Friday, February 28, 2014

A Hero All Day Long

My work as Artist-in-Residence for Albemarle County Schools  found me the last 3 mornings with a group of first graders at Scottsville Elementary.   They were studying Famous Americans and I taught them about the contributions of Pete Seeger, Harriet Tubman, Woody Guthrie, Odetta and Amelia Earhart. From  Pete Seeger's song, "If I had a Hammer," we talked about Justice.  Harriet Tubman inspired a conversation about ways that we could also be a hero everyday. Woody's song, "This Land is Your Land" taught us how everyone is important --no matter what color your skin is or what kind of job you do or where you live and your way of life.  Odetta's song, "Oh Freedom" brought up the issue of freedom and liberty which are reasons people came to America. 

The kids are very smart and fun to work with. Today we made projects for how to make the world a better place.  One group wrote poems, another did artwork and my group wrote a song.  I had the kids tell me ways they could be a hero every day and so this song is what we wrote together. It is to the tune of "This Land is Your Land."


I am a hero, I do good deeds
From picking trash up, to planting trees
From raising money to singing songs
I am a hero all day long

I’ll teach you swimming and to feel happy
When you are sad and need a friend
I’ll keep you safe when you are scared
I am a hero all day long

I’ll help you cross the street
I’ll play with you all day long
Take care of nature and all my friends
I am a hero all day long"
A great experience and fun time for all.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Amazing Grace and the drone of the floor buffer

Today at the hospital I played for several patients in ICU.   A few of them were in isolation which means I have to sit right outside the door and not play inside their rooms because of infection control regulations.   So as I sat playing outside the door of one patient, there came behind me a loud buzzing sound. It was someone with a big machine buffing the floor. Normally, I get irritated by this kind of background noise but instead this time I listened carefully as the buffing/buzzing sound drew nearer to see what note the machine emanated.  It turned out to be G, so I improvised in the key of G and used the buffing machine as a drone just like a bagpipe. The result made me smile. How's that for going with the flow?

Next I was sent to a patient that wanted me to play Amazing Grace. I was sitting outside her door too (another in isolation) and played the hymn that she requested and improvised around this melody for quite some time. At one point, I looked behind me and there stood about 5 or 6 nurses and doctors watching and listening to me playing. It is quite something to play music in ICU and some new doctors/nurses really are amazed by this. 

The last patient I played for on that unit had two guards from the Dept. of Corrections outside the door. It appeared the patient was a prisoner. There were about 4 nurses and staff working with this patient in a very caring way. I was very struck with how they treated this person with complete equanimity. It is a rare thing I bet for a prisoner to be treated with such kindness.

I know people are down on hospitals a lot but I can tell you, I see examples of this kind of kindness all the time. It is one reason I go there even on days when I am a little down because it lifts me up to see this. Today was one of those days.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lullabies for babies and elders

Today I played for newborn babies in ICU and their frazzled parents and staff. It is always a treat to be there because everyone appreciates the music so much.  Today I sat near where one father was dozing off in a La-Z-Boy chair while his wife read quietly by the baby's incubator.  A nurse was feeding another baby as I played soft lullabies and improvised melodies suitable for resting and comfort.

Last night I played for a group of elders with dementia. It's one of my favorite nursing homes and I always look forward to being there. One reason is a woman named Ms. Rose.  Every time I come there, she leaps out of her chair and comes over to hug me saying, "Hi Darlin'!"   She always says the sweetest things to me, "You are the best! If you are ever in trouble, you can come to me."  I mentioned something about Rose to another staff member and she smiled and said, "I've never heard her say a bad thing about anybody.  She makes you feel like a million dollars."  And so I know this is just the way she is and not so much about me but even so, she does make me feel like a million dollars. It makes me think of how just being kind, giving a hug, saying something nice can make someone's day. We never really know what kind of battle they are fighting inside or what goes on in their lives. And Ms. Rose does not know that I have even put a post it on my mirror with the name Rose on it to remind myself of how I am surrounded by such good people who appreciate me.

 I feel pretty lucky to have this work and to get to know so many kind people.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Here Comes the Sun

"Here Comes the Sun and I say, it's alright" - Beatles

I am sure you all know this song. It's one I have been singing a lot the last few days. Yesterday was a day that felt like spring was in the air. With the sun shining and temperature in the mid 60s. 

"Little darling, it's been a long, cold lonely winter..." la la yeah --come spring!

 I've had quite a few musical visits this past week so far.  Starting with the hospital, I was sent to a room with a patient who was said to be very withdrawn. In fact I had played for him before and noticed he was non verbal and communicated by nodding yes or no. He seemed a little down, so I talked to him for awhile to see if there was anything that would inspire a response from him. Finally, I asked him if he had animals and he smiled. I named some animals, "horses?" (nodding yes, holding up 2 fingers), "dogs? " (nodding yes, 2 fingers again). I said they must really miss him.  Next I played a wide range of music to get a feel for what he would like.  I played some Gospel, Spirituals, Beatles, old folk songs. He tapped his foot and a couple of times he tried to speak. I am not sure what prevented him from speaking but I thought it was a good sign he was responding to me.  I told him I'd come back to see him again though I hoped he would be able to go home soon.

Yesterday  I went to two group homes where some folks are allowed to go outside to smoke. Since it was nice out, I brought my guitar outside and sang. One friend there plays harmonica and she played along with me on "This Little Light of Mine."  She only has the use of one side of her body and she struggled some to get her harmonica out of her purse. Sometimes it's hard for me to stand by and not offer help but I already know her well enough to know that she would say no if I asked. It was apparently worth the effort as we played and laughed together.

Then last night I went to another nursing home and everyone seemed to be in better spirits. What a difference the sunshine makes!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Beatles, Pete, Shirley and Summertime

Today was such fun singing with a group of people who are in my age group.  It's great because we all grew up with the same songs, TV shows, movies, etc.  We had a good time flowing from one tribute to the next starting with celebrating the Beatles' 50th anniversary of coming to the U.S.

Our song selection started with "Yellow Submarine," "With a Little Help from My Friends," "Hey Jude", "Let it Be," "I Will," "Here Comes the Sun",  "Imagine." We could sing all day for months and still not sing all the Beatles songs.

Then we talked about the passing of the great Pete Seeger and sang, "If I Had a Hammer". I told them how I wrote Pete a letter and he wrote me back! Tina told how she saw Pete and Arlo Guthrie years ago together at Wolf Trap. Those who love folk music have their won Pete Seeger stories.

Next we paid a tribute to dear Shirley Temple by singing, "Polly Wolly Doodle," and "Goodship Lollipop." I loved her movies because she had friends of all different ages. Most of them grown ups. She traveled all around the world and she had such a positive outlook on life in most of her films.

We finished up our musical hour by singing songs about summer and sunshine to  help us to cope with this very cold and long winter. "California Dreamin'," "Summertime," "You Are My Sunshine" and others were among some of the songs we shared.

Such an example of how music brings back memories and I enjoyed sharing memories with others today and bonding with some of the songs that were part of the soundtrack of growing up.

Do you like the Beatles? what's your favorite song of theirs?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

When the shoe fits, smile.

I think a song can be like a shoe and good ones that really fit can be hard to find. We all have distinct things going on with our feet. Some are wide, some with bone spurs, some too flat, some too arched. But we walk and stand a lot and so it's important to be comfortable in our shoes.

It's the same way with a song. Finding one that really fits our voice--and I don't just mean our physical voice but I mean our style, our way of expressing ourselves. A song that  we can really sing with true conviction and emotion. The song, "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin is a song that fits me well.
I got to sing it for a friend's father's memorial service yesterday. Consider the lyrics:

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky
you'll get by.

If you smile through your pain and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through, for you.

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near

That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying.
You'll find that life is still worthwhile-
If you just smile
This is a feeling I know very well. As a child it was not really ok to cry or truly express sadness openly. My family didn't really talk about things that happened and I often felt I had to work out the world of family dynamics on my own. As a young girl, I was given a record player and also a transistor radio I carried with me everywhere. And music was my everything (still is), a friend who understood, validated, gave me wings to soar above the confusion of growing up.

I knew how to pretend and "smile" even though my heart was breaking. So this song is such a beautiful one that expresses that for all of us. We've had had times when tears surfaced but it was "not the right time" to allow them to come out. But I've never heard a song that expresses this feeling so eloquently.

It turned out to be the perfect song for the memorial service too because the man it was sung to was one who valued humor and always smiled. It's a good quality to have and not easy to do.

"Smile" was written back in 1936 and was originally an instrumental piece by Charlie Chaplin. It's gone on to be a classic recorded by many singers including, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and me someday. :)

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine to Remember

Today is Valentine's Day but I nearly forgot about it. (have two cats for my Valentines :) But what I did know is that I had a gig at a nursing home today and I really wanted to get myself there. Since we got 16 inches of snow yesterday, I  was not sure if I would make it.   But I so much wanted to go and sing with my friends at the nursing home (being doing this one over 7 yrs now) that I asked a neighbor to help dig me out.

I was glad I made it there.   There was a time I would have loved nothing more than to be snowed in and not have to go to work. But it so happens I love my work and prefer to be there than snowed in.

So, one thing that happened was that I forgot my capo for my guitar. Those of you who don't play guitar, I will explain. The capo allows me to change the key I sing a song in.   For various reasons, some days I can sing higher with ease than other days.    It was my "worst fear" as I have always been paranoid to the point where once I pulled over in a gas station on the way to double check if I had my capo. Anyway.. no capo and it went just fine to my surprise. In fact, early on I decided it would be a fun challenge to see all I could do without having that as a crutch.

We were singing along when a few young women came in the room and walked up to each resident and gave them a homemade Valentine.  It sure made them smile and I am not sure if some of them even knew it was Valentine's Day as the room was not decorated. After they had their Valentines' I sang, "Love me Tender" by Elvis and "Let me Call You Sweetheart", "As Time Goes By".
Now that was a nice Valentine's Day for me.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Preparing and waiting in a moments' slience

I have been working on a lot of projects lately and very excited about them. I was given the high honor of being asked to play at Eric Francis', astrologer of Planet Waves birthday bash in Kingston, NY.  We "met" (via email) when I provided music for his annual astrology readings project last year called LISTEN.  I have been reading his political/astrology newsletter since the late 1990s.   His birthday is March 8th and I'll be meeting him in person for the first time. I am excited! 

That is something that I love about music. For me it has brought me to places I never thought I'd see and I've met so many people from playing music. Kurt Vonnegut has a great quote that says something like, "Go into the arts, it's not a way to make a living but a way to make an interesting life." Yes.

Also as an Artist-in-Residence at Albemarle County Schools, I've been asked to do a school program teaching about Famous Americans through songs and stories later this month. I have chosen so far; Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Odetta, Louis Armstrong, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Einstein, and more. This is why I love folk music by the way. For what the songs teach. Songs about freedom, equality, inspirational leadership, everyday heroes.

Today though I was slowed down by a minor injury which means I had to take a break from practicing my instruments. I did watch all the videos for my online "Music of the Beatles" course. I did research my school project. But my drums and guitar remained silent. I so wanted to play but need to rest.

It brings to mind one of my songs about having to wait for things sometimes. It's called: "Let the Music Come".  Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shave & a Haircut- Two Bits

Everyone knows this drum rhythm  --shave and a haircut--two bits. (two bits is an old saying for one quarter).   This musical call has been around for a long time. The earliest known instance of this can be traced back to 1899 in some old ragtime songs. It is used in many comedy routines.

Yesterday I used this in a call and response song with a group of seniors with Alzheimer's. I would first sing the lines from the song and others I made up  and then we all beat out the rhythm on various percussion instruments. Here's how it went:

Shave and a Hair cut – two bits (boom boom da boom boom - dah boom!)
Who was the barber – Tom Mix  (boom boom da boom boom - dah boom!)
What did you sit in –a chair        "     " etc
What did he cut off—your hair

Shave and a hair cut –two bits
I had for breakfast – some grits
When did I have them – to-day
Why did I come here – to play

Shave and a hair cut – two bits
Gonna teach a dog some new tricks
Take him for a  long walk – outside
Don’t let him run away and hide (1st verse)

Drumming is great in a group with dementia and Alzheimer's because it does not require any verbal cues or memory.  We played this game and did some other call and response songs and the group also played with me on some sing along numbers. Drums were my first instrument, so I love incorporating them in musical activities. 
A fun time indeed!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wild Mountain Thyme

Wild Mountain Thyme is a beautiful, Scottish folk song with origins tracing all the way back to 1821. One way to listen this song is to imagine it as a theatrical play and the melody being spoken by the main character.  As you listen, what is your perception of the character? What mood, sentiment, meaning do you hear?  Some of us prefer hearing vocal music and don't listen to as much instrumental music. But to me I like instrumental music for what you can imagine in your mind of it.
Knowing the lyrics say:

"Oh, the summer time is coming,
And the trees are blooming,
And the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the blooming heather.
Will you go, lassie, will you go?

And we'll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather,
Will you go, lassie, go?"

Gives you a clue about the feeling of sentimentality and longing.  You can maybe see in your minds' eye the blooming heather on the mountainside. You can feel the warmth of the summertime coming.
These are the things I think about and attempt to convey through the voice of my guitar.

I know we're all longing for summer time to come.. the wait makes it so much sweeter.
With this in mind, here is a rendition of me playing  Wild Mountain Thyme.

Do you remember it now? Pretty, isn't it?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Everlasting Love

I grew up with such great music and I love the old Motown songs. This song, "Everlasting Love" was a one hit wonder by Carl Carlton and I loved it. It was a hit in 1967 which would put me around 8 yrs old. I had a transistor radio my grandmother gave me that I carried around with me everywhere.

I've been having a lot of fun recording samples of music for weddings and this one came up. It's not easy to play a Motown song on solo guitar because I can't get that big Motown groove/band sound. But I thought it made a nice song for the solo guitar because of the contrasting sparse melody in the verse and the high energy chorus that says:

"Open up your eyes
Then you'll realize
Here I stand with my
Everlasting Love"
I love the sentiment of that and believe in that kind of love.  I have that love for music!  It need not just be love for a person. There is love for life, humanity, nature, animals too. I feel this when I play this song.

Here is my recording --but keep in mind this is an abbreviated version of the song intended as a sample. Do you remember this song?