Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Different Drum

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." - Henry David Thoreau

Today I played in a drum circle with a group of seniors and that was great fun.  There is something especially joyful about drumming with people.  A lot of things happen in a group while playing a rhythm over a period of time. We start to get louder at times, some of us take solos, we hear the beat morphing into a different cadence and then back again. Someone becomes the leader, then quiets down and another leads the beat. All this is done without speaking. Sometimes without eye contact, it just happens organically.

I brought my Native American flute and played a solo in the circle while everyone kept a heartbeat rhythm going. I walked around and looked into everyone's eyes.  It makes people smile and it is a good feeling, this wordless exchange that says so much.

My mom used to say about me that I marched to a different drum. I didn't quite understand what that meant then  but it is true.  I am so glad of that now as it has led me to places I ever have expected. These days as a freelancer, my days are so varied that I often wake up wondering what day it is and where will be today? It is a great feeling because for many years I had a stagnate routine driving to an office each day. I could not stand the same old same old. 

Now my life is like that rhythm that rises and falls, gets faster and slower and finds a way to blend with others who march to that different drum.

The drums pictured above are those the group plays. Cute, eh?
f a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Incomplete Folksinger

The world has lost one of the greatest heroes of all time: Pete Seeger. I was stunned and saddened today when I read that he had passed away last night. I remember my senior year of high school when got really into folk music. I began taking lessons at The Old Town School of Folk Music in Evanston, IL. I loved it so much I got a part time job working there on the weekends. I photo copied music, answered the phone and got to hang out with some of the teachers--one of them included Steve Goodman.

One of the things that inspired me most to pursue folk music was reading the book The Incomplete Folksinger by Pete Seeger. It was newly published (1977) and I remember being so swept away by it that I wrote Pete a letter telling him how much I loved the book. About 6 months later I got handmade card in the mail, thanking me for my letter. At first I didn't understand who it was from. It written with fountain pen ink was signed "Pete" with a drawing of a banjo. I remember saying outloud, "Pete". Then it hit me! Wow! A letter from Pete Seeger and I ran all the way back to the office where I worked as a receptionist to tell my coworker friends. Unfortunately, none of them had ever heard of him. One of them asked, 'Is he Bob Seger's brother?" Sigh.  Even so, my enthusiasm inspired a coworker to come to the concert with me to see Pete and Peter, Paul and Mary that following month. (and she loved it)

Sometimes I  people laugh at me for singing old songs all the time.  There are some people who feel that if it is not the newest and trendiest, cool and popular artist or song then it has no value. But here is a quote from Pete Seeger that explains where I am coming from and why I still love to lead group sing-alongs:

“Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life, as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in the world, sang while pounding grain and paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives, once more, all about peace? Finding the right song and singing it over and over is a great way to start.

And when one person taps out a beat while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a new harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”
-- Pete Seeger – American Masters, PBS – broadcast June 13, 2010

A great man indeed. It is my hope that in his death, his work will regain more recognition and understanding among those who never "got"  what folk music is about.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dhaa Dhaa! Experience my tabla

If you are a fan of Kirtan or Indian music, then you likely have heard the tabla drums (pictured above). I studied them in Chicago many years ago (mid 1980s) and really enjoyed it.  My favorite assignment was when my teacher had me record Tintal for a whole length of a cassette tape. (90 mins) He said, "You do this or you are wasting my time!"

Tintal is the most common tal (rhythm) in Indian classical music and here's what the notation looks like:

You can see how there are phonetic syllables written out which is because tabla have the capability of producing some melodic sounds that we say in our head as we play. I will never forget playing this for an hour and a half and how that made me feel to do it. Rhythm can really put you "in the zone" and back then I didn't know anything about altered states of consciousness, although people of Indian and Eastern cultures have long known of the mystical components of music. It was physically a challenge to do it too as my shoulders started to hurt after about 30 minutes but I was determined to complete the assignment without cheating.

I've played tabla off and on through the years but really haven't played in the last 7 years. I had a set of tabla sitting in the case and today I got them out and played my tintal.  Wow, that felt good! Like an old friend coming back to me.

Many years ago back in Chicago I played  guitar like a tambura in a Hindi band. Tambura  is an Indian stringed instrument that plays the drone.  I still remember that night in that hot and crowded room. I think I was the only non-Indian person there. So while the band was tuning up, a man in the audience asked me for a glass of water. I was puzzled by his request but I did as he asked. When I returned with the water, his wife scolded him saying, "She's not a waitress! She's in the band!"  I think he was quite surprised and embarrassed too.

I wonder where my tabla will take me next in my life? Stay tuned... dhaa dhaa dhin dhin ......

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Learning to walk again

Today at the hospital I was playing for some patients who were in isolation. This means that for infection control, people who enter their room have to gown up and wear a mask and gloves.   I can't play guitar inside such rooms because it would expose my guitar (and I can't play with gloves on)  and spread viruses' around. So  I sit in the hallway outside their rooms.

I was sitting in a hall playing my guitar when a man was being helped to walk by a physical therapist. As he approached me,  he suddenly got an expression like he was overwhelmed and I thought he might cry. He shook his head and said to me, "that is so beautiful!" Then he and the physical therapist stood next to me while I played Shenandoah. It occurred to me that he didn't look American born and so this piece would have no meaning to him. But his eyes grew misty and he said again, "it is so beautiful." (yes music is the universal language) He seemed quite overcome with gratitude for the music.

I was struck by the sight of this man struggling to learn to walk again--something I take for granted.   And here I was playing my guitar--something that I don't really take for granted but something that has become second nature to me.  Wow life is amazing, isn't it? All the things we can do if we just take the time to really take it all in and notice.

Do you ever have those kinds of experiences where you are suddenly overcome by a feeling that life is a miracle?  Maybe a beautiful sunset does this. Or the laughter of a child. A smile from a stranger.
Today I was grateful all over again for the work I love to do.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

MLK, civil rights songs and beyond

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr day and so I celebrated by singing songs from the civil rights movement with one of my groups. Some of the songs were: "We Shall Overcome, " "If I had a Hammer," "Imagine,"What's going on," "People Get Ready."  I grew up during this tumultuous time though I was pretty young to understand the everything that was going on politically. Still, it was a good time for music.

What I loved about our sing along yesterday was,  like free association, one song led to another and not all of them were serious songs. Somehow we landed onto the Flintstones and Addams Family theme songs. Motown and the Monkees too. And "Happy Together" by the Turtles was a big hit.

We shared stories from our childhoods when we used to sing these songs. Do you remember learning songs in school? One of the things I love about what I do is I feel I am preserving a part of our heritage. Group singing has always been a big part of life and  many public schools have eliminated teaching the old songs. They have value and purpose in our lives and I never grow tired of singing them.

Lastly, I've been sharing with you some of the songs I'm working on for my weddings. Here is one of my favorite songs, "Moon River." I do hope you enjoy!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

You Are the Sunshine of My Life

I've been thinking about how certain songs contain memories that tell the story of the soundtrack of our lives. I can remember the first time I heard this song "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder. I was walking 40 miles for a "Hike for Hunger" charity in Chicago with a few friends. I was in 7th grade and we went door to door asking for donations.  Many gave a penny a mile and I raised about $400 total that year. (Those pennies add up!)

One of my follow hikers brought a portable 8-Track tape player (remember those?!) and Stevie Wonder's "Talking Book" was one of a few tapes we listened to all day. (Others included Carole King "Tapestry", Jethro Tull "Thick As a Brick," Moody Blues "Days of Future Passed.")

I still love Stevie Wonder, his music is so full of heart and soul. I've been busy recording samples for weddings and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" is one I include. If you are old enough to remember when this song came out, do you have memories associated with it?

Here's my take of You Are the Sunshine of My Life.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Like a dozen red roses, I sing

Sometimes I think that singing for people is the equivalent of bringing them some flowers. It always seems to surprise them as if I sing for them the first time.  It has been feeling this way lately at one of the nursing homes I play at each Wednesday evening. There are a few new residents who have blended in so well and now there is a nice group that gathers each Wed. to sing with me. They are in the hallways at this time waiting to be given their nightly medicine and put to bed.  It is such a good feeling for me when I walk in and I see them start to push themselves in their wheelchairs to come meet me.

Each week there is news to share of visits from daughters from out of state, stories of sweaters shrinking in the dryer, lost items, visits from their dogs in pet therapy, craft projects they worked on. These stories and more get shared in between singing.

I usually don't go into their rooms but on two occasions I was invited to do so last night. There was Ms. Lucille who could not get her TV remote to work and she asked me to come look at it. (I don't have a TV, so I could not help her)  Then when I got in her room, she ended up asking me to play for her roommate, Ms. Jensen. I sang her a few songs as she smiled and drifted to sleep.

Then on my way down the hall,  another woman who cares for her ailing husband came to ask me if I would come in his room to sing for him. When I did go to his bedside, I saw he appeared to be completely paralyzed and unable to respond or speak. His wife confirmed this as she stroked his arm  and kissed his cheek. She looked at him with such a loving expression and said, "He can feel pain! This is a good thing because I know his mind is waking up and he is improving!" She seemed so happy to be by his side. She asked me to sing anything, "It does not need to be religious" . (their room was full of Catholic symbols and it is a Catholic nursing home) I sang, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" as she held his hand and smiled. Then I sang, "You Are my Sunshine" and other songs. She was so appreciative.

what a night it was!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sound Healing, Singing bowls and my old friends the frequencies

Have you ever experienced the sounds of Tibetan & Crystal singing bowls? It is a powerful experience! Today in my Integrated Therapies class we experimented with these sounds and frequencies. What happens when the bowls are struck, waves of sound fill the room and you can feel these vibrations in your body. We were focusing today on body awareness and how sound affects our bodies.

Do you remember that old TV commercial with Ella Fitzgerald where she sang a high note and shattered a glass? The commercial advertized Memorex cassette tapes (now obsolete!) and the slogan was, "Is it live or is it Memorex?"   Ella was able to sing a note/frequency so powerfully that she shattered a glass! Imagine that the glass is a blockage in a cell in your body (which creates pain), how the sound/pitch/vibration can shatter that blockage? This is what sound healing is all about. There is a lot of scientific research out now about all of this.

What I felt like old friends have come back to me when I closed my eyes and the singing bowls were struck and their sounds filled the room and touched my body. It was like these frequencies were people I once knew and haven't seen for a long time and they have come to visit.  It was such a nurturing feeling.  I said to myself, "Oh hi, welcome back!" It sounds a bit abstract but sound has a way of putting you in a zone that is far removed from the mundane.

Today was the last session in my Integrated Therapies Certification Course I took. We met over a period of 7 months and each session we focused on different modalities such as; GIM (guided imagery to music), mandala, journaling and poetry, clay sculpture, meditation/mind body techniques.
The facilitators are from the Integrative Music Institute in Charlottesville.  If you are local, I encourage you to check out their programs!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Name that tune

Today I was out in Stanardsville in Greene county at a really nice place that has a day center for seniors. This job was one I did for the Alzheimer's Association in Cville.  This agency requires that my music sessions are interactive and engage the participants. So this is a run down of what we did--it was fun!

First we played a game of "Name that Tune" and I'd sing the first 4 notes of a well known song. ("You Are My Sunshine", "When the Saints Go Marching In". etc) After the song is guessed correctly, we sang it together.

Then I handed out my percussion instruments and they played along with me on some upbeat songs like, "This Little Light of Mine", "Down by the Riverside".

Next I showed them my Native American flute and got them playing a heartbeat rhythm on the drums as I played a solo on my flute. After that we had a free flowing drum circle and a game of "call and response" led by me.

It is great fun to watch the people go from nodding off to smiling and laughing and being involved. Music is so inclusive and I thought the drumming especially went over well. Sometimes people with Alzheimer's do better with non-verbal activities and drumming is a great way to reach them.

I love to get people moving and laughing and singing. I also love to think up new games and things we can do.

Have you played, "Name that Tune" lately?  Do you remember that TV show from the 50s?  We used to watch the reruns when I was a child. Can you name this tune, "da-da -da daaaaa"?  :)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

VSA Art Show

The VSA Art Show is one of my favorite events of the year. VSA (very special arts) is an organization I work with that promotes experiences in the arts for people with disabilities. I lead sing alongs with several groups per month and as  a result I have gotten to know many gifted and inspiring people.

The evening got off to a friendly note when I walked in carrying my guitar and a woman came running  up to give me a big hug. "We miss you when you aren't there!"  I was a little caught off guard because while she looked familiar to me, I could not place which group I knew her from. I said, "ah... which place is that?" She laughed and told me JABA. That's a place that has a very big group (over 30) and I'm not there as regularly. Anyway, what a nice way to be greeted!

I've been part of VSA Arts for over 8 years now and so it was wonderful to see all my friends beaming with pride with their artwork showcased on the walls at the MLK Performing Arts Center. Even the local TV station came and a few were interviewed! See this link for that.
The event was very well attended (well over 100 people) in spite of the rain and cold. I feel so lucky to be part of this community.

I am pictured above with my friend Carol as I hold up her artwork in the new VSA Arts Calendar.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Oh Shenandoah I long to see you

Virginia is such a beautiful state with the Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge mountains, the surrounding counties near Charlottesville filled with pastures and farms and rolling hills. It is why I love to live here.

Today I started to play the song, "Shenandoah" and ended up recording it-- you can listen at the link below. There is so much to love about this song. It was actually originally a sailor sea shanty song.
Now it is the Virginia state song. I love a song with a name that gives it more of a mystery. It could be sung as a love song to a woman or to a beloved place. (Georgia on My Mind is another)

As I played the song today, I was struck by the haunting melody that is both tender and wistful. It brings up a longing deep within that I can't identify. I went to that place and hit the record button and this is what came out.  I hope you enjoy it and come visit our Virginia sometime if you have not been here before!

As you listen, hear are the words to the first verse:   
Oh Shenandoah,
I long to see you,
Away you rolling river.
Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away, I'm bound away,
'cross the wide Missouri.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Work can be good medicine

Today I was feeling a bit down as yesterday the heat pump went on the blink (with temps at 4 degrees outside!) and today I had to take my car in for a repair.  All is fine but sometimes things like that add up and I started to slide into a downward spiral.   As I can set my own hours at the hospital, I didn't have go in today but I knew it would be a way to lift me up.

And lift me up it did! The first floor I visited, I was sent to a room to play for a very sweet elderly woman.  Family members were visiting her as I played and everyone really appreciated the music. What you can't see in the picture (won't post pictures of patients for confidentiality reasons) above is the lady's smiling face after she got us all laughing as she kept saying "cheese" to get us to smile. I rarely pose for photos at the hospital but sometimes people ask me to.

After that uplifting encounter, I was well received by another patient with family visiting. I learned that they were from Southwest VA. This led to a lively conversation about The Carter Family Fold  and I told them about my days studying the mountain dulcimer and playing in fiddle conventions down there. I have seen that people from that region take great pride with their historic achievements. Having grown up in Chicago,  I have enjoyed getting know the music of the mountain people and Virginia.

I left the hospital feeling so much better. People often say, "you are so nice to do that work" but I can tell you--it helps me a lot too.

Have you ever had one of those days where you felt down and you found a way to lift yourself up with others?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

What's on my music stand No 332

It's time for another episode of "what's on my music stand." I always have a lot of diverse projects going on and that is something I love about my work. What you see above shows you:

  • A score from my new online music class "Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Composition." In the score, I am charting out a chorale piece in 4 part harmony. This is something I have never done before! I am having fun with some of the musical terms I am encountering too (ok I am a nerd) things like: "Heterophony," "Homorhythmic homophony" "parrallel fifths", "leading tones" and voice leading.  These terms tell things about the textures of the music and writing style of the classical period.  As it has been many years since I took a formal music theory class, I am delighted that I can still understand this stuff! It is true that music notation is like learning a foreign language.
  • You will also see my "Songs & Prayers of Taize" book as I accompany the monthly Taize Service held at the Charlottesville Mennonite Church (701 Monticello Ave, 8pm Wed. Jan 8th, 2014).  The hour-long service follows the format of evening prayer used in the ecumenical community of TaizĂ© in France. It is mostly a service of sung prayer with additional periods of silence, scripture reading and intercession. Here is one of my favorite Taize songs called, "Frieden, Frieden"   I recorded our service live and that's me on the guitar. The words translate to:

    Peace I leave you, peace I give
    let your hearts be free from fear
    My peace I give to you

  • There is my new book I am reading about the Carter Family called, "Don't Forget this Song " which is a graphic novel about their story and songs they wrote. It starts circa 1920s in rural Southwest Virginia. It is a fascinating saga of the "hillbilly singers" and how A.P. Carter also traveled around collecting songs. In one chapter it talks about their recording sessions when the first microphone was invented. Really interesting and fun to read!
  • Behind that book is a stack of music of my wedding repertoire I am polishing up in preparation for the ceremonial season coming up this spring. I focus on folk and Appalachian songs (instrumental guitar) to enhance outdoor weddings held in our lovely Blue Ridge Mountain region.
  • I'm also working on a lesson plan for one of my guitar students at the Music Resource Center in town.
  • Th-th-tha-that's all folks!  Having lots of fun with it!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014

Happy New Year, everyone! I am feeling optimistic about this new year, how about you?

Last night was such fun and also a meaningful time performing at First Night Virginia. I have not played for the Charlottesville First Night in many years and it made me remember my first time doing it all the way back in 1989! I'm celebrating my 25th anniversary living in Charlottesville. It has been such a nurturing community for me. Thank you to all my friends, coworkers, acquaintances, audience members who have supported me over the years here.

I sang at a new venue called Old Metropolitan Hall on the downtown mall.  It was great to sing for an attentive and supportive audience.   After my performance, I went out to talk to the audience and I saw some people I have not seen in over 20 years!  It was like an episode of that old show, "This is Your Life" (anyone remember that show?)  My sister and I watched the reruns as kids and I always liked the premise of the show.

Also there was someone in the audience who came to thank me as I had played for her mother before she passed away some years ago. I have played for so many people in the 9 years of doing therapeutic music that I did not recall this woman. But it is a lesson to show that each day we each can do something that makes a difference. We may not ever know how we impacted someone at all. And sometimes we are fortunate as I was last night to hear how I helped their family.

So with this, I want to wish you all a very happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.  I plan to focus on the positive things in life and nurture my friends and family more.  To lighten up and trust and let go of the past. I open to the new and welcome you to be a part of it!

Thanks for reading as always!