Friday, March 28, 2014

Body & Soul and the stereotypical American

The other day on Facebook, a friend was asking things to show her foreign exchange student about America. I suggested she teach her a traditional American song like, "This Land is Your Land."  Immediately someone responded to my post by saying, "Do not do that. You want her to enjoy her stay, not be tortured by American stereotypes." Hm. I have to say I was a bit offended by that comment! First of all, when did singing "This Land is Your Land" become a "stereotypical American" thing to do?   Also it turns out this song is actually a bit of a protest song written in response to, "God Bless America." Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" during the depression because he heard other patriotic songs that he felt glossed over the struggles of the American people.  All those out of work and some people losing their homes, etc. The message of the song is that America is about being inclusive of all different classes, races, ethnicity and religions. 

 Since when it is a bad thing to sing the songs we learned in school? I have taught these songs to refugees and people who are ESOL (English as a second language) to help them practice their English. Some old songs like "Home on the Range" for example go all the way back to the 1800s. All these songs are about American history. Since when are we so ashamed and hateful of our own history?

I do have to say, I am not a political person. I don't enjoy reading about politics or going to rallies or even signing petitions (though I do that). But I do believe in creative art forms and I believe that the songs and art people created are good historic stories that help us to understand what people were going through at the time. We can read a history book but that was likely to have been written by a historian who was not there. Songs on the other hand were written by people during the times they were written. So I think it's interesting to sing our songs and think about what was going on back then?

As you can see, I feel strongly about this. :)
So now for the funny part. Last Wed. at my usual nursing home gig I was asked by one of the residents "Did you change your name to Body & Soul?"   (ha ha)  This is because the nursing home usually writes my name in the time slot of the schedule  but instead it said, "Body & Soul."  (due to a mix up on the schedule) Not a bad idea to go by that stage name to see what happens.  What do you think?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One with the infinite sun

Yesterday I had such a wonderful experience as Artist-in-Residence working with a high school group presenting Native American music.  I had come prepared to teach them several Native American chants but I was not sure if they would sing along with me. Sure enough, they did! I have always loved these chants.  Here are a few, "Hey Hey Watenay," "The Earth is Our Mother," "Now I Walk in Beauty," "The River is Flowing."  I think the favorite was the one below from the Lakota tribe:

I am One with the Infinite Sun
I am one with the infinite sun,
forever and ever and ever
I am one with the infinite sun,
forever and ever and ever

Kiawate, Leno Leno, Mahotay
Heyno, Heyno, Heyno
Kiawate, Leno Leno, Mahotay
Heyno, Heyno, Heyno

I also brought my Medicine Cards (animal cards) and passed them around for students to pick a card and I read the message. We talked about how the Native Americans believe that nature is always communicating to us and one way is with animal totems. Then I showed them this amazing video "How Wolves Change Rivers"
 which shows what happened when wolves were reintroduced to the ecosystem at Yellowstone Park back in the 90s.  It's well worth the time to watch! 
In the picture above, the students wrote down what the liked best about my presentation. Many said the wolf video, several also said the songs we sang. It was quite an uplifting time!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Smiling on the inside

We take so much for granted. Imagine having a disability where you could not show expression in your face or clap your hands after a performance. Yesterday I met such a man who told me, "Even though I can't smile, I am smiling on the inside." Another time he told me, "I can't clap my hands to show you I liked your song but I am really enjoying it."

I went to a new place yesterday out in Waynesboro.  It's in a small shopping center and it is a day care center for people with special needs and seniors. The staff was so welcoming and so involved with the music session we did. It was maybe one of the best times I've had at a new location!

When I arrived at the center, I was brought to the room where I would sing and found everyone to be sitting in a large circle. Everyone was relaxing in a big Lazy Boy chair with homemade afghan blanket  covering them.

We sang the old school songs and talked about most of them. It seemed each song led to a conversation. "I've been working on the Railroad" had us talking about train rides we've taken. "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" about boat rides. "Home on the Range" about what is a range? :)

I passed out percussion instruments and they played along with me. Later I got out my drum and we played a call and response game. I would play a beat and they followed--they were very good at it! Then we did a drumming rain storm. Then we jammed while one girl danced. It was such fun!

It was such a dreary, cold winter day and it brought us all some warmth and smiles on the inside and out!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Take a mad song and make it better

Things are getting interesting at this nursing home where I play each Wednesday night. Lately I have developed a bit of a following there.   What I do in this place is play strolling minstrel style up and down the hallway for the residents as they get ready for bed.  Some of them are gathered in a small group, some spread out alone in their own space, while others stay in their rooms.

As soon as I walked in tonight, I was told that Miss Barrington had been asking for me for the last hour.  I only met her for the first time last week because she stays in her room but last week she came out for once. When I went in her room, she pointed to a stack of songs she had on her night stand and said, "this is my music!"  She motioned for me to bring the songs to her and asked for her glasses. We then proceeded to sing through most of the songs which was a small book. "Alexanders' Ragtime Band", "Hail Hail the Gang's All Here," "Bicycle Built for Two" and on and on. I finally had to tell her I needed to go and check on the others out in the hall. She said ok but for me to come back later.

When I made found my way to my usual group I sing with, I said, "Hi, how is everyone?" Ms. Taylor said, "We're all mad!" with a disgusted look on her face.  "Oh no, why is that?" I asked. "Because of that lady down there (pointing to an angry looking woman in a wheelchair) she keeps saying mean things to everyone and won't move out of the way for anyone!" Ms. Taylor explained.
"Oh I see, well how about let's sing something funny to take our mind off of this" I said and then started singing, "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain". It worked, everyone -even the mean lady sang. We sang happily for awhile when another mean lady came with her wheelchair. Ms. Mueller (who is usually very nice to everyone) said, "if you come over here-I am going to hit you with this!" (her walker). Then it seemed everyone else started squabbling and bickering. I don't see them acting this way often. Eventually I got them all singing again and we were able to change the mood.

After that I went to see  Ms. Brown who sits by herself down the hall.  I sang her favorite song "I'll Fly Away," her request each week. Then I had to go back and check on Ms. Barrington again in her room and we sang a few more. Then she said, "I guess you should go and check on your other kids now."  It was quite a busy night!

By the way, I didn't realize "Mad Song" was a poem by William Blake. Cool.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Journey out there

I have returned from a journey "out there." What I mean is,  it was a gig that was not only far away geographically (Kingston, NY) but also a departure from my usual day to day music gigs. It is always a good feeling to stretch, meet new people, try new things.

Above you see me pictured with Eric Francis, the astrologer and writer of Planet Waves.  I have been reading his newsletters since the late 90s and I finally got to meet him in person on the occasion of his 50th birthday party where I performed. We also "met" via email when I contributed music to the LISTEN  project which were the annual audio astrology readings from 2013. It was one of my favorite gigs I've done!  How it worked was, Eric would send me a sample of the audio reading of a given astrology sign and I would choose from my own musical works a piece that fit that theme.
So Saturday night, there I was with the Planet Waves crew in Kingston, NY.

I got to meet some nice like-minded people and I also got a surprise visit from a friend who used to live here in Cville but moved away in 2001. It was a small world experience to see him there. It was great to catch up and dance to the electronic band.

He said to me, "so this is an out of town gig for you" and I said, "yeah--way out!" In many ways... a good experience and now I am ready go take on the DMB! (are you reading, Dave? :)

Monday, March 3, 2014

A work in progress

After a few weeks of focused research and practice for the school presentation, I have been having fun improvising with different chord progressions. I like to go looking through song books or on the internet for new ideas of chords and riffs to play.   I love it when I find something that feels like "this is where I am now, " sort of a musical self portrait.  It's a soulful, bluesy mood that I don't often play. It feels like wearing a leather jacket would feel or riding a motorcycle down a dirt road on a hot day. I feel time standing still and slowing down.

Here is what I recorded--I deliberately kept this raw and real, unpolished and spontaneous. It's fun to hit the "record" button and let it rip and see what happens. Maybe much like snapping random photos and suddenly you see a shadow or catch a glimpse of light you didn't know was there.

When I was a young girl, I enjoyed doodling and being spontaneous with art . I also like to write in my journal but sometimes that's more predictable. Do you have ways you like to play? Do you like to dance?

Here's my "Work in Progress" and I hope you enjoy!