, homemade recording but to me we do not have enough homemade music.  Most of the recordings we hear now are made in recording studios and overdubbed and produced to take out the glitches.

Imagine me in a house in the country with snow falling outside the windows, a magical feeling in the air while you listen to me playing "The First Noel" .  One thing about it is that I was not wearing my hearing aids while playing... so it is an offering from a deaf musician. Hope you enjoy!

Happy Winter and stay warm!



https://soundcloud.com/blue-oconnell/the-first-noel

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!


I wanted to take a moment and wish all of my friends in blogsville a very Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for your support and for reading my stories.  I am so grateful to be doing work I love each day and for all of the wonderful people I meet and who brighten my way.

This is a favorite time of year for me because I love holiday music and parties. It is a time to sing Christmas carols and to bring holiday cheer. Pictured above is my favorite Christmas guitar book. It has instrumental arrangements of holiday songs where I will play this year in ICU units at the hospital. I love practicing them and that is what I am doing today until I go to a neighbors' house for our Thanksgiving gathering.

Also I like to find unusual arrangements of old favorite Christmas songs. Pictured above is something called, "Take Three" and it is a jazzy version of "We Three Kings". Those of you know are familiar with Dave Brubek's song, "Take Five" would like this arrangement. It is a combination of "Take Five" and "We Three Kings". I could explain further but it would only be music theory geek speak.

Here is something for you to try that is great fun. You take one Christmas melody and you sing the words to a different tune. For example: try singing "Silent Night" to the tune of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". Or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer " to the tune of "O Holy Night". The idea is to sing the happy songs to the tune of the mellow ones, etc. The result is a crazy mixed up Christmas Carol!

Back to Thanksgiving.... happy Turkey day!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Swan Song

Last week when I was singing with one of my favorite groups, I noticed a new employee watching us. After our first song, I went over to introduce myself and she told me she was the new activities director. I had known the other had left though I never knew why. In this line of work, I see a  lot of changeover in personnel. I guess the residents get used to that sort of thing.

After my music session was over, the new director caught me on my way out and asked if we could talk. She then said while she was listening to us, she thought, "why are we paying for this? we should get all volunteers!"  And that is what she intends to do. I can't afford to give away my services but I do charge very low rates for some.

So, yesterday was my last day at this nursing home I love. In the past 1.5 yrs being there, I have played for all of their holiday parties. Christmas, Labor Day, 4th of July, Valentine's Day. I was a friend to them. Some of those people have no family or friends in the area. Our singing group gave them a place to belong.

As it happened too, our last time singing together was maybe the best time ever. I gave it as much gusto as I could and tried to push aside thoughts of a goodbye to come. I had thought about whether to tell them or not but after considering the situation for a long time, I decided not to say anything. This is because it would only upset them and possibly create bad feelings toward the new director.

I did write this director though to ask if she would reconsider this decision and so I wait her response.   I've seen a lot of transition in this line of work and it is just part of the gig. I am hoping it's not over with them but if it is...I will just have to accept that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sweet Encounters

In my work, I have the sweetest encounters with people. The other day I was singing with a group I haven't seen in awhile. In my work with therapeutic parks & recreation, I am only allowed so many groups to visit per month so I have to rotate some of them.

So Monday I was at Meadow Creek with a group of adults with developmental challenges. They are such a sweet group of people.  As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by Pamela who said, "You are pretty! I like you."

We sing all the old favorite songs learned in camp and school. There is one young lady who screams with excitement at the beginning of many of the songs. Especially if I introduce them first. I will say, "This one is called, "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain!" ("ahhhhhhhh!!" come her screams :)

I'm not sure how it happened but we ended up singing Christmas carols even though it's a little early for that. This is a group though that would sing Jingle Bells in July! (and we have done it!)

Later, Thomas presented me with a beaded necklace he made for me as we sang. I'm so lucky.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hi from Abilene!


Hello I am Abilene, Jasper's mama. As you can see, I find my mom's guitar case to be a very nice cat bed. She won't let me be in it very long though. By the way, she does not no I am writing 2 you, so don't tell her! I am more shy than Jasper but this online stuff looks fun, so I thought I would see what it is about. Hello world!! :) I am stuck inside this computer Ha ha!! (not really)

Ok so my mom is on a new music kick and she is learning something called "jazz". Have you heard of it? I think it seems kind of kookie if you ask me and get this. The latest song she recorded for homework is called, "Memories of Tomorrow." Does that make sense to you?  How can you have a memory of something that did not happen yet? Jasper would call that a "Vuja De."  If you click on the link of the song, you can hear it. If you listen carefully, you can hear me in the background snoring!! I did try to snore in time with the music but that jazz stuff is not easy.

There is hope though cause guess what? The new song my mom is learning is called, "Olhos De Gata" which means "eyes of a cat" in Portuguese. I have to admit I like that one. Even though I'd rather that my mom stop playing her guitar and pet me!! Oh oh...her she comes, I better look like I am sleeping! Bye!!




Monday, November 11, 2013

Healing music of Snatam Kaur

That's me just after our hour long chanting of Guru Ram Das--you can see I look like I am still moving. The wind is in my hair and sun in my eyes and song in my heart!


 This past weekend I went to Yogaville to participate in a weekend workshop, "The Healing Miracle of Yogic Chanting". Those of you who practice yoga most likely are familiar with Snatam Kaur's music and amazing voice.  We learned some Kundalini yoga sets in addition to traditional sanskirt mantras and chants.

I'd say perhaps my favorite class was where we chanted Guru Ram Das for 62 minutes.  Yogis know all about the science of music and its ability to raise energy and consciousness. I felt such peace and radiance while in her class. I also felt my voice open up more.

Snatam says that practicing yoga helps you to become more who you really are. She said, "it's kind of a relief to just be who you are. And it's a relief to others too."   After chanting Guru Ram Das for an hour, I felt what she was talking about. The thoughts that come up and things that want to distract me are always there. We always have a choice to go deeper into who we are. Music is a great way to do this!

Many years ago back in the early 90s I had a friend who was a Sikh and introduced me to this healing music. I learned the chant Guru Ram Das during a dark time in my life when I was confused and in search of direction. I believe that listening to that chant during that time helped me find my way to the path I am now on.

Have you had experiences like this with healing music? How has it helped you to become more who you really are?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Traveling Museum

I have a new job working with the Alzheimer's Association here in Cville. I am sent to different Memory Care facilities to play for residents.   For this agency, we are trained to be more hands on interactive and work to get the residents engaged with the music activity.  They have lots of art prints on hand to bring to show people and so I did what I call a "traveling museum" visit. Since they cannot get out to a museum, I bring it to them!

I brought with me some prints of famous paintings like the Norman Rockwell painting pictured above. I showed them the painting and then we shared stories of baseball games we attended of family members, food we like to eat at baseball games (hot dogs ;), songs sung at games (National Anthem). Then of course we sang, "Take me out to the Ballgame".

After a few art and music combinations, I handed out percussion instruments for them to play along with me on some uptempo songs like, "When the Saints Go Marching In," "This Little Light of Mine", and we went for over an hour.

This time I drove to a place in Greene county. I am really enjoying traveling around more and getting to spend some time seeing more of the countryside in various surrounding counties.
I love the variety and diversity of the work I am doing. Great times!

Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Fun!



Today was my day to play music at JABA with Felicia and Ben. Being Halloween, everyone (except me) was dressed up and we had some good fun! Above is Felicia who said of her costume, "I am a goblin". I said, "I thought you were the Holy Spirit!" She laughed and said, "Don't tell no one."


Ben was a jester which is appropriate for his exuberant personality. Above he dances and drums along to my Native American flute musings.


JABA is inter-generational and so above are some of the children dressed in their costumes. They played the Pinata game and won many prizes and all had a wonderful time!


Happy Halloween to all!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Take a sad song and make it better


Today in ICU when I was playing my guitar for a woman in ICU, by the third song her eyes filled with tears and streamed down her face. She was so full of tubes, she could not move to wipe them from her face. Nor could she speak. She had big brown eyes that looked over at me with such sorrow, I could hardly bear to meet her eyes. At one point, tears came to my eyes too but I kept playing. It is  a good thing to let patients grieve. I would play a piece that had a sad feeling to it, then the next piece I would lift it up a bit. Then lift it more to try to help lift her spirits. What I try to do in situations like these is to give some hope. I never try to cheer someone up or make light of their situation. But I do work to help them see that there is always hope and there are many who care about them and they will be alright.

I have been doing this work now for 9 years and I am still so struck by what an honor it is. To bear witness to the human spirit and to feel I can do something to help bring some hope is something I never take for granted.



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It works both ways

 

People sometimes say, "you are so nice to go and play for people in nursing homes." But in truth, it helps me too. It works both ways. Today for instance, I was feeling really tired.  Just didn't get enough sleep, I guess. But went to pay a visit to a nursing home anyway. When I arrived, most of the residents were taking a nap. All except Tom, who plays guitar too and was up for a jamming session.

We played together a good hour or more. Everything from, "Stewball", "House of the Rising Sun", "Oh Suzanna", "My Girl", "Stand by Me", etc. He loves to howl and make up long endings for songs. We'd swap choosing a song to start and then we'd jam more. I actually rarely jam with others, so it was a real treat for me.  Tom is a delightful man but he has some kind of disability which makes him socially awkward. Not for me but I see that he spends most of his time alone in his room. 

When I was getting ready to leave, I told Tom that I had been feeling tired before I came over and that I felt better after singing with him. He said, "I made you  happy, didn't I?" And I said, "Yes, you did make me happy, Tom. You have a gift with music and I bet you make a lot of people happy with it. " and he said, "You do too."  I said, "thank you for making me happy today" and he replied, "you're very welcome." 

Pictured above is Misty who lives in the home. She actually posed for that photo as you can see! She is a very sweet dog and everyone at the home loves her.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dorian Dreams

I am enjoying my studies in an online jazz improvisation class. This week our assignment is to demonstrate proficiency in playing 6 scales.  They are not scales I have ever tried to play before but scales important to jazz improvisation. Here is the list:

A Lydian flat7
C Locrian
F7 Altered
D Dorian
B Lydian
Eb Aeolian


Each scale has a mood, color, texture and I like how playing them stretches me beyond where I've been before musically.  One of my favorite improv recordings I've done so far is that of D Dorian mode. I used a back track found on the internet that is more rock oriented. It has a darker mood but reminds me of my days as a teenager when I was really into rock music. People often think of me as a folkie and that is a fitting description. But my roots are with old bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath. I think if you listen to this improv I do, you will hear those influences.


If i had to describe the mood in a visual, it would be the night sky with its wild starkness and haunting presence. 
Here's the link and enjoy!


https://soundcloud.com/blue-oconnell/d-dorian-improv-1

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

If You're Happy and You Know It

You know that song, "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands" (the rest goes stomp your feet, shout amen) It's one we sang yesterday with a group of young adults who have autism and other intellectual disabilities. When we sang that song, everyone sang with such gusto, I could feel the happiness in the room. I asked each to go around the room and say what they were happy about. I was happy for the sunshine and beautiful day. Others were happy about their friends, family, a poetry event they went to that day. It seems we often don't ask each other why we are happy when we feel happy.  But we do ask why we are unhappy when we feel down. I like to pay attention to happiness when it comes.  There is a great movie, "Happy" that is a documentary about the science of happiness.

We also sang, "You Gotta Sing When the Spirit Says Sing" --great song, do you know it?   I'd say though that one of the best moments came when I played my Native American Flute. One boy is Native American and he got up and started dancing. Then a few others did too and the others clapped out a heart beat rhythm.  That was such fun!


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Life's Improvisation

So I am taking an online jazz improvisation course with the Berklee College of Music on Coursera with the great Gary Burton (pictured above teaching. ) This is a real stretch for me and something I've never done before. This is also why I wanted to do it.

Our first assignment was to do an improvised solo to the song, "What is This Thing Called Love?"  We also had to analyze Gary's solo of it which was very fast and abstract. My first reaction when I downloaded the play along track to record my solo to was, "I can't do this."   It was too fast, I didn't understand Gary's solo, I freaked out a bit.

Then I looked closer at it all and broke it down into smaller bits. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra sing the song. I downloaded the lead sheet on the Real Book online and compared that with Gary's solo.  Ok then things started to look doable.

From there I went through the song a few times playing on my guitar and when I saw I could do it--I started to laugh! Yes--I can do this!  It is a great lesson of growth for me. Something I will say about music study is it really is the study of my own interior life, my issues of self acceptance, how I meet challenge, how to overcome fear of failure and inhibition, how to push past my inertia with a new task.

Here are some things I learned from it:

1. Sometimes in life there are no "do-overs" and we have to wing it the best we can and accept where we are at that moment in time.

2. I found that the best performance I gave was full of mistakes and flaws but it also had the best shining moments in it too. I tried in other recordings to emulate the best parts and try to "fix" my past mistakes but I couldn't get back the authentic feel I had the first time I improvised the parts that worked. It no longer flowed.

3. Since now I have to post this solo on a public site to be reviewed and graded by my teacher and peers--it means having to be vulnerable and letting others see my weaknesses as well as my strengths. It's not like the recording world where we can overdub over a mistake.

4. I found that I really enjoyed this process and I am aware with how much I have grown because there would have been times I would have let that "I can't" voice overrule my wanting to grow. Or I would not have been able to accept where I am now.

5. Music is all about being in the moment. What i played in that solo I can never reproduce the same way again. I am ok with that!

Here is the link to my first jazz solo that I also had a lot of other distractions going against me as I was recording. Things such as a loud construction crew right outside the window, the phone ringing, the plumber on the way to fix my busted water heater and a plugged up ear (with what little hearing I have)

It is what it is and such is life! :)


https://soundcloud.com/blue-oconnell/jazz-improv-homework-for

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What would Julia Child do?


Recently I saw a great quote:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child 

I feel this is also true with me and my work in music. Most of the times things go well but I do have to be "out there".  And for someone who struggles with being very introverted and overcoming shyness, this can be a challenge at times.

So most of the time when I write to you, things go smoothly. Well, today was not one of those days. Today, whatever could go wrong did. 

I went to Charlottesville High School to do some music with a group of ESOL (English is second language). I had a powerpoint slideshow on a jump drive with lyrics to songs they could sing along with. 

It turns out the computer had an old version of Powerpoint and could not open my file.  So I had to do the songs without showing them the lyrics, which meant most people could not sing along. Then when I went to show a video "Playing for Change" --the sound was not working. It was just one of those days. Pictured above is the video....

To top it off, I was singing for a group in a big gymnasium and I don't think I could be heard very well. Also I was wearing and FM system which was connected to a boy's hearing aid devices so he could hear me well and the mic kept falling off.

We all made the best of it and some days are just that way. 

I read about a bad day from someone else recently (you know who you are) and so she inspired me to write this too. It was not a "bad" day.. but challenging. That's ok though. Something to laugh about one day. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Celebration of the Natural World


Yesterday I participated in a wonderful program at the Ivy Creek Foundation. I was joined by  members of the Live Poets Society in a program blending music, poetry, art and photography in a celebration of the natural world.

I played some of my own compositions like, "Choose the Sky", "Once I was the Wind," "Promise of Spring", "For the Lily Grows",  " Gosling, ""Owl's Dream".  Alternating with me, poets would read some of their original poems or read from their favorites such as Mary Oliver and Rumi. Pictured above is poet Flora Lark Baily who read a poem she wrote on her painting shown with her.

I even led a short sing along with some nature themed songs like, "Down by the Riverside", "Blue Moon", "Be Kind to your Web Footed Friends."

It was a lot of fun and also very inspiring. This past year has been difficult to me living next door to a place that was deforested with a new housing development going up. It has been a source of great anguish but also creativity. Yesterday I was happy to be feeling like there is something positive I can do instead of just complaining or being angry about the loss of natural beauty.  I want to continue to look for the positive in this situation as much as I can.

Where do you go for your natural fix? Do you live near a park or a forest or water?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Creative Day


Yesterday I spent the day painting with friends. Above is a painting I did I call, "Ribbons of Dawn". My friends said it could also be, "Rhythms of Dawn." and yes, that is true. This painting pictured was a finger painting. I can't remember the last time I did such a thing. We painted to the music from the soundtrack of "Chocolat" which inspired bold colors and lines from me. 

As a child I drew often. One of favorite things to do was to draw a big squiggly line and then trace it and form more lines around it. The paintings I did reminded me of that. 

Though I chose music as my primarily creative endeavor, I feel very influenced by visual art. The process of making it helps me to remember that each day brings forth new opportunities to learn about myself. What lies hidden from others, what wishes to be seen, finding new ways to express myself. 

We did some writing with our paintings too. Here are a couple of sentences that came out about my paintings:

"A spring within uncoils, bursting with color."

"Playful light dancing a unified dream."

"Weaving of wonders yet to explore."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Memories


Someone once told me that when we get older, all we have left are memories. When our bodies start to fail us and we are unable to do things that used to be easy for us, we are limited to our imagination.

Singing with elder friends, we make time to talk about memories that come from songs we sing. Last night at the nursing home I play each week, Miss Taylor was telling me about her memories of Halloween. This was sparked from the decorations the home had put up earlier that day. She told me how they used to bob for apples. Now that's a memory I nearly forgot!  I told her I did that too and it was kind of neat to see that some games survived a few generations. She said, "they don't do that anymore." I am not sure if this is true or not but probably is.

We shared more stories and I was very glad for this exchange for Ms. Taylor and I have gotten to be friends over the months since she first came there. When I first met her, she would not talk to me. She would only answer in "yes" or "no" and when I sang, she preferred to listen from down the hallway.

We've come a long way since then and each week we have  a good, long talk. I have a few other friends there too.  Ms. Brown always waits for me to come each Wed. evening and asks for her favorite songs, "I'll Fly Away" and "Sweet By and By".  The glimmer of light in her eyes and smile on her face is precious as she listens. She seems to study each word and take it in. If I forget a word or verse, she corrects me. I know she used to play the piano, so music has been an important part of her life.

I'm glad to know them.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nature's music


Tonight I was feeling a bit lazy and wanted to get back to my book I am reading --which by the way is a great one by Tracy Chevalier, "The Last Runaway"But I have made a promise to myself to make time to be outside each day.  For years I worked inside a windowless office and when I left that job, I decided not one day would pass where I would not bask in the beauty around me in nature.

So I went for a walk to the park nearby and was treated to such a beautiful sky. The colors were exquisite. I saw some geese above and was delighted to get them in a picture above. I try to think of what the musical equivalent would be? A Beethoven symphony perhaps?  Something bold and dramatic and life affirming.

When I walk I take in the smells of the turning leaves. I love the sound of the leaves crunching under my feet. I listen for the sounds of the daylight fading and people settling in for the night. Dogs being walked after supper, birds perching on the wires and branches.

It's the sound of peace, beauty, dreams, hope.  We're living in some pretty crazy times politically and all one needs to do is turn on the news for a dose of negativity.

Still beauty awaits us, step outside. What is outside your door? What is your neighborhood like?

Here's a photo of a sunset in my corner of the world:


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

TEDx Charlottesville Open Mic


Monday night I was fortunate to participate in an exciting event. TEDx Charlottesville Open Mic.  I was one of 29 contestants who presented a 2 minute speech on the theme of "The Difference that Makes a Difference."

It was a wonderful evening of shared stories and varied takes on this subject. My speech was titled "C.A.R.E. Packages" which were glimpses of the 11th Hour from my work as a therapeutic musician at UVA hospital. In my 9 years of working there, I have seen so many shining examples of people who care and giving with kindness.  Many times when I tell people I work at a hospital, they say"Isn't that depressing being around sick people all the time?" They picture smelly rooms and tired nurses, negligent accidents that result in more illness.  This also happens at a hospital but in my years of experience, I have seen more good things than bad.

For me the best part of the evening came when I found my dear friends in the audience who came to see and support me.  Pictured above with me from left to right are Kate, Christine and Barbara with whom I have known for 25 years now! We have seen each other through many things. We have shared our deepest sorrows as well as our small or great triumphs and celebrations.

Behind every person who succeeds in realizing a dream are many friends and people who have supported them. I certainly would not be where I am today if it were not for my friends. Thank you all of you! You know who you are.


Friday, September 27, 2013

An inspirational life and career


Linda Ronstadt is the subject of my entry today. On a whim I picked up her memoir "Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir"  and I could not put it down.  Not only is she a very good writer and storyteller, I was fascinated by her life story and career.

I learned a lot of things about her that I never knew. There are so many things about the book that I liked. Here I will list what I wrote in my journal about it:

  • She was disciplined and focused on her music career and turned away from temptations of drugs and drinking. This during the 60s and 70s when many her contemporaries died of overdose. 
  • She sought out new experiences to grow & learn from. She took many big risks and was always reinventing herself. 
  • She readily admitted her failures and even when critics judged her harshly, she often agreed with them.
  • Though she has a lot to brag about--she never does. When something amazing happened (amazing to us) she just stated it plainly as a fact. No gushing or commentary about it.
  • Though she knew and spent time with lots of famous people, she never comes across as a "name dropper".
  • She never gave up her resolve to take a big risk even though she did not get support from her record companies. She also risked losing momentum in her career and the huge fan base she had when she took new turns for her career.
  • She comes across as humble and hard working
When she was going through her most popular time in the 70s, I was not listening or following pop music, so I never paid attention to her. I was into folk and acoustic music then. But what I learned is that she comes from a very traditional folk  background and those are her roots.

Most people know by now also that she has Parkinson's' disease and can no longer sing. I am so inspired by her life that I hope to do all I can with my musical life until I can no longer do it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A place from my childhood


As a child I grew up just two blocks from Lake Michigan in Chicago. Above is a picture of the park down the street from my apartment building.  Down the way from this park was the Margate Park Fieldhouse which is where my love of the arts was born. Each day after school, my sister and I went there for classes in tap & ballet, drama, art, music. We performed regularly in plays and variety shows. My first music lesson was at this fieldhouse and it was with my mother's clarinet. My lesson was with Mr. Myers who also taught art.  For my lesson, I was to play one note (can't recall which one :) to check my tone and embouchure. When I blew on the horn, a most terrible and unfortunate sound was made that embarrassed and scared me. I was too embarrassed to even look at Mr. Myers but he wrote on my music score a big question mark ? That was my grade and that was the beginning of my musical life!

Needless to say, I never played that clarinet again. My next attempt was the drums as my other art teacher,  Mrs. Elias gave me a pair of drum sticks. I quickly went home and learned every beat to Hawaii 5-0 and Mission Impossible theme songs. I played along to many 45s from then on.  Later, I went on to take drum set lessons and played in my high school band.

When we moved to a new neighborhood in high school, there I met another girl my age who sang as good as Linda Ronstadt and wrote her own songs. That's when I got out my mom's old Harmony guitar that she played during the 60s folk boom (she took some lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music). The rest is history as they say.

I was thinking of all this because today I played at the Blue Ridge Club House again and that place always makes me think of Margate. It was a home away from home, a place where I felt belonging and kinship. I am happy to find myself singing with people now in these settings. We were out on the backporch again while people smoked and talked. Later I paid a musical visit to another assisted living center and we sang the old songs from school.

Today I learned that my high school is giving a 50th Anniversary Band concert in December. We could play in the band and have our parts sent to us. I am soo tempted but don't think I can swing the travel expense and time away. Perhaps I could be Skyped in? :)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A page from my music journal

I used to be very faithful about keeping a journal of my experiences at the hospital and other gigs. Since I started this blog, I haven't done that too much.  So today I got out my ongoing journal since about 2008 and added the following. Please note that since this is an account from the hospital, I have to be very vague about exactly which unit I am in or what the patient is diagnosed with, etc. I cannot give any signs away about who I am working with as it is a violation to their privacy. This is also why at times you may not hear from me. But thought you might enjoy a page out of my diary from the hospital:


Today just as I arrived on the PICU (Pediatrics ICU) floor, there was a “call to station" announcement of a fire on the 6th floor.  This means that everyone on the floor stated and the floors above and below have to close all the doors and wait for the next “call to station” stating that the fire is contained.  (sometimes there is not really a fire but it is only a drill) Today there appeared to be something wrong with the alarm as it kept going off continuously for about 20 minutes. I waited in the PICU for the alarm to go off so that I could play (can’t really play when all doors are closed and no one can receive visitors). When the alarm didn’t stop, I went down to the 4th floor in one of the ICUs and played there. They gave me a couple of rooms to play near (they were in isolation, so I had to play outside their door for infectious control reasons).

Then I went up to the 8th floor to check in on a fellow I met last week who was due to go home tomorrow. He had visitors in his room, so I didn’t stay long but it was good to see that he was in good spirits and as I knew he didn’t live nearby, I was happy to see friends made the effort to visit him.

Next I went to the 6th floor (the alarm finally stopped) and there was a man sitting in a chair near the nursing station. Sometimes this is done because the patient is a “fall risk” as they try to get out of bed when they lack the strength to stand, etc.  The charge nurse asked me to sit next to him and play awhile, which I did.  I started by playing some instrumental pieces that were my own compositions. He closed his eyes and hummed along and seemed to enjoy it. Later, I asked him what kind of music he liked. “Country” –this is often the answer I get there as a lot of the patients are from rural areas. I started to strum a country waltz-like progression and again he nodded and hummed. I asked him if he liked Johnny Cash and when the answer was “yes”, I strummed the chords to, “I Walk the Line”. I hummed the melody of the verse and the man joined me singing together on the part, “I walk the line.” Then I asked him if he liked Elvis. A big yes on that one and he told me he saw Elvis in concert with his family. That seemed to bring up a positive memory. 

I had 20 more minutes left of my shift and went down and played in the ER. I used to play there every week but since my hours were cut, I don't play there very often. It was somewhat quiet there which I think was a good thing. (meaning not too many in need of emergency services)
A very enjoyable day it was!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The appeal of the guitar

It used to bother me some that every time I went somewhere with my guitar, I got stopped all kinds of questions about it. But I see now that it is a good thing, especially in the work that I do. The guitar is a familiar friend to most people. Everyone has a brother or cousin or Uncle or someone who plays it. And you can play every kind of music on it from classical, blues, jazz, folk, rock & roll, etc.

Yesterday at the hospital I saw a patient who had a guitar in his room. We had a good time showing each other songs we liked to play and sharing stories about our music making. It seems to happen about once a month that I get a referral from a nurse to see a patient who plays the guitar.

The fact that so many are familiar with it and it is so appealing makes it a good therapeutic instrument. I have met so many people just from talking in the elevators or hallways in places about it.

I got inspired to play the guitar as a teen when a neighbor and friend of mine played outside on her front porch. I loved the portability of it and that you could play it outside. Also in the 70s there were a lot of great guitarists around like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Alvin Lee. The face of music changed as the guitar became the most popular instrument of all.
Pictured above is my guitar case. I deliberately put a lot of stickers on the case to be able to identify it from other generic black guitar cases.

Do you play the guitar? It's fun, huh?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Play me one of your songs



Today I was singing with a group of folks with autism and special needs. They are a fun bunch of people to hang out with and sing.  We like to sing songs spanning all genres of music from bluegrass, country, swing, motown, pop, folk.

Toward the end of our time together, I was going through my song binder when Thomas asked, "Do you have your own songs in that book?   Will you play one of your songs?"  He had seen me sing at a coffeehouse this past spring and remembered that.

So I played, "Choose the Sky". As I sang,  I saw Thomas listening with intense concentration as if he were studying the song. When I finished, I was curious how he would sum up my song and I asked, "Do you know what it is about?" and he said, "Yes, I was thinking about the sky in Memphis and Georgia and New York and the clouds and stars and the sun." I said, "Yes and imagine that it is the same sky everywhere. Tomorrow when the full moon comes, my friend in Italy will see that same moon."

Then we talked about viewing the stars through telescopes and we all agreed that Saturn was the coolest planet to see with its true look of outer space rings around it.

As I left, Thomas thanked me for sharing my song.

In all the years and groups i've played for, no one has ever asked me to play my own song. Thank you, Thomas!

Above is a link to a video of my song that features photographs of the sky from friends and some of my own. Enjoy!

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Day in the Life


What a great week it has been! I posted about Monday (Que Sera, Sera) and the next day found me in my Integrated Therapies class. We did some GIM (Guided Imagery to Music) and that was very powerful. If you've never tried GIM, I highly recommend it!   In the session there is a guide and a traveler. The one "traveling" is induced into a deep state of relaxation and guided through listening to a piece of music (instrumental, classical oriented). It's amazing how images arise and change similar to a dream and how much one can get out of the experience.

Wednesday I did my weekly stint playing for patients in ICU at UVA hospital. That is always very rewarding. That evening I accompanied (guitar) the music of the Taize service at the Charlottesville Mennonite Church. It's a 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. It is so peaceful and beautiful and we have them on the 2nd Wednesday evenings each month. Come join!

Last night I taught a songwriting class at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. It is in beautiful Afton VA. If you haven't been out there, it is a great place to go! They have concerts there and all kinds of other classes going on. I loved meeting my students and I am excited for our future classes there. (Every Thursday evening  at 7pm until Oct. 17th if you are interested)

Later today, I am off to sing for another group of seniors. This group is special to me as I have been singing with them now for nearly 7 years. So it is always good to see them.

Tomorrow I am singing in the Cville Pride Festival which will be another experience to write about, I'm sure. Thanks for stopping by and have a good weekend!

 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Que Sera, Sera

Do you remember this song from the Doris Day TV song? "Que sera, sera whatever will be, will be." It is a song that gets one of the biggest reactions when I play for seniors. There are smiles throughout as we sing it but also tears. I have a vague memory of the Doris Day show and this song but it was not really a part of my life (the song was popular before I was born in '56) I am thinking some of the seniors in the audience were mothers and fathers who answered their children's questions with this refrain in the song.

At any rate, that was the case yesterday as one woman was crying as she sang the song. But they seemed to be tears of recognition --not so much grief. This woman I speak of is maybe one of the most responsive of all of the seniors I play for. Each time I break into a new song,  her eyes light up, she smiles,  or has a look of surprise and delight.   She is in a group that is mostly unresponsive too. I wondered how that is for her. The rest sit there looking at me and there is no way to tell if they know the song or like the song or not. But this woman --there is not doubt she is loving every song wholeheartedly.

After the music session was finished for the day, she came up to me and said, "I just have to tell you I loved your songs! You made my day--no you made my week! I love music!" I told her I could see that she loved music and asked her if she used to sing in a choir or something. It turns out she used to play the piano but no longer can. I said I had thought of the day when I may not be able to play my guitar. I said, "but I'd still sing!" and she smiled and agreed.

As I left I was thinking of that woman who loved music so much and thought --that will be me one day--the one singing every song, the one who doesn't care if anyone else sings along, the one who will always love music more than anything.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Serenade for Sundown


I play at a lovely place in Gordonsville, VA for a group of folks with dementia.  There is a phenomenon known as "Sundowning" which is a time of a lot of confusion and turmoil for those with dementia. It is the time right before bedtime. So, I come and play soothing instrumental guitar music for them and they zone out. I zone out too! It is good for me and everyone.

I can say also that some of my instrumental compositions have come from doing these sessions. I really enjoy doing it. As I was playing last night, one woman came up to me and said, "Did you get your guitar cleaned? It sounds so clear!" Ha. I've never been asked that one before. 
Have you gotten your guitar cleaned lately?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Goodnight Ladies


At the senior home where I play each Wednesday night I have gotten to be quite fond of a few of the ladies there. We sing and chat and laugh and have such a nice time together.  They have been there now maybe a half year.  It is getting to be a long enough time where we are falling into a rhythm with each other.

Before I met them when it was time to leave, I used to slip out quietly without saying goodbye to anyone. But this past winter so many of the regulars passed away. For awhile it seemed each week I came in, I'd see flowers and a sign about another one who passed on.

So I decided with the new folks that came to live there that I'd always make a point to say goodnight to them when I left.  Each time I never know if it will be the last time I will see them and I would regret not saying goodbye to them. I leave now singing, "Goodnight ladies, goodnight ladies, goodnight ladies we're going to leave you now."

Another nice thing is there is a new CNA there who comes out and sings harmony with me on many songs. This place is going through a nice phase I like.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hound Dog


School is in and with that means new students and people to meet and sing with.  In my work with VSA Arts (part of Charlottesville Therapeutic Parks & Recreation) I sing with groups of young adults with special needs. Today was with Post High and that was fun.  A few of favorite moments were:

After we sang, "This Little Light of Mine" I asked the kids what kind of song it was.   When no one spoke up, I started singing examples of what it was not. The funniest one was my attempt at a rap version, then I strummed my guitar sang it like a country song. Then I did a blues version. In the end, they learned the song is a Gospel song.

There is one boy who loves to dance and he danced to many of the songs.  I was running out of ideas of danceable songs when I thought of Elvis' "Hound Dog". No sooner did I start singing that not only did he dance but a few others got up and danced too. They twirled around and did some dosey doe's  and after the song ran out I kept playing the chord progression and improvised some nonsensical words while they danced.

By the way "Hound Dog" was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952 and it is now listed as one of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. I find it amazing young kids know the song. Or even if they don't, they get into the feeling of it.

I also brought my Native American flute and had them tap out a heart beat rhythm to accompany me. Then I taught them a Native American lullaby, "Hey Hey Watanee" and one boy sang it as if he already knew it. When I asked him if he had known it before, he told me he didn't. 

You just never know what you'll see from these kids. It was a lot of fun and certainly made my day.





Sunday, September 1, 2013

Songwriting homework


I know I told you about my online song writing course I have been taking from Berklee College of Music, right? Well today I finished my final assignment and it was a real challenge!   Like any creative endeavor, it is great to work with new ideas and tools and continue to experiment.

In our assignment, we had to work with so many different criteria from phrasing, rhyme scheme, melodic rhythm, contrasting sections of the verses and chorus and so much more. I will give you an example. We all know that grammar illustration of:

"Let's eat Grandma!"  vs "Let's eat, Grandma"

So use see the world of difference a comma provides.

It is similar with song phrasing. If you are saying something that has an unresolved feeling to it, you would need to find a phrasing placement that supports this feeling.  If you put it in strong place, you will lose meaning.  You have to learn how to delay gratification and resolution in some instances. You will want the main point and purpose of the song to really stand out.  Rhythmic timing, melodic emphasis, rhyme scheme, syllabic stresses, phrasing all play a role in making this happen.

In this last assignment too we were to sing each line in each verse with the same melody. That was a challenge to me because I usually never sing any line the same twice. However, it was a good exercise for me to be able to do this. For me it loses expression to have more structure but it is good to know this from experience than just to intuit it or go solely by feeling. We have to engage our thought process and mental decisions in with the heartfelt feeling of it.

Anyway, I am getting kind of technical but since I was quiet a few days, I thought I'd let you know what I was up to. Gearing up for a busy week ahead with lots of gigs with people out in the community. Looking forward to that!

PS I forgot to say that the song I wrote is about the deforestation next to where I live and the new housing development going up.  It has provided me with a lot of creative inspiration for songs!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stand By Me


Have you seen some of the Playing for Change videos made of old songs redone with people singing all over the world? One of my favorite episodes is of the song, "Stand By Me" which is a song I sing a lot with groups.

I wish you could have seen me today singing with some folks at the Blue Ridge Club House. We were outside on the back patio where everyone smokes. One man named T. J. called me over with my guitar and we started singing "Stand By Me". I was stunned by the beauty of his voice! I wished I could have recorded us and I told him that. Then he said he'd love to do it and that we could work on that sometime. I'd like to make a local version of Playing for Change type video where we go in the lower income neighborhoods and sing. There is so much beauty in these places--an urban, raw, real beauty that reminds me of my childhood growing up in the city of Chicago.

After singing "Stand By Me"  T. J. asked to sing, "You Are My Sunshine". Now that's what I love about music. This is a song you'd never think would appeal to a guy like T. J. He's a kind of guy you might be afraid of if you were walking alone after dark and saw him approach. He looks rough but he's always nice to me. A lot of the guys are like that at the club house. They look unapproachable on the outside, but as sweet as can be underneath. I feel privileged that they share their world with me when we sing.

Inside the club house, folks were playing cards and one woman from India was singing in Hindi and I played my guitar along with her. I've done this other times, you no doubt remember reading about it.

Anyway, I love how one song like Stand By Me can bring people together. It made my day.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Old friend and harmonica

What is it about the harmonica that gives off that lonesome, sad sound? I mean that in a good way. Today I went by a senior home I play for regularly and was surprised to see an old friend now living there. Seven years have passed since I saw her last. She was sitting out back on the patio with a few other residents when I approached with my guitar. Debbie smiled and it took me a few seconds before it registered who it was. I was glad to see her  too.

I told them all I brought my guitar and we could sing. Then Debbie reached in her backpack and pulled out an old harmonica. I regret I didn't take a picture of it but it was bent up like the one in the photo above. I chose songs to play that she could play along with and we had a good time together.

All the while this was going on, behind us was a man loading a big pickup truck. Finally, Connie asked the man, "Is someone moving?"   The man walked up to us and said, "Yes, Charlie is coming to live with me out in Orange county."  He described then his farm and many animals of horses, cows, chickens and pot belly pigs. Then he went back to packing the truck.  A little while later Charlie came outside near the truck and Connie called out and said, "Bye Charlie--write to us!" but Charlie just looked ahead at the truck as if he didn't hear her. It put a bittersweet spin on the afternoon but that is just life for you. I see a lot of transition in those homes. New folks moving in or out or passing on. I was glad to see Debbie again at least.




Monday, August 26, 2013

Have you had a picnic lately?


This past Saturday VSA Arts and Independence Resource Center  in Charlottesville had our annual picnic. We take over all three pavilions at Pen Park and each pavilion has a different activity. As you can see in the picture above, I participate in the musical sing alongs. There are also games and art going on too.

We sang all the old songs we learned in school and camp. We had different people come up and lead a song and we did quite a bit of dancing too. Afterwards we had a BBQ lunch and visited and caught up with each other. It sure was a lot of fun and the weather was perfect!

Don't you just love picnics? Where is your favorite place for one?

Friday, August 23, 2013

What two quarters can't buy


Yesterday again I was tired from lack of sleep. A minor neck injury has prevented me from having good sleep. So I was really looking forward to going to sing with my favorite group (ok I say this about every group!) because I knew that would make me feel better. When I arrived,  Tom was sitting by the door in his wheelchair and I asked him if he was going to come sing with us. He smiled in his mischievous way and said, "I wouldn't miss it for all the world."   I said, "good, we kinda need you." This is because Tom is my sound effects person. When I sing about a dog, he barks all through the song. When I sing about a train, he hoots like a train and so on.

Today though he had another idea and took me over to the other room to tell me about it. He had on a yellow polka dotted tie and a grey vest. As he was talking to me, he reached under his tie and pulled out a yellow plastic polka dotted egg.  He smiled slyly, conveying to me his idea without words. I said, "Yes! let's trick everyone. I'll play a song on my guitar and you can do a magic trick for them."   So we did just that and everyone seemed to get a kick out of it. He is part of the show there. I was having so much fun I forgot all about being tired. They all lifted me right up and it was great to sing and laugh with all of them.

When it was time to go, one of the ladies reached in her coin purse and got out some change. She came up to me and slipped two quarters in my hand. She said, "It's not much but I want you to have it" as she hugged me. I told her she didn't need to do that but  I could see she really wanted to give me something.  There was a time 50 cents could buy a cup of coffee or a soda. Now it may pay an hour in a parking meter. But it can't buy the good times I had with them and the appreciation I feel.

Oh also I got some flowers this week --pictured above. I was helping out at a group home and the folks there gave me them to thank me. Life is rich indeed!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bust me outta here


Bust me outta here. A full moon night at the nursing home and these words rang true. The picture above is from a series of other dog pictures the home has on the walls.  Here is another:


The residents all love dogs and I rarely see such things on the walls, so it was nice. It definitely fit the mood in the place too. Everyone seemed kind of restless but singing some songs really helped. One woman surprised me when I started to sing, "I'll Fly Away" , she sang along and I didn't know she knew this song. We sang several others after that, "Keep on the Sunny Side", "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and others.

Later one of the nurses came out and as we started singing, "Amazing Grace" she stopped what she was doing and sang along. We also sang, "This Little Light of Mine".

Earlier I have to admit, I was feeling tired and unmotivated to get in the car and go play somewhere else (I had worked earlier at the hospital today) but it was all worth it. Seeing all of their smiling faces, hearing them singing and looking at those funny dog picture made my day.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beautiful rustic rural Virginia


 Last night found me in beautiful, rustic rural Virginia in Louisa County playing at a Women's Gathering.  There was a big bonfire where people were toasting marshmallows and drumming. Above is a photo of the driveway that meets you when you arrive.

Here is a colorful sign above in front of the stage area which was nice to see. Taking my shoes off always makes me feel more welcome somehow.


The wooded paths were lined with painted plastic containers with candles inside for night view.  I loved being away from the construction (next door) and traffic in the city. The night sky held the moon and stars as I played my flute and sang some songs at the gathering.

I taught a couple of chants too, one is a song I learned recently at a sacred song circle. See if you know it:

We are the rising sun
We are the change
We are the ones we've been waiting for
And we are dawning.

Was a very nice visit and I enjoyed the other performances. One of the women acted out stories of Obama's mother's life and another did about 30 mins of violin solos. Great time!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Power Outage


Yesterday I was singing for a group at a senior living center when a funny thing happened--the batteries in my cochlear implant processor died. Now it would ordinarily not have been a big thing but I was not wearing my hearing aid in my other ear. Let me explain.  Most of you know I have a profound hearing loss and I wear a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant (CI)  in another. This is called "bimodal."

Lately I have been exploring going without my hearing aid and totally relying on my CI.  Part of the reason is I dislike the way my voice sounds with my hearing aid. I sound to myself like I have a cold and it is a pinched, nasal sound. Part of the reason is because people with severe hearing loss tend to use their face as a way to feel and monitor the sound of their own voices. Most people talk using more of their chest as a resonating chamber.

In a recent singing class,  the voice teacher coached me to put my hand over my chest and feel the vibrations of my voice resonating there as I sang. I have been practicing this but I still don't like the way my voice sounds with the hearing aid.

So anyway,  here I was in the middle of a George Gershwin song, "O Lady Be Good." when suddenly my CI processor batteries died. Thunk. It's like someone pulled  the plug on the microphone. Or like going from a bright room into the dark.

I kept singing but it was an odd feeling to not hear myself.  Don't misunderstand me though, I do have some hearing without my aids on but it goes from volume 10 to 1.  I held it together for about 5 more songs and when it was time to stop, I quickly rushed over to my purse to get my hearing aid on to talk to the people in the audience. I don't think any of them had any idea what I experienced.

I tell these kind of stories because it may be easy as an audience member to be critical of someone's singing or playing. But you never know what might be going on with them behind the scenes.
 They may be deaf like me and groping in the dark through the songs with a smile on her face.
Whew, that was close. Kind of like getting lost in the car on a dark road with the gas tank on empty. (I've done that!)

That's why I call this work an adventure!

Have you had any unexpected adventures lately?