Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rock-A My Soul in the Bosom of Charlottesville

Last week I played a a Mission home in town. It was my second time there and since I saw last time that the best participants were African American, I came prepared to sing some Gospel & Spirituals with them. Wow was that fun! I found that some of them brought back memories from my early childhood in inner city Chicago.  It was a great feeling to belt out, "Rock My Soul (in the Bosom of Abraham)," "Oh Happy Day," "Take this Hammer," "Oh Mary Don't You Weep."

There were two women up front who sang the most heartily with me-Ms. Rosalyn and Lucretta. I asked them where they were living during the civil rights movement and told them about my life in Chicago. Then we sang, "Oh Freedom" and "Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child". I could see Lucretta felt those songs deeply, she would close her eyes and nod her head while we sang as if in a trance.

It's been a long time since I've sung some of those songs and it was great to be able to  connect with them with music. One of the activity assistants was also present and she said she hadn't heard those songs since she was a child.

Do you remember this:

"Rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham , oh rock my soul

So high you can't get over it
So low can't get under it
So wide can't get through it
oh rock my soul. "

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sweet Betsy from Pike & Old Smokey

Today I sang with a group at a small assisted living center. This is a place that is pretty downtrodden with no real activities. So unlike other places that look like 5 star hotels! Anyway, when I said I liked the new furniture they had in the front room one of them said, "it's old." I said, "well, I like old furniture." She looked down as if she was ashamed and then I said I shopped at the Goodwill all the time and get good things. I meant it when I said that I liked the furniture. But to her I think the fact that it was old and used made a statement about where they lived.

At any rate, we had a good time singing today.  At one point one of the ladies asked me if I knew the song, "Sweet Betsy from Pike" and I asked her how it went. She began to sing:

"Oh don't you remember sweet Betsy from Pike,
Who crossed the wide prairie with her lover Ike,
With two yoke of oxen, a big yellow dog,
A tall Shangai rooster, and one spotted hog?"

Then she told me it was about pioneers during the gold rush times in the 1800s. This led to an interesting discussion about how so many American folk songs are about struggle. She was saying how much she liked the song because it was so sad. I rarely have heard anyone say that and I find that I too like sad songs. We said that there are different kinds of sad. There are some that feel comforting that  you can feel that way. Then there are some that feel hopeless and make you want to cry.

She then wanted to sing, "On Top of Old Smokey" something I haven't sang in years. I forgot how it went and so again, she sang it for me:

"On top of Old Smokey
all covered with snow
I lost my true lover
from courting too slow."

I've been singing "On Top of Spaghetti" so many years I forgot the original song!

Then we sang other sad songs, "Down in the Valley." "You Are My Sunshine" (check out the lyrics, that is sad stuff to a happy melody).  "Clementine" is a funny song but to me it is like the blues. It is a song about a situation so bad that it is funny. I remember when I first "got" that that was why the blues felt so good to sing. It is cathartic.

I told them it's like watching a soap opera on TV. You see these people with horrible lives and people are dying and cheating on each other and then we think, "wow! I've got it good!"We laughed about that. I like it when songs can lead to a good discussion and connecting. That's the main point of it, really.

We had such a good time but it all ended on a sour note when  a man who was doing some maintenance in the place walked up to one of the women and grabbed the newspaper out of her hands. Then he proceeded to hit Ms. Caroline 's little dog with it. I guess she was walking under his feet. I said, "that's not right!" and glared at him. I was surprised Ms. Caroline didn't say anything. Instead she scooped up Misty in her arms and held her close.

It's like that in some places. I try to bring good cheer but there are so many other things going on that tip the balance. I actually think most of them didn't even notice the whole dog spanking incident. We kept talking about the music and they all thanked me and asked me when I'd be back.  I guess they are used to the struggles. Maybe that is why those sad songs rang so true for them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How about some sonic tonic for breakfast?

You may know I am a Certified Music Practitioner   but what does that mean?   Certified Music Practitioners (CMPs) are musicians who play live therapeutic music to provide a healing environment for those who are ill or transitioning. Therapeutic music is an art based on the science of sound. It is live acoustic music, played or sung, specifically tailored to the patient’s immediate need. It is is a gentle non-pharmaceutical intervention to promote well being.
Certified Music Practitioners (CMPs) are trained through The Music for Healing and Transition Program (, which is accredited by the National Standards Board of Therapeutic Musicians.

It is work I love to do and so opposite of the world of performing or my other life as a singer/songwriter.  Imagine playing music to help someone relax and fall asleep. If playing a concert this would be considered a big insult! But in the work as a therapeutic musician,  falling asleep is the best compliment you can get. I love watching the monitors in ICU and the heart rate dropping as they connect with the slow rhythms I am playing.

Since I play the guitar and it is a common instrument, I often get questioned in the elevators or in the hallways. "Where is the concert?" "Do you play bluegrass?" "Do you want to jam?"  and they are logical questions because people automatically think of music as entertainment. Nothing wrong with that! But I love how music can be used almost like a food and source of nutrition. If someone is in ICU, I feed them something very easy to digest. Bluegrass would likely have to wait until the good news of going home (a bit too fast of a beat for critically ill people).

I love the message on the image about about all the things music is. Science, math, language, art--yes to all!

Do you have favorite songs you like to listen to when you are down and need a lift? Do you have something to help motivate you when you need a push? Do you have music to clean the house? Music is such a necessary part of life! Feel free to tell me some songs you like. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Charity Update and your support

Hello Friends,

I hope life is good in your corner of the world. I thought I'd give you an update about the donation I made to the Music Resource Center of the guitar I bought from Dave Matthews 22 years ago. The guitar was an Ovation pictured above and signed by Dave with an inscription reading, "This Old Guitar I play for many years".  It was his main guitar during the years of 1991-92, during the time when "Remember Two Things" was being recorded. (which is to be reissued soon).  The guitar was auctioned off on in May and sold for $41,000! What is also cool is that DMB has a song called, "#41" --how cool is that?

All proceeds went to the Music Resource Center in Charlottesville which will help about 100 low income kids to receive music lessons.  We all know what a gift music is in our lives!

Many people have told me what a generous thing I did to donate that guitar. They have asked how they may support me in return. Thank you for asking! You may purchase my CD, "Choose the Sky" via CD Baby or you may get a signed copy directly from me by emailing me here.

In addition, for every sale of this CD, I will donate 10% of the profits to go towards the Healing Music program at the University of Virginia Hospital where I am employed as a Certified Music Practitioner (CMP) trained to play live therapeutic music and "in-the-moment comfort care" that is tailored for a specific person/patient. I graduated from the Music for Healing & Transition Program in 2005 and have been employed as a CMP at the University of Virginia Hospital since 2004.  Your support of me helps many and thank you!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Sound of Elephants Running

Yesterday was a fun time with a group of young adults in their last week of school. Summertime gets everyone giddy in anticipation for vacations and down time.  We sang quite a few songs that were of a summer theme like, "Take me out to the Ballgame," "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain,", "You Are My Sunshine."  Songs we never seem to get tired of.

Then I passed out percussion instruments and I had my doumbek drum and we did some jamming to rhythms for awhile. First I led and then everyone got a chance to lead as the main drum got passed around. We played a game of "call and response" and at one point I played a rhythm and asked the kids what did they think I was mimicking? I told them it related to an animal. One got it--I was doing a horse galloping and then we all did horses galloping. After that, I asked what other sound we could try to get on the drum and one boy said, "elephants?" So, we did elephants running! Funny too because as we played this for awhile, I could actually see elephants running in my mind's eye.

It goes that way with this group. We flow from one idea to another and use our imagination. It is a joy to play with them and I will miss them this summer! 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Making a living or making a Life

To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, going into the arts is not a good way to make a living but it is a good way to make a life.  For most of my working life, I've had to spend most of my day trying to make a living. I did this by working low paying jobs doing things that didn't mean much to me, working with people who didn't "see" me. (not that I blame them, for I was not doing my art on my job and what brings me most to life)

As a child, I often would stay home from summer camp (in Chicago) and wander the alleys alone, playing in the mud or going through someone's trash or exploring a vacant building. I made up games and spent all day in an imaginative world,  totally engaged with my own company.

Someone recently asked me where I get inspiration for new creative projects.  One answer is that I give myself time to "wander the alleys" of my mind and just sit in silence and imagine.  I read once, "If you don't imagine anything, then nothing will happen." I think of things I love to do and then I imagine ways to do it and whom to do it with.

Lately I have had a a lot of fun putting old poetry (19th century) to music. The trend of writing then made usage of meters and rhythms and rhyme scheme that is so easy for me to imagine music. I have 6 poems now made into songs.

I also spend time looking at music lesson videos. I watched one the other day where a music teacher talked about an African rhythm exercise taking a 4/4 beat and counting it as a 6/8 rhythm. Then I realized I had done this very thing with one of the poems I put to music.

Taking time to explore is something I really value. I am happy that my lifestyle now allows me time to not have to adhere to goal oriented deadlines. Time when I can plant seeds and incubate and grow new ideas.
I've set aside today for another creative day. I have some jazz videos to watch and a new instrument to explore too --the Indian Shruti box. It is a drone instrument with a deep an resonant voice.

What ways do you nourish your creativity? Do you make time to imagine and play?