Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Fun!

Today was my day to play music at JABA with Felicia and Ben. Being Halloween, everyone (except me) was dressed up and we had some good fun! Above is Felicia who said of her costume, "I am a goblin". I said, "I thought you were the Holy Spirit!" She laughed and said, "Don't tell no one."

Ben was a jester which is appropriate for his exuberant personality. Above he dances and drums along to my Native American flute musings.

JABA is inter-generational and so above are some of the children dressed in their costumes. They played the Pinata game and won many prizes and all had a wonderful time!

Happy Halloween to all!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Take a sad song and make it better

Today in ICU when I was playing my guitar for a woman in ICU, by the third song her eyes filled with tears and streamed down her face. She was so full of tubes, she could not move to wipe them from her face. Nor could she speak. She had big brown eyes that looked over at me with such sorrow, I could hardly bear to meet her eyes. At one point, tears came to my eyes too but I kept playing. It is  a good thing to let patients grieve. I would play a piece that had a sad feeling to it, then the next piece I would lift it up a bit. Then lift it more to try to help lift her spirits. What I try to do in situations like these is to give some hope. I never try to cheer someone up or make light of their situation. But I do work to help them see that there is always hope and there are many who care about them and they will be alright.

I have been doing this work now for 9 years and I am still so struck by what an honor it is. To bear witness to the human spirit and to feel I can do something to help bring some hope is something I never take for granted.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It works both ways


People sometimes say, "you are so nice to go and play for people in nursing homes." But in truth, it helps me too. It works both ways. Today for instance, I was feeling really tired.  Just didn't get enough sleep, I guess. But went to pay a visit to a nursing home anyway. When I arrived, most of the residents were taking a nap. All except Tom, who plays guitar too and was up for a jamming session.

We played together a good hour or more. Everything from, "Stewball", "House of the Rising Sun", "Oh Suzanna", "My Girl", "Stand by Me", etc. He loves to howl and make up long endings for songs. We'd swap choosing a song to start and then we'd jam more. I actually rarely jam with others, so it was a real treat for me.  Tom is a delightful man but he has some kind of disability which makes him socially awkward. Not for me but I see that he spends most of his time alone in his room. 

When I was getting ready to leave, I told Tom that I had been feeling tired before I came over and that I felt better after singing with him. He said, "I made you  happy, didn't I?" And I said, "Yes, you did make me happy, Tom. You have a gift with music and I bet you make a lot of people happy with it. " and he said, "You do too."  I said, "thank you for making me happy today" and he replied, "you're very welcome." 

Pictured above is Misty who lives in the home. She actually posed for that photo as you can see! She is a very sweet dog and everyone at the home loves her.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dorian Dreams

I am enjoying my studies in an online jazz improvisation class. This week our assignment is to demonstrate proficiency in playing 6 scales.  They are not scales I have ever tried to play before but scales important to jazz improvisation. Here is the list:

A Lydian flat7
C Locrian
F7 Altered
D Dorian
B Lydian
Eb Aeolian

Each scale has a mood, color, texture and I like how playing them stretches me beyond where I've been before musically.  One of my favorite improv recordings I've done so far is that of D Dorian mode. I used a back track found on the internet that is more rock oriented. It has a darker mood but reminds me of my days as a teenager when I was really into rock music. People often think of me as a folkie and that is a fitting description. But my roots are with old bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath. I think if you listen to this improv I do, you will hear those influences.

If i had to describe the mood in a visual, it would be the night sky with its wild starkness and haunting presence. 
Here's the link and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

If You're Happy and You Know It

You know that song, "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands" (the rest goes stomp your feet, shout amen) It's one we sang yesterday with a group of young adults who have autism and other intellectual disabilities. When we sang that song, everyone sang with such gusto, I could feel the happiness in the room. I asked each to go around the room and say what they were happy about. I was happy for the sunshine and beautiful day. Others were happy about their friends, family, a poetry event they went to that day. It seems we often don't ask each other why we are happy when we feel happy.  But we do ask why we are unhappy when we feel down. I like to pay attention to happiness when it comes.  There is a great movie, "Happy" that is a documentary about the science of happiness.

We also sang, "You Gotta Sing When the Spirit Says Sing" --great song, do you know it?   I'd say though that one of the best moments came when I played my Native American Flute. One boy is Native American and he got up and started dancing. Then a few others did too and the others clapped out a heart beat rhythm.  That was such fun!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Life's Improvisation

So I am taking an online jazz improvisation course with the Berklee College of Music on Coursera with the great Gary Burton (pictured above teaching. ) This is a real stretch for me and something I've never done before. This is also why I wanted to do it.

Our first assignment was to do an improvised solo to the song, "What is This Thing Called Love?"  We also had to analyze Gary's solo of it which was very fast and abstract. My first reaction when I downloaded the play along track to record my solo to was, "I can't do this."   It was too fast, I didn't understand Gary's solo, I freaked out a bit.

Then I looked closer at it all and broke it down into smaller bits. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra sing the song. I downloaded the lead sheet on the Real Book online and compared that with Gary's solo.  Ok then things started to look doable.

From there I went through the song a few times playing on my guitar and when I saw I could do it--I started to laugh! Yes--I can do this!  It is a great lesson of growth for me. Something I will say about music study is it really is the study of my own interior life, my issues of self acceptance, how I meet challenge, how to overcome fear of failure and inhibition, how to push past my inertia with a new task.

Here are some things I learned from it:

1. Sometimes in life there are no "do-overs" and we have to wing it the best we can and accept where we are at that moment in time.

2. I found that the best performance I gave was full of mistakes and flaws but it also had the best shining moments in it too. I tried in other recordings to emulate the best parts and try to "fix" my past mistakes but I couldn't get back the authentic feel I had the first time I improvised the parts that worked. It no longer flowed.

3. Since now I have to post this solo on a public site to be reviewed and graded by my teacher and peers--it means having to be vulnerable and letting others see my weaknesses as well as my strengths. It's not like the recording world where we can overdub over a mistake.

4. I found that I really enjoyed this process and I am aware with how much I have grown because there would have been times I would have let that "I can't" voice overrule my wanting to grow. Or I would not have been able to accept where I am now.

5. Music is all about being in the moment. What i played in that solo I can never reproduce the same way again. I am ok with that!

Here is the link to my first jazz solo that I also had a lot of other distractions going against me as I was recording. Things such as a loud construction crew right outside the window, the phone ringing, the plumber on the way to fix my busted water heater and a plugged up ear (with what little hearing I have)

It is what it is and such is life! :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What would Julia Child do?

Recently I saw a great quote:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child 

I feel this is also true with me and my work in music. Most of the times things go well but I do have to be "out there".  And for someone who struggles with being very introverted and overcoming shyness, this can be a challenge at times.

So most of the time when I write to you, things go smoothly. Well, today was not one of those days. Today, whatever could go wrong did. 

I went to Charlottesville High School to do some music with a group of ESOL (English is second language). I had a powerpoint slideshow on a jump drive with lyrics to songs they could sing along with. 

It turns out the computer had an old version of Powerpoint and could not open my file.  So I had to do the songs without showing them the lyrics, which meant most people could not sing along. Then when I went to show a video "Playing for Change" --the sound was not working. It was just one of those days. Pictured above is the video....

To top it off, I was singing for a group in a big gymnasium and I don't think I could be heard very well. Also I was wearing and FM system which was connected to a boy's hearing aid devices so he could hear me well and the mic kept falling off.

We all made the best of it and some days are just that way. 

I read about a bad day from someone else recently (you know who you are) and so she inspired me to write this too. It was not a "bad" day.. but challenging. That's ok though. Something to laugh about one day. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Celebration of the Natural World

Yesterday I participated in a wonderful program at the Ivy Creek Foundation. I was joined by  members of the Live Poets Society in a program blending music, poetry, art and photography in a celebration of the natural world.

I played some of my own compositions like, "Choose the Sky", "Once I was the Wind," "Promise of Spring", "For the Lily Grows",  " Gosling, ""Owl's Dream".  Alternating with me, poets would read some of their original poems or read from their favorites such as Mary Oliver and Rumi. Pictured above is poet Flora Lark Baily who read a poem she wrote on her painting shown with her.

I even led a short sing along with some nature themed songs like, "Down by the Riverside", "Blue Moon", "Be Kind to your Web Footed Friends."

It was a lot of fun and also very inspiring. This past year has been difficult to me living next door to a place that was deforested with a new housing development going up. It has been a source of great anguish but also creativity. Yesterday I was happy to be feeling like there is something positive I can do instead of just complaining or being angry about the loss of natural beauty.  I want to continue to look for the positive in this situation as much as I can.

Where do you go for your natural fix? Do you live near a park or a forest or water?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Creative Day

Yesterday I spent the day painting with friends. Above is a painting I did I call, "Ribbons of Dawn". My friends said it could also be, "Rhythms of Dawn." and yes, that is true. This painting pictured was a finger painting. I can't remember the last time I did such a thing. We painted to the music from the soundtrack of "Chocolat" which inspired bold colors and lines from me. 

As a child I drew often. One of favorite things to do was to draw a big squiggly line and then trace it and form more lines around it. The paintings I did reminded me of that. 

Though I chose music as my primarily creative endeavor, I feel very influenced by visual art. The process of making it helps me to remember that each day brings forth new opportunities to learn about myself. What lies hidden from others, what wishes to be seen, finding new ways to express myself. 

We did some writing with our paintings too. Here are a couple of sentences that came out about my paintings:

"A spring within uncoils, bursting with color."

"Playful light dancing a unified dream."

"Weaving of wonders yet to explore."

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Someone once told me that when we get older, all we have left are memories. When our bodies start to fail us and we are unable to do things that used to be easy for us, we are limited to our imagination.

Singing with elder friends, we make time to talk about memories that come from songs we sing. Last night at the nursing home I play each week, Miss Taylor was telling me about her memories of Halloween. This was sparked from the decorations the home had put up earlier that day. She told me how they used to bob for apples. Now that's a memory I nearly forgot!  I told her I did that too and it was kind of neat to see that some games survived a few generations. She said, "they don't do that anymore." I am not sure if this is true or not but probably is.

We shared more stories and I was very glad for this exchange for Ms. Taylor and I have gotten to be friends over the months since she first came there. When I first met her, she would not talk to me. She would only answer in "yes" or "no" and when I sang, she preferred to listen from down the hallway.

We've come a long way since then and each week we have  a good, long talk. I have a few other friends there too.  Ms. Brown always waits for me to come each Wed. evening and asks for her favorite songs, "I'll Fly Away" and "Sweet By and By".  The glimmer of light in her eyes and smile on her face is precious as she listens. She seems to study each word and take it in. If I forget a word or verse, she corrects me. I know she used to play the piano, so music has been an important part of her life.

I'm glad to know them.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nature's music

Tonight I was feeling a bit lazy and wanted to get back to my book I am reading --which by the way is a great one by Tracy Chevalier, "The Last Runaway"But I have made a promise to myself to make time to be outside each day.  For years I worked inside a windowless office and when I left that job, I decided not one day would pass where I would not bask in the beauty around me in nature.

So I went for a walk to the park nearby and was treated to such a beautiful sky. The colors were exquisite. I saw some geese above and was delighted to get them in a picture above. I try to think of what the musical equivalent would be? A Beethoven symphony perhaps?  Something bold and dramatic and life affirming.

When I walk I take in the smells of the turning leaves. I love the sound of the leaves crunching under my feet. I listen for the sounds of the daylight fading and people settling in for the night. Dogs being walked after supper, birds perching on the wires and branches.

It's the sound of peace, beauty, dreams, hope.  We're living in some pretty crazy times politically and all one needs to do is turn on the news for a dose of negativity.

Still beauty awaits us, step outside. What is outside your door? What is your neighborhood like?

Here's a photo of a sunset in my corner of the world:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

TEDx Charlottesville Open Mic

Monday night I was fortunate to participate in an exciting event. TEDx Charlottesville Open Mic.  I was one of 29 contestants who presented a 2 minute speech on the theme of "The Difference that Makes a Difference."

It was a wonderful evening of shared stories and varied takes on this subject. My speech was titled "C.A.R.E. Packages" which were glimpses of the 11th Hour from my work as a therapeutic musician at UVA hospital. In my 9 years of working there, I have seen so many shining examples of people who care and giving with kindness.  Many times when I tell people I work at a hospital, they say"Isn't that depressing being around sick people all the time?" They picture smelly rooms and tired nurses, negligent accidents that result in more illness.  This also happens at a hospital but in my years of experience, I have seen more good things than bad.

For me the best part of the evening came when I found my dear friends in the audience who came to see and support me.  Pictured above with me from left to right are Kate, Christine and Barbara with whom I have known for 25 years now! We have seen each other through many things. We have shared our deepest sorrows as well as our small or great triumphs and celebrations.

Behind every person who succeeds in realizing a dream are many friends and people who have supported them. I certainly would not be where I am today if it were not for my friends. Thank you all of you! You know who you are.