Thursday, January 31, 2013

The importance of play

“We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
 - George Bernard Shaw

Today's drum circle at JABA made me remember that quote. Drumming in a group of people from ages 5 to 75 was great. In a drumming circle, even when I lead, I like to play the steady beat non stop while listening to others doing solos and riffing off of the main beat.  Ben often starts dancing in the circle and Feiicia came in front of me with her drum and we had a rhythmic conversation of sorts with the African beat I was leading. 

With music, we refer to it as "playing". Even when doing a concert it is said, "I am playing at Carnegie Hall (dreaming to :)" . We do not say, "working".  I think of musical instruments as sophisticated toys. When we were children we played in the sand, in the alleys, in parks, we climbed trees, we played Hide and Seek and Kick the Can. 
Now we play rhythms... we dance with our eyes, smile to each other, we keep the beat going for a long time until we lose track of ourselves. 

Today I was telling someone that I started out as a drummer in band in 1973 -- wow--40 years ago! And I still love it just as much or if not more than when I was given my first pair of drum sticks by my art teacher (thank you Mrs. Elias!). 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A transformation

Tonight I observed a transformation in one of the staff at at nursing home where I visit each week. I have seen this man weekly for months attend to the residents with a kind of cold indifference.  Until tonight, I have never heard him speak or see him smile.

Tonight though on several occasions, I saw him gently touching the arm of a distressed resident and saying things like "it's ok". He smiled warmly and even said hello to me (a first!). It was good to see him in this light and makes me see that things are not so black and white. Even in our darkness, there is light there emerging if we stop to look. The dove emerging from the clouds, the wings open in flight, the season preparing for spring. ~~~

Yesterday a funny thing happened with another group I sing with. I often let others from the group choose the songs. If no one calls out a song, then I go on with my own choices. We sang for an  hour until I said it was time for the last song.  I have a large binder of songs from all eras, genres and moods.  I asked Melanie what song she'd like and she said, "Puff the Magic Dragon" and guess what? That was the song I had opened to in my music binder. I said, "wow, that is so weird you said that!" and told her why. Now, it's not like Melanie could have seen my binder because she was sitting across the room and my music stand was not facing her. We had a laugh and sang this song.  I love it when those kind of things happen. It's a little magical, don't you think so?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Singing a Parrot to sleep

This is George,  remember him? I talked about him a few months ago. He's a blind parrot.  He lives at a nursing home I visit and before yesterday, I had never heard him talk.  Yesterday though, he was talking a lot! His favorite thing to say is, "Hi George." This is because he mimics others saying this to him.

I was struck by singing with this group of seniors yesterday of how unusual it really is to think that all of us are from different places and backgrounds and yet we all knew the same songs.  I find it so interesting how animated and happy the old school songs make people to sing.  Sometimes I ask others for songs they'd like to sing and they will ask for one we already sang. Instead of telling them we already sang it,  we sing it again with the same enthusiasm as if it was the first time around. No one seems to notice or mind.

I see how singing familiar songs brings them so much happiness.  People who you can see do not have homes of their own or family to visit them or nice clothes or anything to identify them with a certain social class.   Music breaks down all those barriers. It does not matter how old or young, rich or poor, black or white, rural or city. Music is a connector.

I love it when I see that a certain song can bring a special kind of happiness to someone. How their eyes light up and they smile like they remembered a great secret. We are all living our private memories and yet also creating new memories in the moment.   It is such a bonding that goes on. After we finish, I walk around talking and thanking them for coming and they reach their hand out to mine. We shake hands and they say, "you come back again, soon!"

P.S.   George fell asleep after a few songs we sang. He slept through most of the songs.  I have come to know when animals sleep when you sing, that's a good sign.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Club house recollections

There is a club house here in town where I go and sing. The folks there have mental health challenges and most of them do not work. It is hard to say where they would go during the day if they didn't have a place like this to go and play cards and hang out.  They are such an interesting group of people. When I first started going there  (2 yrs ago),  most of them regarded me with skepticism. Some of them openly laughed at me when I tried to sing for them.  It was intimidating. But over time, I gained their friendship and trust and it is one of my favorite places to play now. Here are some snapshots of things that happened today that gives you an idea of how it is for me there. I usually sing in a common room and in between songs, talk and visit with the folks there.

One man who stands about 6' 5" appears to be an intimidating person on the outside but he is kind and affectionate to me. He always runs up and hugs me and gives me things. Today he gave me a big cup of coffee with lots of sugar in it, a bag of popcorn and a Pepsi.

There is an Indian woman who sang in Hindi as I accompanied her on my guitar. I have no idea what she was singing but the tone of her voice and and key seemed a match for what I did. The group around us all seemed pleased and laughed with us after each song.

Another guy and I talked about ways we are staying out of trouble. He asked me when was the last time I got into big trouble. As I paused to think about this, he laughed and threw his arms around me and hugged me a long time. Then he gave me a kiss on the cheek. I am not sure how I earned that, but it was a nice moment.

Then there is J. who  has the appearance of a rough and tumble kind of guy with a tattooed face but he is very sweet to me. He was giving me tips on how to make money gambling by buying tickets to the lottery.

In between these conversations were songs of the Beatles and requests. All in a days work. I smiled all the way home.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A theatrical bent

You may wonder how it is I can sing the same songs over and over again and still not get bored of them.  My answer is by bringing them to life with a theatrical flair. As much as I can, I use exaggerated gestures &  expressions; wide eyes for drama, nodding the head for emphasis, a sweeping hand for inclusion, a wink for a joke, a little waltz like dance with my guitar, etc.   Once I start this, others start doing it too and it is fun to watch.  Today's group I sang with responds well to a theatrical approach.  Everyone starts bugging out their eyes and waving their hands and nodding their heads and laughing. That was the way it went today.

When I was a young girl, I wanted to be an actress and I was in several plays. I loved how even the smallest line could mean so much with a dramatic gesture or vocal intonation.
In high school,  I hung out at a recreation center where a group of friends and I used to act out songs and dance on top of the ping pong tables. (we were a bit much :)  We got into some trouble over some of our theatrical antics but it did pay off, for who knew I'd be doing this for a living? (well maybe not dancing on the tables though :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inauguration celebration

When I arrived the nursing home today, they had the Presidential inauguration on TV. We talked about how many presidents each of us has seen serve in our lifetime.   Not since I was a little girl have I sung patriotic songs as often I have been lately with these folks.    I am of a generation where we started to rebel against the values of those of our parents and grandparents. These songs didn't mean as much to us as they do the folks I sing with. My elder friends help me to remember that these songs are an important part of our heritage. It means a lot to me when we sing, "America the Beautiful" and "My Country Tis of Thee" to see them tear up and put their hands on their heart. One woman in particular becomes very emotional when we sing patriotic songs. She's the one who decorated her walker with a flag pictured above. (she was proud to let me take the picture)

They make me remember to be proud of our country, even though we have had our ups and downs and there are things I have seen and see today that make me wonder where we're going. But maybe if more of us felt pride for our heritage, there would be more of a sense of united vision like there has been before.
Days like today when the president is sworn in feels like a new beginning to start again to live the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about many years ago.  "I have a dream".

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Accidental Harmony


Yesterday I sang with a group at a nursing home. This group is always changing because the residents in this facility are there temporarily to recover from an injury or surgery, etc. Therefore, it's not possible to establish a set repertoire or group dynamic. I enjoy the challenge though and sometimes we have a group where everyone sings, and other times no one sings.

Yesterday there was one singing with me while the others watched and listened with amused expressions. This is because the woman singing with me did not have a very pleasant voice to listen to.   She sang very loud and coughed and hacked often in between phrases. So it would go like:

 "My Bonnie lies over the ocean --hack-whoop- cough-cough
my bonnie lies over the sea --cough cough hack...etc"

You get the idea. What was amusing though is that the singers' voice was much lower than mine and at times we made some interesting harmonies.(by accident!)   The other residents watched us with smiling faces--even after the coughing and hacking. It was actually kind of comical.

Sometimes group singing with a collection of people can be very challenging because some people like country, bluegrass, old time--others do not resonate at all with that style of music.  This was the case yesterday. When I got a blank look from some of the people during a country song, I'd follow it up with an old Fred Astaire song like "Cheek to Cheek" and then get the blank looks from the country music lovers.

This was the real accidental harmony ---that we could all come together with our varied backgrounds, gravelly voices, mixed generations and have a good time singing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Do you wanna try the blues?

Today at JABA, I was singing with Felicia and Ben with the people who come to JABA. Felicia is an African-American woman with a beautiful, soulful voice made for singing Gospel and blues.  She said she loved to just make up her own blues songs and so I played for her my blues guitar progression and she made up her own words to it.

"I'm going downtown to get me some new shoes
I said I'm going downtown to get new shoes
now baby don't you wanna, try the blues"?

Then I made up my own words:

"I went to the store, but there was nothin' there
I said I went to the store but nothin' was there
I think I'll just go home and wash my hair!"

Ha ha and on it went. It was such fun. I so rarely get the opportunity to play with others --I am such a solo act.  I love playing at JABA for this reason.  We jam with each other, harmonize and when Ben and I play some old standards, Felicia dances with people. We are a good team.

A good thing to do on a very rainy day.

Do you wanna try the blues?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I'm on your side

Sometimes in my work  I see  a lot of suffering. Today there was death in ICU at the hospital and grieving families to tend to.  I try to imagine the music I bring as being like a peaceful, beautiful meadow; a place where they can go within to gain strength and hope.

Then at a nursing home tonight there was more suffering.  A woman was yelling in her room (confused and not knowing what she was doing) while I tried to comfort a new resident who said she felt stuck there and hated being there. I've seen this a lot with people newly admitted into a nursing home and I can't blame them. She paced the halls with her walker and each time she passed, I stopped her to talk. I usually try to point out the good things about the nursing home but tonight there wasn't much I could say given the screaming woman in the background and .the tired, disgruntled staff standing nearby.

Finally, I said, "I just want you to know that I am on your side and I hope we can be friends." She thanked me and said she appreciated that.

It wasn't all a day of grief though. There were still the smiles from others, the compliments from Ms. Catherine, the laughter from Ms. Brenda when I sang her favorite patriotic songs to her (she used to be in the navy).

Even so, I don't mind seeing the ups and downs as it is part of life. It always makes me more grateful for the life I do have. I try to be a kind presence and hope it helps to leave a little light behind.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Music expresses...

that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” ― Victor Hugo

Most of the time I post here about my experiences playing music for others. Sometimes though, I do like to talk some about my own relationship with music which is like a lifelong marriage.  My deep relationship with music began as a child listening to 45 records and then deepened when I began playing an instrument (drums in 1973 and then guitar in '75).   For some people they meet the love of their lives and remain connected throughout their lifetime. For me, my life has always been about music.

Today a memory came to me of meeting someone at a music store. We were both buying harmonicas and struck up a conversation. This guy talked about music in the most reverential way that I felt instantly very connected to him. He said that music was an "expansion of the mind." and at the time, being only 16 yrs old, that thought really intrigued me. But many times I go back to what he said and feel it describes so well this relationship I have with music.

Today was a rainy day to spend working on songs for my next concert (in Feb) and keeping up older pieces and dreaming of what things I can do in the future to connect with music. 

This image posted today I found on Facebook and this quote accompanies it:

"The heart is the thousand-stringed instrument that can only be tuned with Love"~Hafiz


Monday, January 14, 2013

Daydream Believer

Today I sang with a new group of people who are closer in age to me than most groups I sing with. This gave me the opportunity to sing some of my favorite songs from my youth. I was struck by how many songs had a positive message--it was the "Age of Aquarius" and so much was changing then in America.  We sang  Beatles, "Hey Jude", "Here Comes the Sun", "With a Little Help from my Friends" ; TV themes like "Addams Family", "Flintstones", "Gilligan's Island" and songs like, "Stand by Me", "Lean on Me" and I was surprised when we sang, "Daydream Believer" that i got the goosebumps. It is not the kind of song I normally get the goosebumps from but it was a special feeling for me to share the songs I loved as a child.

As a child, these songs helped me through some of my first dark times. My parents' divorce, the move from the city of Chicago (and only home I knew my first 11 years) to the suburbs--where I quickly became an outcast for being academically ill prepared & different. We've all had songs that came into our lives at the right times that lifted us up and helped us through whatever we faced.

What are some of your songs that did this for you?

sing it with me:

..."Oh, I could hide 'neath the wings of the bluebird as she sings
The six o'clock alarm would never ring
But it rings and I rise wipe the sleep out of my eyes
The shavin' razor's cold, and it stings

Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?" - Daydream Believer

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A colorful evening

I am lucky to know a lot of creative people and to be a part of an event like Charlottesville Albemarle VSA (Very Special Arts)   annual exhibition of work by over 85 artists with a variety of disabilities. I was one of a few musicians who played background music while the public came and met the artists and enjoyed the art show. Pictured above is my friend Margaret Lee who is playing her harp as guests were arriving.

VSA is one of the organizations I work for and lead sing alongs with various groups. I really enjoy the participants' colorful personalities and unique world views. You can definitely see this in their art work that will be displayed at the Martin Luther King Performing Arts Center until April in Charlottesville.

I was especially touched by one local artist who stood proudly by her work of art as we talked. She said she'd like to donate her piece to the school where the kids were shot recently. I thought that was such a nice idea she had.

The annual art show is a night where these  differently-abled and gifted people truly shine. Pictures of the exhibition opening will be posted on the VSA Facebook page
In the meantime, I am glad that this event is one that starts off a new year. Colorful people and events are my favorites.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Goodbye Mabel, you did good.

Last night at the nursing home I play at regularly, I saw the notice that Ms. Mabel passed away last week.   Perhaps it is not right to have favorites and I should care for each of the people I play for equally, but Ms. Mabel was my favorite there.

Dear Mabel,

I wanted to tell you that I will miss you and will always remember your kind and gentle soul. I remember when I first met you and how you would smile when I approached, and I wished there was a video camera over my head so others could see the happiness I see each day in my work.  You'd always say, "sounds pretty good!" when I played my guitar for you in an accent I know to be from the deep south. You used to tell me about your son and how you wanted us to meet. On other occasions, when you were confused you said you were going home.

Gradually  you withdrew and in your last days you did not respond when I touched your arm and said hello. It was months I knew you were preparing to go "home" because I just know the signs now. Even so, it still took me by surprise to see the memorial written up about your passing. I didn't get to say goodbye to you, so here it is now. I do believe in angels, you know. And I know you are one now. You did good Mabel, and may you rest in peace.

With love from your music friend,


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Music & Astrology, me and Planet Waves!

This is by far one of the most exciting projects I have ever been a part of.  I have long been a subscriber of Planet Waves astrology (email newsletters, podcast & website) and this year my music has been selected to accompany the annual audio addition called LISTEN.

I was given samples of the readings for each sign and I chose a musical piece to go along with each sign.   So, in the audios you will hear theme music in the intros and outros of each sign.  The whole song is also posted on their webpage. We are also working on a LISTEN soundtrack that can be downloaded from iTunes. Stay Tuned!

LISTEN audio series has not been published yet but you can go to the link above for information about it. Eric Francis is a very gifted astrologer and writer and I have been following his work since the late 1990's. It's quite an honor to be part of this endeavor!

In the meantime... have a listen to my title song from my CD, "Choose the Sky"

Thanks as always for reading! Feel free to get in touch.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Would you Believe...

Who remembers that TV show from the 60s, "Get Smart"?  I loved this show along with many other detective shows popular at the time such as "Mod Squad", 'Mannix", Man from U.N.C.L.E.", "Mission: Impossible", "Perry Mason", etc.

I grew up watching these shows and as a girl my I dreamed to become a detective. I loved the adventure, mystery, intrigue the stories provided. I thought that would be a great life to live in that world of excitement.

I did not become a detective but instead I am a musician and I think there are a lot of similarities but without the negativity that would come with seeing a down side to life that a detective would see.

For instance, I never know how a gig will turn out. Who will come to the show, what the group dynamic will be, what songs will go over or not, how far to put myself out there or not, etc.
It is always a balance of taking a risk and seeing where it leads. Sometimes it falls flat, other times I see the spark of recognition in the audience.

Playing at nursing homes is not for everyone but it is also very unpredictable and ever-changing.  Sometimes an old forgotten song is the key to uniting everyone, other times a silly song brings us together. I never know but I love the challenge.

"Would you believe.." is a question Maxwell used to say all the time in Get Smart. It is one that could easily be applied in my work. Would you believe that song, "I saw the Light" was the song everyone loved yesterday?  Would you believe that being a musician is the closest I could come to being a detective and living on the edge?

PS I really wanted a shoe like Maxwell's! 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Creative Songwriting Classes starting soon!

Free Introductory Songwriting Class Tues. January 7th, 7pm Staunton Parks & Rec!

Classes begin Jan. 15 Tues. 7pm for 6 weeks

Start the New Year by nurturing your creative expression! All you need to bring is your love for music! (and a pen and paper)  You don't need to have a lot of musical experience to write a song. With some simple tools and ideas you will learn in the class, you will soon be creating unique songs of your own. (or polishing up existing original songs). 

In this free intro class, we'll learn a writing exercise that got Gillian Welsh her start in Nashville as one of the most successful songwriters today. You'll also get an overview of other materials to be covered in the class series as well as time to share our songs in a supportive and nurturing way. There will be no critiquing, there is no right and wrong way to write a song!  This class aims to be fun, informative and inspirational!

 I have lots of fun and interesting things planned for the 6 week series of classes. We will have time for sharing, jamming & collaborating, working on our own with some writing exercises. I strive to make our classes a fun and memorable experience where you will leave each night full of ideas and inspiration!

The photo above was taken at a class I taught in Troy, VA during a jam session we did with Native Flute, piano and guitar. I recorded our composition and it turned out beautifully!

If you are not sure about coming and wish to ask anything about the class, feel free to get in touch with me. Email: <

All ages and beginners welcome! 

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” ― Victor Hugo

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.” ― Plato

“Music is ... A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy”
― Ludwig van Beethoven

“Everybody has that point in their life where you hit a crossroads and you've had a bunch of bad days and there's different ways you can deal with it and the way I dealt with it was I just turned completely to music.” ― Taylor Swift

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Soundtrack of our Lives

Today as I was singing with a group at a nursing home (see sign above and note that I am after nap time! :) I was marveling to myself how much I truly still enjoy singing all the songs I learned in school growing up.  As I looked around the room, it was clear that others still love them too. What is it about these old songs that still delight us to sing? 'This Land is Your Land", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot",  "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad", "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean", etc? I love how they bring us together and we share in a moment of remembering positive memories from the soundtrack of our lives.

There was one woman in particular today who really moved me to watch. She was in a wheelchair and had some mobility issues but she was dancing in her chair and acting out the songs.  Her eyes would fill with tears at times as she reached her arms up to the sky and then put her hands on her heart. She was really in the song and felt each word.

We've all had that feeling, haven't we? When we are just so moved by a song we are totally carried away from our daily concerns.   As  it is a home run by Mennonites, I sing some hymns too.  I think the best song for me was, "It is Well with my Soul". These songs are a great comfort to people with disabilities because they talk about spirit and soul and life beyond a physical experience (which is limited and painful for them). It is a realm where they dwell much more easily then people who take their physical health for granted. I feel glad I have these people to teach me to really appreciate all I have. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In Search of the Lost Chord

Ok, I am getting into guitar geek territory.   But this is something I love about music and why after nearly 40 years of playing the guitar I am still discovering new feelings, moods, shades, flavors.
In my work playing guitar at the hospital and at nursing homes  I often improvise using chord progressions and see where they will lead me. Part of it is that I am seeking ways to create an ambiance in a space for people I play for. Part of it is that I have to be aware of how they respond to the music coming from me and also to see where it takes me too. Once I was playing for a man in ICU and he woke up out of a deep sleep as I played for him. He said, "wow! I thought I was in another dimension!" and it felt like he picked up on where I was as I played-- way out there on a musical tangent somewhere beyond the mundane world.

Many of my melodies and songs come from these sessions. Today something came to me using Bbmaj7th chord. I love the key of Bb anyway and there are a couple of ways to play in Bb on guitar without having to get into awkward fingerings. (play G form capo the 3rd fret or A form capo fret I)  But what happens when I allow myself to play the chords that take more effort to play is that it leads me into new territory. I learn something and grow from it.

Yesterday when my art therapist friend was showing me  two paintings that were vastly different in color and style I said it didn't look like the same person did them. She said, "there are lots of sides to me to express." And that is what I am striving to do too.

So tomorrow morning.. I am going to explore that Bb thing.
What is your Bb thing?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

If I could paint with sound

Today I spent the afternoon with an art therapist I have not seen in over 20 years.  I was so inspired to see her work (she is in her late 80s now). She has developed a new technique of painting that is a very visceral experience to look at. She hung the paintings on the wall and asked me to go and stand near them and see if I could feel the energy of them. I loved the idea of it and I could indeed feel something changing in me as I looked at them. After all, colors are vibrations the same as musical notes and so it makes sense that we could be physically altered by looking at them.

We spent a long time trying to find works to describe this new way of painting.  The process made me think of how can I do something like this with music? How does one reinvent their art/music into something they have never done before?

I did write something a couple of days ago --a piece that does not have words yet but it really moves me to play these chords & meoldy. I read somewhere that, "if you can't move yourself, you can't move anyone else." So.. I strive for this feeling of the music doing something to me as I play it.. that feeling that I could play it over and over again for hours and still love it.

I go looking through stacks of music by composers I like to find unusual chords or something I can use to try. Kind of like clipping a picture from a magazine to use in a collage. Or a new herb or spice for a new flavor.

I was happy with the new flavor of the piece I am working on but then after today and looking at that bold new art I know there are new horizons yet to explore.

Happy New Year!

(art pictured above by Picasso)