Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kindred Spirits and The Wayne Theatre

This morning I am pinching myself--did that really happen last night?  If I could bronze the evening and put it up on my mantel to always have, I'd love that. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to somehow save the evening in a jar like fresh rainwater--or maybe beautiful colored sand or even to wax it into a candle to burn forever?

The evening was a magical one for me playing at the beautiful Wayne Theatre in Waynesboro. The occasion was opening the show up for guitarist & composer extraordinaire, Michael DeLalla.   Perhaps my favorite song of the evening was our last song whereupon I played a Native American flute solo and sang harmony on the old beautiful song "Witchi Tai To".

I have known Michael for many years through my stint as a folk radio DJ at WTJU. We met last night for the first time in person. And yet it felt as though I have always known him. We talked like long lost kindred spirits, sharing stories of guitar classes, teachers, travels, adventures.

It was a rare gem of a night that I will always remember. 

Wishing you all  a night to remember of your own soon! Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A funny night

Last night was a funny night.   Everyone was lined up in their wheelchairs in the hallway at the nursing home when I went to play. I usually serenade them and sing songs they request.  I never quite know what moods I will find them in or what music will be inspired to come out but that is all part of the challenge I like.

When I arrived at the home, Doris wheeled her chair up to me and started laughing.  I laughed along with her, even though I didn't know what we were laughing about. Of course, this got others laughing too but others got mad. "Go and put that chair away right now!" one of them scolded me. "We have to hurry now, he's leaving!" another said as if I were supposed to be going somewhere with her.  Doris just rolled her eyes and made a funny face and laughed again. I said, "you always make me laugh!" and she seemed to like that. She is the clown in the bunch for sure.

Finally we settled into singing some  songs, "Battle Hymn of the Republic", "This Little Light of Mine", "Que Sera, Sera", "Hey Good Lookin'" when suddenly one of the staff members started dancing up and down the hallway. It so stunned the residents, this seemed to encourage her to be even more rowdy. Then she started singing some kind of bluesy rock song and dancing and mimicking playing the guitar. Next she looked at me with a smile and pointed to my guitar, indicating for me to play. So, I started playing some bluesy chords and she sang and danced again. It was kind of crazy and totally unexpected from her and it made us laugh, although though some of the residents didn't quite know what to make of this.

A chaotic but fun evening and as always unpredictable. Something that makes this work fun for me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kind of like being back home (Sweet Home Chicago)

I grew up in a great neighborhood in Chicago called Uptown. It was two blocks from Lake Michigan  and near a park district (Margate) recreation center where I went as a child every day after school.  I attended tap and ballet, drama and art classes there. I believe this experience of being so immersed in the arts as a young girl had a major influence on me.

I don't often think of those days but there is a club house where I played today that reminds me somewhat of a place I'd imagine being in Chicago.  It has a real inner city feeling to it with people of all different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Today was a typical summer afternoon at the clubhouse where folks sat in the cafe playing cards and relaxing. I got out my guitar and started singing songs like, "My Girl", "Lean on Me", "Stand by Me".

This led to a conversation about the old Motown songs and  I sang, "Love Child" by the Supremes and "Bernadette" by the Four Tops. Both songs are the kind that you have to belt out to do it justice and I was having fun imitating the singers I grew up hearing.  I got a lot of laughs as I sang those songs but I could see they were not laughing at me but they were enjoying the moment of reliving those songs with me.

Then I started singing, "House of the Rising Sun" and I made up my own words:

"There is a house in Charlottesville
they call the Blue Ridge Club House
and it's been the ruin of many poor girl
and me, I know I'm one"....

it goes on to tell the tale of the rummy card game and who was winning and losing. Another guy who was watching the game also made up a few verses. Another man gave me two sticks of gum and carried my guitar for me to my car when I was ready to leave.

Sometimes I've wondered,  "what if I stayed in Chicago?" and today the experience I had there made me have a taste of sweet home, Chicago again.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Skill vs Talent

Yesterday I worked at the hospital playing therapeutic guitar  music for patients in ICU. It is work I love to do. Several people commented on how soothing the music was. Then when I was finishing up on an ICU floor, a man approached me and said, "thank you for playing, it is nice to have a skill you can use like that. " 

I liked that he called it a skill. So many people it seems view music as a talent which implies to me a supernatural, God given gift that few have. I don't agree with this view. To me, it is a skill that is developed over years of hard work. At least, that is what it has been for me.

Consider the dictionary's definitions of the terms:
Skill Noun
    1.    The ability to do something well; expertise.
    2.    A particular ability.

1. A marked innate ability, as for artistic accomplishment.
2. Natural endowment or ability of a superior quality.
 I love that I have found a way to use my skills as a musician in a variety of ways that engage me on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual levels.  I'll close by sharing another favorite thing i've found about music--why teach music:

Amen! :)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer and the Goosebump Experience

There is a wonderful book that was made into a movie by Lily Tomlin & Jane Wagner called, "In Search of Intelligent Life in the Universe." In it, Lily plays many characters and my favorite is a bag lady named  Trudy who teaches her "space chums" about life here on Earth.

In the story, Trudy takes her space chums around to teach them about goosebumps. In one experience, Trudy takes them to a play and realizes that the space chums were watching the audience, not the play. This is what gave them the goosebumps. It is a humorous movie but also with a lot of wisdom. Here is an excerpt from the book:

(a letter from the space chums:) "Dear Trudy, thanks for making our stay here so jam-packed and fun-filled. Sorry to abort our mission -- it is not over, just temporarily scrapped. We have ordered to go to a higher bio-vibrational plane. Just wanted you to know, the neurochemical imprints of our cardiocortical experiences here on earth will remain with us always, but what we take with us into space that we cherish the most is 'goose bump' experience."

Yesterday I got the goosebumps more than a few times while singing with a group at a nursing home out in Crozet. We sat outside this time and there were twice the number of people than usual. The staff planned a special summer party and everyone was served fresh strawberry shortcake as we sang.

Many times in singing with a group, it is often just a few who really sing and others mouth the words or don't sing at all. But yesterday--everyone sang!  It was such a wonderful thing to hear and see. Smiling faces and harmonious voices blending together. The songs that gave me the goosebumps were, "Summertime", "As Time Goes By", "Autumn Leaves". Partly because in the group is a former Broadway singer and wow, she still has a great voice.

To me getting the goosebumps means something magical is happening.
Have you had the goosebump experience lately?

PS the photo was taken on the way home, a lovely summer afternoon. Happy 1st day of summer!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Today makes tomorrow

Over the years I have learned to speak Alzheimer's, or at least to be able to have conversations that do not lead to frustration. In my early attempts to talk with someone with this disease, I made the mistake of trying to understand them in a logical way. I since have learned that many times they do not make logical sense but if I listened to the sentiment behind their words, I could have a meaningful exchange with them.

Last night was an example of improvising with this non-linear language at the nursing home where I play each Wednesday evening.  There is Darlene, who always seems to talk in codes as if she and I share a secret that I haven't been told. "It is time now for--you know what I mean. Am I right?" she says while smiling with an air of conspiracy.  "Well, you usually are right about that kind of thing." I say, hoping that is the right answer.  Darlene nods and continues down the hallway in her wheelchair.

When I told Marion I was glad she moved there as I enjoyed seeing her company, she said, "oh I am not really here. I need to tell you that I won't be here tomorrow. Today makes tomorrow."  I said, "Oh ok,  well then if you are still here I will see you next time."

In between these snippets of conversation we sang songs, "Billy Boy", "I'll Fly Away," Battle Hymn of the Republic (practice for 4th of July), "Down by the Riverside", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot".
It is a moment by moment exchange and when I leave them, they reach for my hand and thank me for coming by.
I sure enjoy them and I never know what each time will bring.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"How you play guitar is how you live your life"

I woke up in the middle of the night with the words in my head, "how you play the guitar is how you live your life." I was so struck by this groggy middle-of-the-night thought that I made a note on my iPhone to blog about it. So here goes.

When I reflected on this idea this morning here are some thoughts that came up.

I can say that each morning I get up by 7:00 and after some coffee and reading, I start my guitar practice. I first warm up with technical exercises, then I review current repertoire. Next I work on my most difficult pieces to clean them up. Sometimes after playing a piece for many years, I am really playing by muscle memory and I'm on auto pilot.  Which sometimes means I have allowed places to slacken. A missed harmonic, a sloppy chord transition, a lackluster performance. Each day I address these ideas. I have to say some pieces have improved recently, which I am happy about!

I work to play with enough strength in my touch to produce a good tone but without tension and rigidity. I prefer to play standing up. I practice often without my hearing aids. I walk around the house playing guitar. I try to play the same pieces over and over again as if I am playing them for the first time.

I continue to learn things about myself through my guitar playing.  I play for a local Taize service and this past winter I recorded us and I heard how much I tend to rush ahead.  In examining this tendency, the rushing was not about "getting it over with"  as one might think of rushing in life. It was about the fact that I was so excited about this beautiful piece that I couldn't wait to show the congregation the surprises it held.  A unique chord, a majestic cadence, a haunting melody.

Upon listening to myself rushing in the music, I became like the child I was who could not keep a secret. When I found a beautiful place in nature to think, I had to find someone to show it to. When I found a great passage in a book, I had to read it to someone. When I learned a secret, I had to tell it.

 I realized upon hearing the recording of my rushing ahead of others that there is a lot to be said about gentle restraint and allowing others to find their own joys in what they hear, see, and feel.

I love learning new music and have several music friends I bounce things off of. I love to expand my horizons.
These are things I learn about how I play guitar and how I live my life.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tis the Gift to be Simple

There is a group home not far from here where I play occasionally with people with severe intellectual disabilities. I haven't been over there for awhile and so it was nice to see everyone again.  Most of the people there are so severely disabled, they do not sing or talk but they do make happy facial expressions and they do show they enjoy the music.

The few who do sing, love it and my favorite part of today was singing and talking to Clara about the song afterwards. Sometimes we sang together, "Take me Home, Country Roads", "Down by the Riverside", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", etc. Other times Clara would sing one by herself, "Jesus Loves me" and my solo song was, "Let there be Peace on Earth". After that song, Clara said, "Yeah! I love that song because it says everything! We have to be good people and do the right thing and if we did, the world would be a better place!"  Then we sang a few more church songs, "Sweet By and By", "What a Friend We Have in Jesus.".

I was surprised that Clara remembered me so well. She said, "where have you been? it is nice to see you again."  Later as I was getting ready to leave,  we reached for each others' hand to hold and Clara said, "I love singing with you because you bring the Spirit here.  Sometimes there is no Spirit in the afternoon with some people. "

I was also given a gift of a painted wooden doll (pictured above) by man who also likes to sing. With him we sang, "Stand by me", "Lean on me", "My Girl". 

Today was an impromptu visit as I was not scheduled to go there but I called and asked if I could come by. I am glad I did. I appreciate the simplicity I see in them and it reminds me of that Quaker song, "Tis the Gift to be Simple"

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
  'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Challenge into Change Celebration

I entered an essay contest this past spring with The Women's Initiative  in Charlottesville.  Yesterday was the celebration of the winning entries. My essay, "Skydiving: A Quantum Leap Within"  received an Honorable Mention. It tells the story of my journey of overcoming hearing loss to becoming a professional musician. There were 9 finalists in all and each of us got to read our essays. It was quite an honor to be part of the event and it was such a nice celebration. Each of us got a cash prize and some gifts (pretty journals, pens, gift bag).

I believe that everyone has important stories to tell. We have all overcome insurmountable challenges.  I have seen so many of us gain strength from challenges, we come through to the other side seeing ourselves anew.  I loved hearing the other stories read yesterday. It was so inspiring.

Here is a quote from my essay:
"For my 50th birthday, I wanted to go skydiving to ring in the next phase of my life. Instead, I got a cochlear implant. Little did I know how much this journey to hear again would be much like skydiving.   I took a risk and found my wings to fly above the obstacles that once held me back. Because of this, I found new heights I never knew were there. "

It is true that it is not what happens to us, it is what we do with what happens.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Music in the ER

Imagine the unfortunate possibility of having to go to the emergency room at the hospital.  When you arrive you are surprised to see someone playing the guitar in the waiting room. That person could be me.  I don't often play there but yesterday my shift on the ICU floors ended a bit early but did not allow enough time to go to another floor. So with my remaining 20 mins, I went to the ER.

In my case, it is a friendly place to be as I know most of the security guards and ER staff.  Upon seeing me, one of the officers stood up to give me his chair (there were no extras in the room yesterday).

I love the moment of when I take out my guitar and sit down and start playing. The room filled with tension and anxiety is suddenly quiet and focused on the music.  This used to make me kind of nervous but after years of playing my guitar in unusual places, I have grown accustomed to the curious onlookers.

As I sat playing to a crowded ER waiting room, I saw that even though these folks must be in a lot of discomfort, they were all making the best of it.   One man was holding up a cell phone with a game for a woman in a wheelchair to play. Their laughter brought smiles from neighboring people. Another woman sat with her eyes closed with a big smile on her face.  Some people were eating snacks from the cafe and others just sat listening to my guitar.

 As I was leaving, a man asked me about my guitar -where it was made, etc. I often get a lot of questions about it.  It is such a conversation starter, having an instrument in the hospital. It makes people think of positive things in life--music, songs, memories. I was glad to be there yesterday.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Technology & Going Global

I am a folky at heart and love acoustic music. But I also enjoy technology in its many forms as it allows me to reach out to people from all over the world.  Today I bought a notation software program which will allow me to write down my compositions into music to share with others. I have always read music but most of the time when I compose music--it is in my head and not on paper. Having this program will allow me to possibly make a book of my pieces to share with others.

Years ago I used to email with a guitar composer and teacher all the way in Uruguay. We sent each other sheet music, cassette tapes and books to learn from. Back when I started out learning music (1973) there was no internet, no YouTube, no sheet music software, etc. I love how my world has opened up!

Today I worked on a collaboration with a friend who lives in Seattle. He had sent me a score with exotic chords on it about 3 years ago and I never did anything with it. Recently, we reconnected about this and today I wrote some music based on the chords he sent. I wrote in only one line and sent it back to him so he can write in the next line. It is great fun!

I also like to stay on top of the computer programs that do various musical things for when I work with teens.   Many kids these days do not write with pens and paper but on the computer. Writing a song to them would be on Garageband or a program like that.

What are some ways technology has expanded your world?

Monday, June 10, 2013

"If music be the food of love, play on"

I think of music like a food that nourishes our body, soul and spirit. It is like vitamins for the heart to open. An elixir of a magical potion that helps you to see the beauty in life. 

For me each place I play has a different and need to address. At the hospital, I play very simple music as if the music were a meal easy to digest. A "chicken soup of the soul" as it is said.

Playing at the Mennonite home in Madison county last week made me feel like the music was a a hardy meal full of goodness and kindness.  It is a place where I play more hymns and songs about peace and brotherhood. Songs like, "Let there be Peace on Earth",  "All night, All day (angels watching over me)", "Morning Has Broken". There is something about singing these songs that fill me with their kind messages that leaves me feeling a bit high. A natural high, that is.

Then playing the guitar at the gym last week, I saw it made  hurried people stop and listen. How the music made them present to the moment and tuned into what is most important in life. In a world filled with super busy people, we lose sight of the beauty and peace that being in nature or listening to music can bring to us.

I am thankful to have these places, people and opportunities to share music as a food that nourishes us all on many levels. It is quite a tasty experience!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

I know I told you about the nursing home where there are many new residents.  So many of my favorite people there passed on this past winter and spring. I thought it would be lonesome without them but I am quickly making new friends with the new folks there. One of them is Audrey who reached for my hand when she saw me approaching with my guitar last night. I was asking how she was doing and she asked me to sing a song for her and before she could finish telling me which song, she began to cry. I said, "that's ok if you are sad, I feel that way too sometimes. There there now, I will sing you a song...." and since I know she is a religious woman who sang in her church choir, I chose to sing, "Amazing Grace."

This is perhaps one of the most requested songs I get and it is easy to see why it is such a comfort to hear.   As I sang the words to Audrey, she continued to cry and she nodded her head in agreement during this verse:

"Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home"

When I was finished singing, I went and got Audrey a tissue and she seemed to draw strength from the song and stop crying.   When someone is sad, I don't rush in to cheer them up... at first I let them feel their sorrow and then slowly I work to lift them up.  To do this, I next sang, "You are my Sunshine" and Audrey smiled.  After that I asked her if she liked dogs. She brightened up and told me all about her favorite dog and laughed with telling me his funny antics. Then I sang, "How much is that Doggie in the window?" and again she smiled and laughed.

I have noticed that most people love  animals and if I can get them to talk about their beloved pets, this almost always brings a big change in their mood. You probably remember the story I told where I did this same thing with another sad man and got him talking about his dog. It works most of the time.

Later Audrey was thanking me for my music and saying something about that she hoped it was as good for me as it was for them. I told her it did help me a great deal.  It works both ways. As I am able to bring peace, comfort, joy to others... they in turn help me feel those things too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Laughing and singing

There is a group of special needs kids that I sing with and today was our last time for the year as school is out next week. So I worked up some new songs and tried to make it extra special for them.  My favorite part of our time together was when each of them got up and stood next to me and led a song of their choice.

One girl in the group is from Turkey and she wrote her own version of "This Land is Your Land"
She recently became a U.S. citizen, so that is a fitting song for her.

she sang:

"This land is your land, this land is my land
from California to the New York island
from the Redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
this land was made for you and me

my name is Olga, I come from Turkey
my family came here to make a new life
where we can have more opportunity
this land was made for you and me"'

Then Billy wanted to sing, "Bridge Over Troubled Water", which is such a beautiful song and it gave me  the goosebumps. Darcy can't really sing or talk but we asked her if she wanted to sing, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and we  went around the room and sang with everyone's name. When we got sang  to Darcy, "He's got Dar-cy in his hands..." she started laughing so hard that one of the teachers assistants asked her if she needed to step outside the room to get herself together.  :)

For Celia we chose "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" because she loves Gospel and Spirituals. Celia is also unable to speak but she does show facial expression and we could see that she was singing in her own way and smiling.  This set Darcy into another fit of laughter and then we all laughed. "Celia is singing! woo hoo! good for you!" ha ha ha and on it went.

And so another summer is upon us which means I won't see some of them for a few months. A couple of them graduate high school this year. Congratulations to them!

Monday, June 3, 2013

A song out of step

There is a woman named Betty at a nursing home where I play who loves to sing. The only trouble is, she is very loud and only knows the first verse which she will repeat over and over while everyone else is trying to sing the right verse.    When I first started singing with her months ago, I would try to correct her or control the flow of the song. I've since started letting her lead the songs and that works much better.Now before I sing a song, I make sure she is ready and I start it and then give it over to her.

"She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes
"She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes
"She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes
"She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes
"She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes
"She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes... etc (laughing and dancing)

I manage to get in another verse:

 "She'll be driving six white horses when she comes
She'll be driving six white horses when she comes
She'll be driving six white horses when she comes...

and guessed it... on and on the same line until the end.

What I love is that the others in the room are good natured about it too. Sometimes when everyone is singing another verse and Betty is still on the first line, and I am somewhere in between them both trying to hear myself (who is also severely hearing challenged!) things get a little crazy but we all laugh and clap at the end of each song.

"Ho ho!" Betty laughs, "we are doing this quite nicely" she says, very satisfied with herself. Sometimes she comes and gives me a high five after a song. "I really like that one!"

My mother used to tell me I marched to a different drummer.  Well, how about some who sing to a different tune?   As long as we enjoy ourselves, that is all that matters, isn't it?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Of moontracks and songwriting students and teachers

I had such an enriching experience teaching a songwriting class at a homeschool enrichment center this past spring. I learned so much from my students. Our lessons evolved from writing with pens and paper from prompts to our last project which was to create a soundtrack for a film. We chose an interesting one by Mark Gee titled, "Full Moon Silhouettes".   It is a simple and lovely video of the full moon rising in New Zealand. You can see this film here at this link.  (the soundtrack is not the one we created at this link)

The soundtrack  project required a lot of technology know-how and the project was done mostly by creative techno wiz student, Oliver.  Our first attempt was for me to record us doing an improvisational jam with me on a melodic drum, Oliver on guitar and Hope on piano.  But it lacked something and Oliver thought up making a rhythm track on Garageband. (see above photo) This led to a whole series of instrumental sounds and effects and included me playing a Native American Flute solo in it. The result was really cool!

It goes to show you that there are so many ways to create. Whether it be the old fashioned way of writing on paper, or composing on computer.  I loved watching our class evolve and change and the soundtrack was the grand finale.  We showed it last night at the final production of The Hobbit.
It all made me remember when I was a young and acted in plays and productions. It makes me realize all the more how vastly important creativity is in our lives!