Monday, December 30, 2013

Hello everyone, Goodbye 2013

I am writing you from gloomy, cloudy and cold NJ. I've been here for Christmas visiting my family. I have had a break from my music and work and I am really looking forward to getting back to it. I went up to New Paltz this past weekend and attended a sacred chanting meditation at the Unison Arts Center.   (pictured above) It was the only music I took in this week and it was calming after a week of riding buses and trains in the traffic and pouring rain.

2013 has been a good year for me and I am looking forward to the new year ahead. I have some ideas I want to explore for music work. For one thing, I plan to record my wedding repertoire and work on doing ceremony gigs. I also want to do something new I will call for now a Sound Journey. It will be a meditative musical journey using my HAPI drum , Native American flute and guitar.  I have been experimenting with ideas and look forward to offering more new experiences with music this year.

In the meantime,  local readers please consider coming to see me perform at First Night Virginia! I will be part of a singer/songwriter series and my set will be short but dynamic and fun!
I am sure I'll be blogging about that adventure.

Meanwhile, time to pack up and catch the Northeast Regional train back to Virginia.

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas  holiday!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter's Friend

I like winter. I grew up in snowy, windy and cold Chicago and I remember some bitter cold winters there.  I used to take long walks to school in the snow.  Even though I had my gloves on, I can remember not being able to write with a pen for awhile as my hands were so frozen. Sometimes I couldn't talk very well either, as my face was frozen. Yes, cold!

What I love about winter is that it is so quiet.  In the summertime one hears constant streams of noise from car stereos blasting, people playing in the park, lawn mowers and weed whackers. In the autumn we have leaf blowers. Winter.... no one is around! Look at the picture above, quiet and peaceful. There is something about winter that invites us to go within.

In summer I feel pressured to go, go, go and be out until it gets dark around 9pm. But winter? It is ok to spend hours inside playing my guitar. Reading a book. Drinking coffee or hot chai. I love the smell of a wood stove burning. I don't even mind having to wear sweaters and such.

I know many people really dislike winter and so I wanted to write a song that talks about all the things I like about it. I feel that winter gets a bad rap. So here is my song "Winter's Friend" to hear and enjoy. This may be my last post for awhile as I leave on the morning train for NJ for the holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday cheer

Today I went to visit a friend who is in a mental health facility and I brought my guitar on the chance the staff would let me sing with the patients. It's always a bit difficult getting such things approved for places like that but the man on duty was immediately open to the idea.  We had to wait awhile for him to gather the patients and get an extra staff member to accompany us.

We were led to outdoor balcony where we sang for nearly an hour all the Christmas songs we knew.  It was really something to see faces people's faces change from looking sad and overwhelmed to smiling and laughing and clapping.

By far the favorite song was "Feliz Navidad". When I introduced it, I said: "This song makes everyone want to get up and dance!" and that is just what they did. There was a woman visiting her mother and as they danced happily together dosey doeing, I wanted to stop and take their picture.  Another woman tried to get someone to dance with her and when no one agreed to, she danced by herself.

Later as we sang some of the more contemplative songs, I saw one mans eyes fill with tears and a tear came to my eyes too.   The whole setting and time we had together was heart warming. As my father had mental health issues (a result from his service in the Korean War), I have always had a soft spot in my heart for others who suffer from such an affliction. I also know that this time of year can be especially difficult for people without family or friends around them.

Once again I was touched to bear witness to the power of music to transform. Even those who came out on the balcony initially skeptical or seemingly reluctant to join in did so.

Have you done much holiday singing?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The holidaze are definately here!

So how are you all doing with the shorter days, the cold and the intensity building as Christmas approaches? I know tonights' full moon is partly responsible for feeling overwhelmed.  I hope you can stop and fix yourself a nice cup of tea and relax.

For me I am taking things one day at a time. Today I sang at two different places.  The club house I have told you about before. What I love about it is that some of these people look on the outside jaded and harsh. But they will sing, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and all the rest of the favorites with as must gusto as anyone else.  I was pleasantly surprised  when the music session became focused mostly on one man who appears kind of quiet and shy. He sang along quietly with me and told stories of his Christmas celebrations he spent in FL as a child.

Next I went to a nursing home where most of the residents were napping but a man named Tom and I spent a good hour singing every Christmas song we knew and when we ran out of holiday tunes, we sang old folk songs. He particularly likes the upbeat songs where he likes to hoot and holler in a fun and rowdy way.   Whatever the song, he puts his whole heart into it.

Yesterday I went to visit my former Galax dulcimer teacher whom I studied traditional mountain old time music with a couple of years ago. We jammed on some of the tunes she taught me and then started playing Christmas songs. I wished I had recorded her playing, "O Come Emmanuel" on the dulcimer! Wow that was haunting.

Here is a video of me with my teacher playing in a the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase back in 2011. I feel so lucky to have been her apprentice and now it is my job to pass on the tradition. So here goes:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa came to town

When was the last time you sat on Santa's lap? For me... I don't know if I've ever done it before and I am not quite sure what possessed me to do it last night but it felt good!  However I was unprepared when he asked, "What do you want for Christmas?" I said, "I don't need anything." And he replied in a surprised manner, "You don't need anything??!"   Well... I would like to be happy and at peace and for everyone to be happy. I would like to be given the opportunity to continue to do the work I love to do and feel I was meant to do.  I did get a nice pair of new socks! :)

Last night though I wish you could have seen the children around me as they jumped and clapped and danced around singing, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Frosty the Snow Man."  I was playing for a group of deaf families (most of the children are hearing) and I have known these people many years. You would have loved to see the two sign language interpreters next to me signing to the Christmas carols. I especially liked to see them signing, "Fa la la la la la la la la..." Some things in sign just look funny. One deaf girl put her hand on my guitar to feel the vibrations as I played.

After singing each of the kids got their pictures' taken with Santa and were given gifts. We were in a big gymnasium which made it a good place for them to throw their new glow in the dark sparkling balls.  When the mom's took their turn on Santa's lap, that's what gave me the idea to do it too. Give it a try!

Speaking of Santa... perhaps you'd like to give my CD "Choose the Sky" to a friend or for yourself.

Also feel free to write me an email or post a comment here. Hope you're enjoying the holiday cheer so far! (email:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On the 11th Day of Christmas

Ok this is a quiz--remember that song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas"?  What was on the 11th day? ..... (music playing......) Give up?

11 Pipers Piping

Yesterday I sang this whole song for a group and of course everyone's favorite part is when we sing, "Five Golden Rings!"  It is a good one for people with Alzheimer's as it is a good memory based song. Other favorites there were, "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Silver Bells", "It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas."

I am struck by how some songs are feel sad.  At the end of, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" for instance it says, "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." and I think of people who are at war who long to come home and be with their families during the holiday. I always think of the letters my father wrote to his mother from Korea and how much he wanted to be home with her.

So many times it seems Christmas is played up to be this big, happy time. But we are nearing the darkest night of the year and Christmas is also about struggle.  Like all of the religious parables, it is about finding the light in the darkest days. So if you are feeling a little blue, you are only linking with all those others who are tuned into the dark times of the year.

The photo above is from Gordon House which is decorated so beautifully now. I play there monthly for the residents with dementia. I usually play relaxing instrumental guitar music as they get ready for bed. Last night I experimented with playing some instrumental Christmas songs and one woman sang all of them. She otherwise does not seem very verbal but when she recognizes a melody, she loves to sing. I really enjoyed playing the tunes while she sang. "We're a good team!" I told her.

I love this time of year for the darkness and the light. For the happy times and the sad. For the new year coming and the old one leaving.
How about you?

PS Looking for a unique Christmas gift? How about some original music by me? ! My CD, "Choose the Sky" was released in 2011. It took me 5 years to complete! (long story)  You can go to the link for info about it or you can also email me here: <>
Thanks! :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Christmas Spirit is here

Q: Why is Santa so good at Karate?
A: Because he has a black belt

Q: Why does Santa have 3 gardens?
A: So he can Ho Ho Ho.

Mrs. Claus looked up at the sky one evening and said,  "Looks like rain, dear."

Q: Where do reindeer vote?
A: The North Pole

These are a few Christmas jokes I've been telling at the nursing homes and they always get a big laugh. This week I've had a few really good holiday sing alongs. Everyone seems to love Christmas music.   What I love most is how not just the residents sing but also other people working nearby come and join in.

The other day I was at Heritage Inn singing with a group and one of the women who was cleaning put down her broom and began dancing and singing along with, "Feliz Navidad."   Everyone was delighted with her spontaneous  show of holiday spirit and it was contagious. Those who were not singing were laughing and clapping along.

Then the other night it was the same kind of thing. I was singing in the hallway to the residents as I do each Wednesday night as they get ready for bed.   One of the nurses came and sang harmony on several of the songs, "O Come all Ye Faithful", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."  Even one of the office workers who worked late that night came and sang. I wished I had a picture of the occasion.

I love how Christmas music can bring out this kind of spirit. To me music brings the Christmas spirit every day and that is what I try to do.  "Christmas is not just one day," an elderly neighbor was fond of saying.  That is true.

Do you feel the Christmas spirit? What gets you there?

Here is a link to some Christmas Carols sung with my friend Mary Gordon Hall. They are our "Mixed up Carols Medley" where we sing one song to the tune of another. You'll just have to listen to understand! :)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter daze

We got our first snow (and ice too) but winter is upon us. I actually like winter. As someone with a hearing loss and who hears with hearing aids, I love how quiet it becomes outside. There is a stillness like no other time of year. Last night I was walking a friend's dog on a country road and saw many deer grazing. I also saw a pheasant or an owl, I'm not sure but the wild life was loving the stillness of no humans around. (except me)

Yesterday as I was snowed in, I used the time to practice my holiday repertoire. This year I will be playing holiday music in ICU at the hospital.  As some of the tunes are very short, I was improvising introductions and variations and I recorded this and liked how it turned out. It is a simple, homemade recording but to me we do not have enough homemade music.  Most of the recordings we hear now are made in recording studios and overdubbed and produced to take out the glitches.

Imagine me in a house in the country with snow falling outside the windows, a magical feeling in the air while you listen to me playing "The First Noel" .  One thing about it is that I was not wearing my hearing aids while playing... so it is an offering from a deaf musician. Hope you enjoy!

Happy Winter and stay warm!