Friday, September 27, 2013

An inspirational life and career

Linda Ronstadt is the subject of my entry today. On a whim I picked up her memoir "Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir"  and I could not put it down.  Not only is she a very good writer and storyteller, I was fascinated by her life story and career.

I learned a lot of things about her that I never knew. There are so many things about the book that I liked. Here I will list what I wrote in my journal about it:

  • She was disciplined and focused on her music career and turned away from temptations of drugs and drinking. This during the 60s and 70s when many her contemporaries died of overdose. 
  • She sought out new experiences to grow & learn from. She took many big risks and was always reinventing herself. 
  • She readily admitted her failures and even when critics judged her harshly, she often agreed with them.
  • Though she has a lot to brag about--she never does. When something amazing happened (amazing to us) she just stated it plainly as a fact. No gushing or commentary about it.
  • Though she knew and spent time with lots of famous people, she never comes across as a "name dropper".
  • She never gave up her resolve to take a big risk even though she did not get support from her record companies. She also risked losing momentum in her career and the huge fan base she had when she took new turns for her career.
  • She comes across as humble and hard working
When she was going through her most popular time in the 70s, I was not listening or following pop music, so I never paid attention to her. I was into folk and acoustic music then. But what I learned is that she comes from a very traditional folk  background and those are her roots.

Most people know by now also that she has Parkinson's' disease and can no longer sing. I am so inspired by her life that I hope to do all I can with my musical life until I can no longer do it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A place from my childhood

As a child I grew up just two blocks from Lake Michigan in Chicago. Above is a picture of the park down the street from my apartment building.  Down the way from this park was the Margate Park Fieldhouse which is where my love of the arts was born. Each day after school, my sister and I went there for classes in tap & ballet, drama, art, music. We performed regularly in plays and variety shows. My first music lesson was at this fieldhouse and it was with my mother's clarinet. My lesson was with Mr. Myers who also taught art.  For my lesson, I was to play one note (can't recall which one :) to check my tone and embouchure. When I blew on the horn, a most terrible and unfortunate sound was made that embarrassed and scared me. I was too embarrassed to even look at Mr. Myers but he wrote on my music score a big question mark ? That was my grade and that was the beginning of my musical life!

Needless to say, I never played that clarinet again. My next attempt was the drums as my other art teacher,  Mrs. Elias gave me a pair of drum sticks. I quickly went home and learned every beat to Hawaii 5-0 and Mission Impossible theme songs. I played along to many 45s from then on.  Later, I went on to take drum set lessons and played in my high school band.

When we moved to a new neighborhood in high school, there I met another girl my age who sang as good as Linda Ronstadt and wrote her own songs. That's when I got out my mom's old Harmony guitar that she played during the 60s folk boom (she took some lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music). The rest is history as they say.

I was thinking of all this because today I played at the Blue Ridge Club House again and that place always makes me think of Margate. It was a home away from home, a place where I felt belonging and kinship. I am happy to find myself singing with people now in these settings. We were out on the backporch again while people smoked and talked. Later I paid a musical visit to another assisted living center and we sang the old songs from school.

Today I learned that my high school is giving a 50th Anniversary Band concert in December. We could play in the band and have our parts sent to us. I am soo tempted but don't think I can swing the travel expense and time away. Perhaps I could be Skyped in? :)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A page from my music journal

I used to be very faithful about keeping a journal of my experiences at the hospital and other gigs. Since I started this blog, I haven't done that too much.  So today I got out my ongoing journal since about 2008 and added the following. Please note that since this is an account from the hospital, I have to be very vague about exactly which unit I am in or what the patient is diagnosed with, etc. I cannot give any signs away about who I am working with as it is a violation to their privacy. This is also why at times you may not hear from me. But thought you might enjoy a page out of my diary from the hospital:

Today just as I arrived on the PICU (Pediatrics ICU) floor, there was a “call to station" announcement of a fire on the 6th floor.  This means that everyone on the floor stated and the floors above and below have to close all the doors and wait for the next “call to station” stating that the fire is contained.  (sometimes there is not really a fire but it is only a drill) Today there appeared to be something wrong with the alarm as it kept going off continuously for about 20 minutes. I waited in the PICU for the alarm to go off so that I could play (can’t really play when all doors are closed and no one can receive visitors). When the alarm didn’t stop, I went down to the 4th floor in one of the ICUs and played there. They gave me a couple of rooms to play near (they were in isolation, so I had to play outside their door for infectious control reasons).

Then I went up to the 8th floor to check in on a fellow I met last week who was due to go home tomorrow. He had visitors in his room, so I didn’t stay long but it was good to see that he was in good spirits and as I knew he didn’t live nearby, I was happy to see friends made the effort to visit him.

Next I went to the 6th floor (the alarm finally stopped) and there was a man sitting in a chair near the nursing station. Sometimes this is done because the patient is a “fall risk” as they try to get out of bed when they lack the strength to stand, etc.  The charge nurse asked me to sit next to him and play awhile, which I did.  I started by playing some instrumental pieces that were my own compositions. He closed his eyes and hummed along and seemed to enjoy it. Later, I asked him what kind of music he liked. “Country” –this is often the answer I get there as a lot of the patients are from rural areas. I started to strum a country waltz-like progression and again he nodded and hummed. I asked him if he liked Johnny Cash and when the answer was “yes”, I strummed the chords to, “I Walk the Line”. I hummed the melody of the verse and the man joined me singing together on the part, “I walk the line.” Then I asked him if he liked Elvis. A big yes on that one and he told me he saw Elvis in concert with his family. That seemed to bring up a positive memory. 

I had 20 more minutes left of my shift and went down and played in the ER. I used to play there every week but since my hours were cut, I don't play there very often. It was somewhat quiet there which I think was a good thing. (meaning not too many in need of emergency services)
A very enjoyable day it was!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The appeal of the guitar

It used to bother me some that every time I went somewhere with my guitar, I got stopped all kinds of questions about it. But I see now that it is a good thing, especially in the work that I do. The guitar is a familiar friend to most people. Everyone has a brother or cousin or Uncle or someone who plays it. And you can play every kind of music on it from classical, blues, jazz, folk, rock & roll, etc.

Yesterday at the hospital I saw a patient who had a guitar in his room. We had a good time showing each other songs we liked to play and sharing stories about our music making. It seems to happen about once a month that I get a referral from a nurse to see a patient who plays the guitar.

The fact that so many are familiar with it and it is so appealing makes it a good therapeutic instrument. I have met so many people just from talking in the elevators or hallways in places about it.

I got inspired to play the guitar as a teen when a neighbor and friend of mine played outside on her front porch. I loved the portability of it and that you could play it outside. Also in the 70s there were a lot of great guitarists around like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Alvin Lee. The face of music changed as the guitar became the most popular instrument of all.
Pictured above is my guitar case. I deliberately put a lot of stickers on the case to be able to identify it from other generic black guitar cases.

Do you play the guitar? It's fun, huh?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Play me one of your songs

Today I was singing with a group of folks with autism and special needs. They are a fun bunch of people to hang out with and sing.  We like to sing songs spanning all genres of music from bluegrass, country, swing, motown, pop, folk.

Toward the end of our time together, I was going through my song binder when Thomas asked, "Do you have your own songs in that book?   Will you play one of your songs?"  He had seen me sing at a coffeehouse this past spring and remembered that.

So I played, "Choose the Sky". As I sang,  I saw Thomas listening with intense concentration as if he were studying the song. When I finished, I was curious how he would sum up my song and I asked, "Do you know what it is about?" and he said, "Yes, I was thinking about the sky in Memphis and Georgia and New York and the clouds and stars and the sun." I said, "Yes and imagine that it is the same sky everywhere. Tomorrow when the full moon comes, my friend in Italy will see that same moon."

Then we talked about viewing the stars through telescopes and we all agreed that Saturn was the coolest planet to see with its true look of outer space rings around it.

As I left, Thomas thanked me for sharing my song.

In all the years and groups i've played for, no one has ever asked me to play my own song. Thank you, Thomas!

Above is a link to a video of my song that features photographs of the sky from friends and some of my own. Enjoy!

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Day in the Life

What a great week it has been! I posted about Monday (Que Sera, Sera) and the next day found me in my Integrated Therapies class. We did some GIM (Guided Imagery to Music) and that was very powerful. If you've never tried GIM, I highly recommend it!   In the session there is a guide and a traveler. The one "traveling" is induced into a deep state of relaxation and guided through listening to a piece of music (instrumental, classical oriented). It's amazing how images arise and change similar to a dream and how much one can get out of the experience.

Wednesday I did my weekly stint playing for patients in ICU at UVA hospital. That is always very rewarding. That evening I accompanied (guitar) the music of the Taize service at the Charlottesville Mennonite Church. It's a service follows the format of evening prayer used in the ecumenical community of Taizé in France. It is mostly a service of sung prayer with additional periods of silence, scripture reading and intercession. It is so peaceful and beautiful and we have them on the 2nd Wednesday evenings each month. Come join!

Last night I taught a songwriting class at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. It is in beautiful Afton VA. If you haven't been out there, it is a great place to go! They have concerts there and all kinds of other classes going on. I loved meeting my students and I am excited for our future classes there. (Every Thursday evening  at 7pm until Oct. 17th if you are interested)

Later today, I am off to sing for another group of seniors. This group is special to me as I have been singing with them now for nearly 7 years. So it is always good to see them.

Tomorrow I am singing in the Cville Pride Festival which will be another experience to write about, I'm sure. Thanks for stopping by and have a good weekend!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Que Sera, Sera

Do you remember this song from the Doris Day TV song? "Que sera, sera whatever will be, will be." It is a song that gets one of the biggest reactions when I play for seniors. There are smiles throughout as we sing it but also tears. I have a vague memory of the Doris Day show and this song but it was not really a part of my life (the song was popular before I was born in '56) I am thinking some of the seniors in the audience were mothers and fathers who answered their children's questions with this refrain in the song.

At any rate, that was the case yesterday as one woman was crying as she sang the song. But they seemed to be tears of recognition --not so much grief. This woman I speak of is maybe one of the most responsive of all of the seniors I play for. Each time I break into a new song,  her eyes light up, she smiles,  or has a look of surprise and delight.   She is in a group that is mostly unresponsive too. I wondered how that is for her. The rest sit there looking at me and there is no way to tell if they know the song or like the song or not. But this woman --there is not doubt she is loving every song wholeheartedly.

After the music session was finished for the day, she came up to me and said, "I just have to tell you I loved your songs! You made my day--no you made my week! I love music!" I told her I could see that she loved music and asked her if she used to sing in a choir or something. It turns out she used to play the piano but no longer can. I said I had thought of the day when I may not be able to play my guitar. I said, "but I'd still sing!" and she smiled and agreed.

As I left I was thinking of that woman who loved music so much and thought --that will be me one day--the one singing every song, the one who doesn't care if anyone else sings along, the one who will always love music more than anything.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Serenade for Sundown

I play at a lovely place in Gordonsville, VA for a group of folks with dementia.  There is a phenomenon known as "Sundowning" which is a time of a lot of confusion and turmoil for those with dementia. It is the time right before bedtime. So, I come and play soothing instrumental guitar music for them and they zone out. I zone out too! It is good for me and everyone.

I can say also that some of my instrumental compositions have come from doing these sessions. I really enjoy doing it. As I was playing last night, one woman came up to me and said, "Did you get your guitar cleaned? It sounds so clear!" Ha. I've never been asked that one before. 
Have you gotten your guitar cleaned lately?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Goodnight Ladies

At the senior home where I play each Wednesday night I have gotten to be quite fond of a few of the ladies there. We sing and chat and laugh and have such a nice time together.  They have been there now maybe a half year.  It is getting to be a long enough time where we are falling into a rhythm with each other.

Before I met them when it was time to leave, I used to slip out quietly without saying goodbye to anyone. But this past winter so many of the regulars passed away. For awhile it seemed each week I came in, I'd see flowers and a sign about another one who passed on.

So I decided with the new folks that came to live there that I'd always make a point to say goodnight to them when I left.  Each time I never know if it will be the last time I will see them and I would regret not saying goodbye to them. I leave now singing, "Goodnight ladies, goodnight ladies, goodnight ladies we're going to leave you now."

Another nice thing is there is a new CNA there who comes out and sings harmony with me on many songs. This place is going through a nice phase I like.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hound Dog

School is in and with that means new students and people to meet and sing with.  In my work with VSA Arts (part of Charlottesville Therapeutic Parks & Recreation) I sing with groups of young adults with special needs. Today was with Post High and that was fun.  A few of favorite moments were:

After we sang, "This Little Light of Mine" I asked the kids what kind of song it was.   When no one spoke up, I started singing examples of what it was not. The funniest one was my attempt at a rap version, then I strummed my guitar sang it like a country song. Then I did a blues version. In the end, they learned the song is a Gospel song.

There is one boy who loves to dance and he danced to many of the songs.  I was running out of ideas of danceable songs when I thought of Elvis' "Hound Dog". No sooner did I start singing that not only did he dance but a few others got up and danced too. They twirled around and did some dosey doe's  and after the song ran out I kept playing the chord progression and improvised some nonsensical words while they danced.

By the way "Hound Dog" was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952 and it is now listed as one of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. I find it amazing young kids know the song. Or even if they don't, they get into the feeling of it.

I also brought my Native American flute and had them tap out a heart beat rhythm to accompany me. Then I taught them a Native American lullaby, "Hey Hey Watanee" and one boy sang it as if he already knew it. When I asked him if he had known it before, he told me he didn't. 

You just never know what you'll see from these kids. It was a lot of fun and certainly made my day.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Songwriting homework

I know I told you about my online song writing course I have been taking from Berklee College of Music, right? Well today I finished my final assignment and it was a real challenge!   Like any creative endeavor, it is great to work with new ideas and tools and continue to experiment.

In our assignment, we had to work with so many different criteria from phrasing, rhyme scheme, melodic rhythm, contrasting sections of the verses and chorus and so much more. I will give you an example. We all know that grammar illustration of:

"Let's eat Grandma!"  vs "Let's eat, Grandma"

So use see the world of difference a comma provides.

It is similar with song phrasing. If you are saying something that has an unresolved feeling to it, you would need to find a phrasing placement that supports this feeling.  If you put it in strong place, you will lose meaning.  You have to learn how to delay gratification and resolution in some instances. You will want the main point and purpose of the song to really stand out.  Rhythmic timing, melodic emphasis, rhyme scheme, syllabic stresses, phrasing all play a role in making this happen.

In this last assignment too we were to sing each line in each verse with the same melody. That was a challenge to me because I usually never sing any line the same twice. However, it was a good exercise for me to be able to do this. For me it loses expression to have more structure but it is good to know this from experience than just to intuit it or go solely by feeling. We have to engage our thought process and mental decisions in with the heartfelt feeling of it.

Anyway, I am getting kind of technical but since I was quiet a few days, I thought I'd let you know what I was up to. Gearing up for a busy week ahead with lots of gigs with people out in the community. Looking forward to that!

PS I forgot to say that the song I wrote is about the deforestation next to where I live and the new housing development going up.  It has provided me with a lot of creative inspiration for songs!