Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stand By Me

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Old friend and harmonica

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

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

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

Monday, August 26, 2013

Have you had a picnic lately?

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

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

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

What two quarters can't buy

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bust me outta here

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beautiful rustic rural Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Power Outage

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's why I call this work an adventure!

Have you had any unexpected adventures lately? 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Face the Sun

I am taking an online songwriting class with Berklee College of Music and just loving it.  I am finding new sides to expressing myself that I haven't really explored much before.  Any artist goes through periods where they run out of ideas or they find themselves saying the same things over and over again. So it is great to find ways to expand my horizons.

The song I wrote last week was inspired by a friend's sunflowers.  She had picked some and they were in a vase on the table. When I admired them, she said that she was disappointed they seemed to be kind of droopy and not standing tall. I said that it was because it was nighttime and sunflowers track the sun and that was why they were facing downward. I told her to look at them midday to see that they would be facing the sun. In fact they were not! (see photo above) and that inspired a song I started called, "Face the Sun."

What's more fun is that the songwriting class has these music loops we can use for our songs. I decided to try it and it was great fun because the kind of feeling this pop flavored loop produces is totally unlike anything I've ever done.  (click on the link to the song in paragraph above to hear).

As a child I wanted to be an actress and I was in many plays growing up. I see songwriting can be this way too-- this song Face the Sun is like me playing a new part in the Play of Life. One that others would not say, "hey, that's Blue singing". They are more likely to say, "huh? " but that is the fun of exploring!    When I was a DJ at WTJU (20 yrs), I often got comments from people saying, "I never know what you're going to do" which is a great compliment. 

I have another song I wrote for this week's assignment that is pretty depressing --it has a Gillian Welch kind of mood to it. It's about the deforestation of Charlottesville. 
Stay tuned for the next chapter in my adventures of new songwriting ideas!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Barns of Rose Hill

Doesn't "The Barns of Rose Hill" sound like a title for a good historical mystery novel? (Maybe I have been reading too many mysteries!) In any case, The Barnes of Rose Hill is a  beautiful cultural center in the Shenandoah Valley located in the gorgeous historic Berryville, VA.

I was fortunate to open for the concert of guitarist and composer extraordinaire  Michael DeLalla. It was definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the opportunity to perform. The picture above shows the beautiful rustic wooden panels of the barn with Michael up on stage sharing his music. 

I loved meeting some new friends and making new connections and I hope to play there again sometime!

Thank you, Michael and The Barns of Rose Hill for a memorable time!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Snapshots from a week of music

Something I love about my work is the diversity of people, places and experiences I have each week. It is like knowing lots of different languages and visiting different countries every day. Each place has its own customs and ways and with music being the "universal language," I can choose songs that fit the mood and occasion.

Monday night found me at the Monroe room at the Colonnades where I gave a concert for a group of seniors. In addition to some popular sing along numbers, I especially enjoyed playing some old show-tunes like, "Singing in the Rain," "It had to be You," "Ain't Misbehavin'".

Tuesday I stopped by The ARC on Park St and sang with some of the folks there. The picture above is something the participants made. Our favorite song is, "If You're Happy and You Know it". That night I was invited to join in on a jam session with some friends in the area.  I especially liked playing my drum along with them on old rock songs I loved in high school from bands like Cream, Ten Years After and Jimi Hendrix Experience. I was also surprised when I broke into that old drum solo, "Wipe Out" that the guys knew the bass and guitar part of the song!

Wednesday I played for patients in ICU at the hospital. In one patients' room the TV was on to flowing images of the ocean waves and the sky. I improvised on my guitar to accompany these peaceful scenes as she slept and rested to the melodies.

Later then that night, I played at the nursing home in the hallway as a strolling minstrel as I do each week. With some I sing a favorite song, with others I play my guitar to sooth their agitation, and others we make even make up something of our own.

Yesterday as I was leaving the hospital, I ran into an acquaintance in the elevator who asked me where else I played and after telling her, she said, "you have  a good job." Indeed I do!

P.S. the week is not over yet--for I still have a few more places to stop in and sing!