Thursday, February 28, 2013

Train wreck rescue

It was a beautiful day today and the drive out to Crozet (a neighboring town) a the nursing home  was beautiful. They are so sweet group although today there was a new elderly man there who when he saw my guitar said, "I'll pick wid ya" and because I have had success before with other residents playing guitar with me, I readily agreed for him to get his guitar and play with me.

I was in the middle of a song when he came back with his guitar but it was horribly out of tune and he strummed and it sounded terrible! I stopped to tell him he needed to tune but he could not hear or understand anything I said.  Each time I tried to play, he tried to play along but it sounded like--well, you guessed it, a train wreck. I would stop playing and try to tell him again to tune his guitar but again he just grinned and said, "yes I have a tuner" and did not understand (could not hear me).  It ended up that a staff member had to come and intervene.  She told him he could play after I was done. And so he sat there for the whole hour with his guitar in hand and completely focused on me to signal him for when the time would be right for him to start playing.

After the last song, I told him he could play now and we sat and listened awhile.   I have to give credit to the sweet ladies who sat and politely listened to something i cannot describe.. it was not very harmonious or musically pleasing but after each "song" we all clapped and this seemed to make him happy.   It turns out the train wreck brought a new element of endearment to the day and we all seemed to know it.

Have any of you experienced any "train wrecks" lately? Did anyone or anything save the day?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Love comes in many forms

On Sunday I took a writing workshop and one of the lessons was to write an inventory of memories for each decade.  You write for just 5 mins and quickly jot down the "best of" your cherished memories.
Then we were posed with the question of if we could choose only one of these memories to relive, which one would it be? That was hard for me because many of my best memories were an era or phase that lasted over time, not just one snapshot. I was struck that the others in the class chose memories connected to their marriage or family.  Since I have lived alone for many years, that would not be one of my choices. What I do know though is that I have a lot of love in my life.  Today was a day when I was shown that all over again!

I stopped by one of the club houses where I play once a month and was greeted in the parking lot by a man who is so affectionate to sweet to me. He ran up to me and hugged me and said, "I love you!" and then as an afterthought he added, "I love you like a sister, you're my friend." I said, "I love you too, you are my brother!" Eddie is an African-American man somewhere in his 60s who would be very handsome if he didn't appear downtrodden due to circumstances I don't know much about.  He reached for my guitar and carried it for me as we walked to the club house together.  When I got inside, I was greeted by another man who embraced me a long time and kissed me. Then he held my hand for awhile and told me it was his birthday on Saturday. I said, "I bet I am older than you" and he laughed and hugged and kissed me again. (it turns out I was right :)

This is a place where people with mental health challenges hang out during the day. There is a patio outside where we do most of our singing together. Many of them chain smoke and there are several coffee cans filled with cigarette butts.  I sat down next to one of the women who usually sings with me and I started to play some blues progressions and said we could make up a blues song. So I sang about smoking outside and taking in the sunshine and having a good time.  We were laughing and enjoying our time together.  I feel honored that these people let me be part of their lives. When I am there I see a glimpse of life that many do not see. They make do with so little and seem to not have much. But they do love music and they really appreciate me. It is good.

PS My answer to the question of what memory I would live again is that I would relive the summer of 1987 when I had a summer job at Omega institute in NY. How about you?  If you had to choose one memory what would  it be?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bossa Nova Blue

Hi this is Jasper, Blue's cat. She does not no I am righting to you. I found out that her blog was recently featured on another blog and so I wanted to say hello out there! I wanted to ask, are there other cats who have humans who like to keep blogs? Can we get together online and Skype or something? I have so much to say.

For one thing I want to tell you (don't tell my mom I said it) that my mom is learning to play Bossa Nova! It is such fun to run around in the house to. Sometimes my mom dances with me too.

Do other cats dance with their mom's? if so, what kind of music do you dance to?

As you can see by the picture of me, I am in charge of shipping and handling my mommy's CDs. I found out she is giving some away! So I am busy now packing them.

Ut oh, I think she is home now so I have to go! bye!
(Pleaze do not tell her I hacked her blog!!!)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sundowning Serenade

Tonight was my night to go and play my "sundowning serenade" at a nursing home in a neighboring town. "Sundowning" refers to the stressful & disorienting time for people with Alzheimer's. It is the time at the end of their day, as they are getting ready for bed.    When I arrived at the home, the frazzled nurse said, "oh, God bless you, we need you tonight!"

My serenade is an hour of quiet, peaceful instrumental guitar music.  It is amazing to see how immediate the reaction is when I start playing. The agitated pacing and nervous chatter stops and they all seem to just go into a zone. I saw that the nurses were pleased that having me in the room playing music gave them a much needed break.

Earlier this evening, I burned my finger right where I have to fret it on the guitar. There were some songs that caused me some pain because of this but I so rarely have such things happen that I didn't mind a little discomfort.

They had the TV on to the movie, "Wizard of Oz" with the sound muted and I amused myself by improvising along with the scenes at times. Since I was playing relaxing music, most of the time what I was playing did not flow well with the movie. Sometimes though the clash of moods made for an interesting idea for me to later explore. So many of my own compositions begin during sessions like tonight's serenade.

What kind of music do you listen to relax? Do you listen to music as you fall asleep?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

You've Got a Friend

Today I sang with a group of adults with intellectual disabilities (autism, etc) They are such a sweet group but sometimes they can be a real handful! But it is always worth it. I'd say today was one of my favorite times with them.  We sat closer together and sang some silly songs like, "The Addams Family", "Flintstones", "Gilligans' Island" TV theme songs. But we really bonded during other songs like, "Stand by me", "Lean on me", "I'll be There", "Happy Together" and yes, "You've Got a Friend". This last song stood out because when I started to sing it two of the girls in the group came up and put their arm around me and we sang it together as a trio. I wanted to say, "take our picture!!" but you just have to imagine the goosebumps and good feelings that we put out there through one of my favorite songs.

I always come away from them feeling so awed by their incredible spirit for life. What would life be like if we could always stay in the magical, imaginative space we dwelt in as a child? So many times that sense of creative imagination halts when other responsibilities come up. But as the saying goes, "we don't stop playing because we grow old,  we grow old because we stop playing."
What a gift for me to be reminded of this every time I sing with them!
Thank you!

So how about you, have you been silly, have you played today?

P. S. I wanted to say hello to new folks who may be reading my blog for the first time sent here from my favorite blog by Katherine Jenkins "Lessons from the Monk I married."
Following her example, I'd like to do a giveaway of my CD, "Choose the Sky" that was five years in the making! This is because I had to stop the recording midway through the process and get cochlear implant surgery. It was a quite a journey but worth it!  You can read about it all on my website:

If you are interested in a receiving a free copy of my CD--all you have to do is comment below and join in my blog by following me! I'd love to have you aboard!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Man's best friend

Tonight at the nursing home where I play each week I got to know one of the residents a bit more. Usually when I am there and singing and playing guitar in the hallways (as the folks get ready for bed) he is asleep in his wheelchair. Tonight though he spoke to me as I was walking by. I then went to him and he said, "I miss my wife." and burst into tears. I said, "oh I am so sorry, I am sure that you must feel very sad about that."  That made him cry harder and I rubbed his back and touched his arm and kept trying to say comforting things. "She must have been a nice lady",  "I'll bet she was very pretty" and he would cry more and say, "yes she was!"  I was so moved by his tears that I started to tear up a bit myself.

Then I decided to try to cheer him up. I don't normally try to talk someone out of their grief but I thought perhaps it would be more productive then dwelling on the past.  Since there was a painting above his head with a dog in the picture I asked, "do you like dogs?" and immediately, his face brightened and he smiled.  Then I started to sing, "How much is that Doggie in the Window" and he started to laugh.   I then started to do a little dance as I sang  the song and acted it out a bit while he laughed with tears streaming down his face. As I continued to sing the song, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

I was reminded of when I was a child, I used to go wake up my mother in the morning and  do pantomimes and dance around to make her laugh. I'd put on her glasses and be silly and she just loved it.  Laughter is the best medicine sometimes.

Have you laughed today?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today I sang at a Valentine's Day party at a nursing home in a neighboring town. As usual, I had planned for one thing but when I arrived, saw that a whole other approach would be required! Usually I sing in a small room with about 20 people but today we were in a big room and about 60 people were there! I actually got a bit of a sore throat trying to sing loud enough for everyone to hear without a microphone. I do have a guitar strap and I did like a strolling troubadour, making my way through the room.

The thing I had to change was the fact that I had planned all love songs which meant many songs that are sung quietly. I then gave myself over to the moment and realized that it was not about the type of song to sing, but about gathering together and having a good time.

Though I have sung at this home before many times, there were still many people I had never seen before. This made it much better for they brought new gutsto into the songs we like to sing each month.

After each song I would raise my fist in the air and give a "woo woo" and everyone would clap. I was impressed that this place is not one that appears to have a lot of money but they had Valentine bags for everyone that had candy and stuffed animals in them. Everyone seemed very happy and it made for a lovely holiday.

How was your Valentine's Day?

An unexpected gift

Today I was walking out of the library and on the way to my car when a man was coming in to the library and said, "is that Blue?"   I stopped as he came closer.  He walked with a cane and as he approached he said, "I think of you every day!" By this time I recognized him as the man I met last summer at a concert I did at the Mudhouse and I gave him my CD.

We moved to the sidewalk to talk and he proceeded to tell me how much my music meant to him.    He said that he never forgot how I gave him my CD and that he doesn't keep it with other CDs, but he keeps it in a special place to listen to it when he needs to. Then he told me some details about some of the struggles he was seeing in his life and how listening to my songs help him.

He said that he was so moved by that fact that  I had given him, a stranger, my CD.  As he spoke, I saw a tear streaming down his face and I was struck by what a gift it was for me to hear how much my music meant to him.  Recently I have wondered at times if what I do goes unnoticed or if I am destined to never fulfill my dream of moving people with my music.

He went on to say that if he had been just 5 minutes later, we would never have chanced to meet in the street outside the library. I said, "coincidence is God preferring to remain anonymous"--something  I've heard said. He told me he had never heard that.

We agreed to keep in touch by email. I felt so full in my heart to have heard how much our meeting last summer has impacted on his life.

Which brings  me  to say for all of us, sometimes we just do not know how much our life and our contributions have helped others. It is rare that we have the opportunity like I did today to hear about it.

S.____ if you are reading this, thank you so much too! You have given me an incredible gift to affirm that I am doing what I am meant to be doing in the world! Thank you!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where would you like your light to shine?

Such a good time today! In the picture above we were singing the song, "This Little Light of Mine" and each of us said where we would like our light to shine. We sang for the light to shine in our home, our heart, all day long, at the hospital, in our job, in music class."   The red and orange tubes you see them playing in the picture are Boomwhackers. They are tuned percussion instruments that make a musical note when they are struck. I had these for a long time but took them out today and they were a real hit (no pun intended) as you can see!

One of the teachers surprised me with a song he wrote the, "Blue O'Connell Blues".  It went something like:

"I've got the Blue O'Connell blues
I've got the Blue O'Connell blues
and I've got nothing left to lose
yeah I've got the Blue O'Connell blues."

Ha ha! What a thing to hear--a song about me! We riffed on that for awhile and he said he would finish the song. If you have any further lyrics, let me know! :) 

This was a group from Post High and before that, I was singing with the Mary Williams group (seniors at JABA) in the same building of the Jefferson City School Center. It has recently opened and has all kinds of really cool things going on. The group in Mary Williams today was great too. We sang some Valentine's songs, "Let me Call you Sweetheart", "Bicycle Built for Two", "Can't Help Falling in Love with You", "As Time Goes By". 

Quite often when I arrive to sing with a group, though I have my list ready, I really have no idea how things will go or what will happen. Much depends on the group dynamic and making room for spontaneous expression. I am always richly rewarded. 

Filling up and spilling over

Many people I see (hospital) are in need of comfort and healing and I am happy to give that with music to the best of my ability. But there are also places where I go and the people are spilling over to be kind to me. The Gordon House in Gordonsville is such a place. As soon as I walk in, hands reach out to me, arms open to embrace me and smiles and kind words abound.

Yesterday when I sang with the group there I  was remembering my Grandparents who lived in MI and as a child I rode the train from Chicago to visit them. I was always so excited to go see them as they were always kind and loving to my sister and I. There is something special about having a Grandma and Grandpa, a place that no one else can fill in our lives.

 I no longer have them but I do have my elder friends at places like Gordon House who treat me like a granddaughter. I leave there feeling full as if I just had a nourishing meal with them. Music is a spiritual food that feeds the heart and soul. It fills me up so I can then spill over to others.

After we finish singing, the people in the group thank me but it goes both ways. Thank you!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Music flowing in unexpected spaces

Yesterday I played my guitar in the lobby at the gym where I work out. (acac) It's funny because I never would have thought I would see a day where I go to a gym regularly.  I love being outdoors and always took long walks for my exercise. But as I get older, it becomes even more important to me to maintain my strength, flexibility, endurance.

I have come to love my daily work outs as a time doing something physical something that brings "flow" experience.  Much research has been done about flow experience which is described as those moments when you are completely and totally absorbed in an activity. As such, everything else is forgotten. You have total concentration and nothing else matters. You are no longer aware of what is going on around you. The rest of the world is forgotten. You know the feeling, right? Some get there by meditation, others do yoga, maybe you do some art or write or you experience this in nature. I play music to get there too. Check out the article "Flow experience - A Key to Happiness."

At any rate, I sat in the lobby at the gym playing guitar for 2 hrs. It was great to see all of the people's expressions of being pleasantly surprised. Many commented, "how wonderful", "that is very nice", "sounds lovely". Some people sat next to me and read the paper and relaxed as I played on. Do you ever like to spend time in silence with someone else? Both of you deeply absorbed by your own activity and sharing this moment you feel connected without words.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Where it takes me...

One of the most beautiful places I play is a nursing home out near Madison County. It is owned and run by Mennonites. It is such a special place inside and out. The people there are so filled with genuine goodness, it feels so good to bask in their kindness.  Most of the workers who tend to the residents are young and in training to serve others. Today I met a young woman for the first time and when I asked if she was new, she said that she was a CNA there but had been working in activities lately. She smiled and said, "I love it, it is a very fulfilling place to work."   Wow... imagine a world where we all felt this way about our work!

I sing in a large room where they have the residents gathered in a big circle. As I sing, some of the staff and nurses come around to the people and give the women manicures or give them a snack or medicine or just hold their hand and sing with them. It really inspires me to see this. Remember that line in the movie, "As Good as it Gets" when Jack Nicholson said to his new friend, "you make me want to be a better person."  That is how that place and the people there make me feel.  It is a joy to sing with them and to feel uplifted by them when I leave.

The drive to and from there is welcome pilgrimage in a beautiful rural setting. The photo above is the view across the street from the home.  I can still remember one summer day while driving there, I saw a young woman dressed in traditional Mennonite clothes walking briskly on the side of the road (there are no sidewalks) and singing happily aloud. With her shoes in her hands, barefoot and free from her cares, she looked to be heading home from her days work.

You can imagine how refreshing this is to see--since I live now next to a new housing development going up. All day I see the ugly sites of bulldozers and brace myself for their loud sounds.

The city continues to grow.. meanwhile it is good to know there is a place like Mountain View Nursing home.  It does me good to go there.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Promise of Spring

"Promise of Spring" is  one of 30 titles submitted for a new instrumental song Diane Cluck  and I played during our concert at C'ville Coffee on Friday, Feb. 1st. What I did was hand out scraps of paper and pens to the audience and asked them to listen to this piece and write down a title idea.  The audience members voted on each title idea by applause. There was a tie between, "Field of Clouds" and "Promise of Spring".  Other ideas were, "Open Dreams", "Dance Barefoot", "Born to be Wild". It was a fun thing and something I've never done before. (thanks to Joy for the winning title!)

It was an evening of song sharing and collaboration with Diane, who is relatively new to Charlottesville (from NYC). We will be recording, "Promise of Spring" sometime and when we do, I'll post for all to hear.  As it turns out it is a fitting song since I read that on Groundhog Day, an early spring is predicted. Yay!

The song in the video is a new one about my experience in my drawing class last spring. It's called, "Learning to Draw" but it is about many other things as you will see. (thanks to Joan for the YouTube of it!)

Thanks to everyone who came out on Friday in the bitter cold to support us!