Friday, May 31, 2013

Life in 3/4 time

I love Life's endless song as it unfolds around me in its diverse forms. The other day I  played in the newborn ICU at the hospital. My fingers made up lullabies to soothe the babies and eased the stress of the nurses and mothers.  Life in 3/4 time is relaxing and slowed down, a healing balm for us all in world that encourages us to go, go, go.

The tempo of the waltz mimics the human heart. The gentle swaying rhythm brings the same feeling as rocking.  As I play music on my guitar in a slow tempo between 50-70 bpm, this is the rhythm the babies heard in the womb as the mothers' resting heartbeat.

As I was playing, a doctor and  medical students gathered round one of the newborns.  They appeared to be doing some kind of medical teaching. After the lesson was over, the doctor told me he'd never seen a guitar in ICU before.  He seemed very impressed and knew some of the pieces I played (those that I didn't make up!)  Then I told him all about my work as a Musician-in-Residence at the hospital.  Though I have done this job since 2004, I still feel blown away by how great it is.

Music is healing for us all and I feel so grateful to bring it to all different places and people.

To those of you in blogsphere, do you have special music you like to listen to to relax or help you sleep?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ain't Misbehavin' and when a song is a play

Yesterday's favorite song (chosen by a member of the group where I sang) was "Ain't Misbehavin'" --a 1920s New Orleans jazz song written by Fats Waller.

When I was a child,  I wanted to be an actress and I enjoyed playing various roles in plays. I also did other roles in productions such as stage manager, helping to build props, working backstage.

I am struck by how much singing for others is a lot like being an actress.   To learn a new song such as "Ain't Misbehavin' requires learning about a different genre of music. I also like to learn the historic background of a song.  For instance, it is said that this song was written while Fats Waller was serving a short stint in alimony prison. (that was why he was not "misbehavin')

Anyway, what I love about having a diverse music repertoire is it is like an actress who plays a variety of roles.  The best actors play serious dramatic parts but can also play a funny role. They are versatile and flexible and diverse.  The best actors can hook us into the story and can portray a character so believable, we forget they are acting.

Music is the same way. I like to study songs and genres and learn different styles.  It is like learning a new dialect or language to connect with people. It is why they say music is the "universal language".
When I am able to grow by learning new things as well as bring happiness to others by playing a song that has a happy memory associated with it, there is no better feeling.

Yesterday was Memorial Day so our group sang indoors for an hour or so until the BBQ party got started.  Then food and volleyball followed--such fun!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Old friends

When I say, "old friends" --I don't mean people who have been friends for years-but I mean elderly people who form new friendships. In all my work at nursing homes, I haven't often seen friendships  among residents. I am sure it happens and that I don't normally see it because when I am there, they are in a group. But lately I have been seeing friends forming and it is great to see this.

At one home where I work there have been quite a number of new people who joined the community. Last night I saw two new women friends sitting in the hallway talking intensely and doing something that looked like arm wrestling. It is nice to see because before the new arrival,  Ms. Louise didn't seem to have friends there. (or I never saw her with them) But her new friend and her were carrying on and laughing and talking. Later when I walked by, Ms. Louise had fallen asleep with her head on her new friends' shoulder and holding hands with her.

Today at another home I saw something that reminded me of myself when I was a teenager. I was a mischievous friend who liked to tease and play pranks on my friends.  Until today, it never occurred to me that seniors have these kind of friendships. While we were singing in a group, I could see two women making funny faces at each other and poking each other in the head and other things.  I had never seen them doing this before.  I guess friends are the same at whatever age.  I wonder what kind of friend I be when I am in my 80s?  Will I arm wrestle and tease them? Will I work to keep their trust?  How will friendships change as we get older? Oddly enough, I never thought about it until today.
What do you think?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Featured on AuxSend TV program

There's this great TV show out of Winchester, VA that I was fortunate to be featured on. It is right before Austin City Limits. Pretty cool! Here is the episode if you'd like to watch it and thanks much for stopping by today!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An interview with Silence

 Those of you not from Charlottesvile may not know that I was a radio DJ for 20 years at WTJU. I did acoustic/folk shows featuring lesser known and unsigned artists and songwriters.  Over the years I also did some specialty shows for fundraisers. In one program, I did some comedy stuff and among other things I did an interview with Silence. Here is more or less how it went:

(Doorbell rings) Enter the studio Silently..

Me:  Hello, Silence thank you for coming today. I know you are in big demand these days, so I really appreciate your time.


Me:  I've always wanted to ask you these questions, are you ready now for the interview?


Me:   What was the wildest thing you've ever done since you've been Silent?


Me: What has been the most challenging aspect of being Silence?


Me: What is your happiest memory of being Silence?


Me: Where did the saying, "silence is golden" come from?


Me: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it--was that you playing a joke?


Me: What is your favorite sound?


Me: Well, now I think I will open this up for our audience to ask you some questions. Will that be alright?


Me:  You are welcome to write your questions right here for Silence to answer. 
Thank you very much for all of your very wise replies, Silence!


Friday, May 17, 2013


Today at a nursing home where I sing monthly,  the group was not listening and we were not connecting. This particular group is hard because they are comprised of people who are at the home temporarily while they undergo rehab from surgery or injury. Therefore, they are not really a bonded group and each month it is different.

Anyway, I was singing for this group and some fell asleep and other drifted away and when  I saw that there was no connection to be made I decided to sing for myself. I sang, "Smile" composed by Charlie Chaplin (lyrics by another author later). I had my eyes closed for most of the song and when it came to an end and I opened my eyes, there was a man in a wheelchair in front of me with tears overflowing in his eyes. It looked as though he wanted to say something but appeared unable to talk. I said, "that was written by Charlie Chaplin."

He told me I had a very unusual voice and style. He asked what other ballads I played and I then sang, "Georgia" and "Fly me to the moon" and this got us talking and getting to know each other. He asked me all about my music career and where I am from and what I have done professionally. It was a rare moment I shared with him, someone who saw the real me--that is what it felt like. It felt like I unveiled a vulnerable part of myself and he was someone who truly valued and appreciated what he heard and saw.

I often try to sing uplifting songs at nursing homes--partly because some of them are on medications that make them drowsy and they need the stimulation. But I admit that my heart is really into the slow, romantic ballads. It was such a nice feeling when I felt that I was able to uncover that part of myself and that man saw it and he appreciated it.

Part of me wondered if maybe the others were not listening because I was not really being myself. I think people do feel this. And when I dropped that act and sang what was true to my heart, there was someone there who felt that.

Artists walk the fine line of being trying to please others while also trying to remain true to oneself. Today's lesson was to let the real me out more often and let the chips fall where they may.

When I said goodby to the gentleman who listened to me at the end, his eyes filled with tears again and he said, "thank you for the music." Really though,  I have him to thank.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

St. Peter & the blue bandana

Last night at a nursing home where I play music in the hallways for the residents as they get ready for bed, I overheard a lively discussion.  Two women were debating as to whether or not St. Peter would "let them in". (I assumed they were talking about heaven.) Ms. Stevens, ever the worrier was telling Ms. Taylor that she didn't think she would get in. But Ms. Taylor, ever the nurturer and supporter was reassuring that St. Peter would definitely let her in.  I nearly started singing the song, "Sixteen Tons" where it says,

"sixteen tons and what do you get?
another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter don't you call me cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store".

Instead I approached them and asked, "do you think St. Peter would let me in?" Both of them laughed, so I never quite got an answer. (or maybe that was the answer?)

Then I was playing for Ms. Brown and I had my blue bandana on my right arm that I use for a sleeve when I play my guitar. (during hot months of the year) She asked about my bandana and if I had someone I knew who worked at the railroad. This led to a lengthy discussion about her husband and father who worked for the railroad in West Virginia.  I have noticed quite a number of seniors have very positive memories associated with trains and railroads. We talk about this after singing, "I've been workin' on the railroad."

Then Ms. Brown asked that I sing, "I'll Fly Away". I often feel a little awkward singing this to elderly people because the song says, "when I die, hallelujah by and by-- I'll Fly Away". But then it occurred to me that maybe this is why they like it. It is a happy song about finally being free of their human suffering. As I sang, Ms. Brown nodded and closed her eyes and smiled.

 "To a land where joy never ends, I'll fly away..."   

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sound Collage

So remember how I told you the other day I've been scavenger hunting for composition ideas? Yesterday the Muse visited and I had so much fun. Here is what I did. I had been working on three pieces of music: two of them classical and one a blues song.  I wrote down favorite measures from each of these pieces on index cards and scrambled them up. Next, I randomly put them in order like a composition and viola! A new piece was born!  I also changed the melodic flow and rhythm so I was not playing the original melody (or stealing it :) I did shuffle the index cards around a bit more and added in two more chords and a bridge part today.

It really was like creating a collage. Remember those times cutting out pictures and quotes and pasting on trinkets to make a collage? It may seem like a hodgepodge of a collection but because you picked all the images out, you are the common thread throughout that holds it together.

My new piece I have been playing all day, adding chords or taking them out.  Speeding up the tempo or slowing it down. Changing the ending.. it is like a puzzle shifting around the pieces until they snap together and you say, "yes".  It is quite a satisfying experience!

Have you done any collage lately? Literally or metaphorically?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Scavenger hunting for the muse

Many years ago I went on my first scavenger hunt.  I couldn't believe people would put things they no longer wanted out near the curb in their yard for others to come take. I don't recall taking anything but I did very much enjoy looking through other people's discarded things.

I like to do the same kind of thing with music by going through books and songs I have and looking at how I can use some chords and ideas in new ways. It is one of my favorite things to do but I don't often have the time to just have fun with music. Often times I am more goal oriented and practicing for a performance of some kind.

So the last few days I have really enjoyed going through music I downloaded and set aside. I like to read through the pieces and write down the chord structures and see what I can learn from them. Then I like to see if I can make up something new of my own that would fit in the middle of a piece as a bridge or intro. Quite often, it leads me to compose something entirely new of my own.

It is also like scrap booking. Cutting out pieces and pictures, pasting quotes and old jewelry or something found to make something new.  It is a lot of fun.

In my pile I have Celtic and Bossa Nova music, old folk songs, intervallic fretboard improvisational techniques, preludes written by a friend, classical guitar works.  So far I did come up with a piece of a piece but I need more parts to make it a whole composition. The hunt continues....I suspect if I come up with something I like, you will be hearing it soon!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Adventures of a bionic woman

Something interesting about me: I have a cochlear implant. So what is it? Do you know?  It is a medical device that allows people with severe to profound hearing loss to hear again. They work wonderfully!  They are still so poorly understood though. All over the internet are videos of what is called, "activations"  showing people of all ages hearing for the first time. It is often a dramatic depiction that gives the impression that the cochlear implant (CI) is a "magic wand" and instantly restores hearing. This is not true. At least it was not for me!

Stories of activation vary widely because of the type of hearing loss one has. For example, for someone like myself who experience hearing loss over many years,  it meant I had to undergo months of auditory rehabilitation in order to improve speech recognition and music perception.  It makes sense when you think about it. Supposing you cannot hear a wide spectrum of frequencies and then suddenly they are available to you? Your brain would not know how to interpret these sounds.  

Some of the rehab, though challenging, was fun. I listened to books on tape while following along with the written book. I listened to NPR stories ("This I Believe" is a good one because they are short and have transcripts on the website). I went to a "Listening Gym" online and ESL websites to practice listening to all kinds of conversations and other sounds. 

Music was altogether another story! I worked with a music teacher for months doing ear training exercises like they do in music conservatories to gain perfect pitch. I was not trying to learn perfect pitch but to improve pitch recognition. Here is an article I wrote about my music rehab that was published in The Hearing Journal and ALDA News. 

I recently completed a soundtrack for a video by Rachel Chaikof for Cochlearimplantsonline
The video is to create awareness about cochlear implants. I had a great time coming up with the sounds and music for it. You can see this video here!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Some words from Blue's guitar

Hello everyone,  I am pleased that technology now allows me to say hello to Blue's friends and to introduce myself to you. I am Blue's guitar. I don't have a name that she calls me but I know I am her favorite instrument. I live with 3 other guitars, four mountain dulcimers, 6 Native American flutes, a bodhran, djembe, doumbek, tambourine, and a electric keyboard. (our newest addition)  Of all of the instruments in our family, I am the one most used.  I was made right here in Ivy, VA 14 years ago. I came to live with Blue in 2001 and these have been the happiest years of my life.

This week I was quite busy! Wednesday I played and sang for some nursing home residents.  So many of them tell me they love me.  Some of them even touch me while Blue frets the strings, they strum.  It kind of tickles me to be honest but no one can hear me laughing. Then Wednesday night I played for the monthly Taize service at the local Mennonite church. Some of this music is so beautiful and haunting, I have to say I can really produce some flattering sounds for this!

Yesterday I soothed some weary patients in the ICU at the hospital.  I could see how my sounds helped them to feel better and that is very gratifying.

This morning I played at the gym where Blue goes and many people came up and thanked me.  Often people came to sit near me and close their eyes as rest & listen a bit.

All in all, it is a good life. I am resting up now before going to play for another nursing home soon, then we have the night off! Happy weekend to all!

P.S. Hi from Jasper!!  Ha ha! I sneaked in the picture when Blue was not looking! :)

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Art of Boldness

I have been so lucky to have such creative and vibrant friends over the years. The above painting was done by my friend Barbara using a new artistic technique she created called, "Core Energy Art".  It involves using a spinning table and applying the paint with spatulas and other utensils. The results bring works of bold and bright colors. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Barbara many years ago about being bold. She asked me what I thought it meant to be bold. I said, "to be out with your inness" --and I'd say she did this with her art! Above is just one painting but there are several of hers now on display at the TJ Unitarian Church in Charlottesville. The show also features art therapist Phyllis Frame whose work is astonishing as well!

Yesterday was their art opening and I got to play some music as people came and gazed upon these beautiful works.  There were old friends who were visiting town after years of being away and new friends there too. It was actually kind overwhelming (as in over realm!) but in a good way.

I came away feeling such gratitude for being part of such a thriving community where we support each others' creative endeavors.  The paintings are so inspiring to me, this morning I began a song about them.  I suspect you'll be hearing that down the road sometime.

Here's to creative and bold friendships and living life like a work of art!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

BFF shoes

Today when I was getting ready to sing at a nursing home, one of the residents there waved me over to talk to her. She seemed very excited about something.  As she cannot speak (she has a disability), she showed me what she wanted by pointing to her feet. There I saw some shiny new white tennis shoes with the letters "BFF" on each one.  One shoe had one name on it, the other shoe another name. BFF,  I know means "best friends forever".  I said,  "you got new shoes and your best friend gave them to you?" and she lit up and nodded that I got it.  I told her that was such a nice thing for her friend to have given her.  I wish now I would have taken a picture of them (if she agreed to) but you'll just have to take my word for how cute they were.

In a world so full of trouble, I bask in these simple gestures of kindness. It is something that I love about my work. I see so much kindness each day. It is a good thing.

Have you received a gift from your best friend recently? Or have you given a gift to them?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You call that "music"? by Jasper the cat

Hi it is me, Jasper--Blue's cat.   I have to talk to someone about what happened today.  Blue was making the craziest music I have ever heard in my life today! She is working on a soundtrack for a video that requires dramatic music sounds.  Anyway, get this. She recorded today sounds of an air raid siren with her drums! I was out of there! (had to hide upstairs under the bed)  If that is not enough, she used a thunderstorm sound effects behind her playing the harmonica! As if a real thunderstorm is not enough!

What do you make of this music?  Have humans gone crazy? Am I expected to pretend this stuff is pretty?   Are there any other cats out there who feel they might be forced to listen to awful sounds like this?

Ut oh, she is coming so I gotta go!! HELP!


PS that is me above in the picture and you can see I do not look happy. Do you also notice my empty  bowl in the left corner? Hello??? time to EAT!!!

ok bye!