Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms, Silent Night & Happy Birthday!

Yesterday was such a high energy and happy time at a place I sang in Waynesboro, VA.  It's the kind of place that really strikes a chord in me as it reminds me of my early years living in Chicago.  The group is a mixture of elderly,  some younger developmentally then their years, some with special needs.

What I loved so much about singing with them was the way it all flowed from one seemingly unconnected song/idea to the next. It was a spontaneous flow of laughter and music and dancing and connecting.

Some favorite moments were when I got out my drum and others had percussion instruments to play along.  We jammed on some African rhythms I know and some of the people danced in the circle.  Then I was telling the group how I had someone ask to sing "Silent Night" last week, even though it was July. One of the people said, "well, Silent Night is not just about Christmas, it is about a silent time." and so we sang, "Silent Night." Then I asked about any birthdays coming up and we ended up singing "Happy Birthday" about  5 times. 2 for ones this week, 2 for ones I missed and 1 just for fun.

Later one of the activity assistants, Beth, asked if I knew any Bluegrass music and I suggested "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms".  I got out the words so she could sing along. Now this song is one you may or may not know but some of the words are not happy or "nice."  I often try to avoid lyrics about people being in jail or cheating on each other and the like but but the way Beth sang it changed that for me. I saw that it is all in the way you sing it. She sang these verses with a wry smile and mock dramatic flair and I had fun bouncing off of her with each of us hooting and "woot wooting" after each verse:

Now where were you last Friday night
While I was lying in jail
Walking the streets with another man
Wouldn't even go my bail

I know you parents don't like me
They drove me away from your door
If I had my life to live over
I'd never go there any more

   Roll in my sweet baby's arms
   Roll in my sweet baby's arms
   Lay around the shack 'til the mail comes back
  And I'll roll in my sweet baby's arms

It hit me that  some bluegrass is a lot like the blues I learned in Chicago--it is about things being  so bad they are funny. It's about having fun with life even when things seem impossible and laughing and enjoying each moment with wherever life finds us.

The picture above was taken just down the road from the home on the way going to yet another home yesterday. Such a lovely, unspoiled beautiful part of Virginia.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The power of other art forms, a cartoon

Last week I attended National VSA Conference in Washington, DC. VSA Arts is an international Organization that works to promote experiences in the arts  with people with disabilities.  I really enjoyed meeting VSA artists from all over the world (including Japan!) and the presentations were great. I've been involved with the local VSA organization for some years now and love it.

I had a powerful experience in one workshop that I ended up going to at the last minute because the one I had planned for had been cancelled. It was one entitled, "Comics, Films & Language" which talked about overcoming stereotyping in the arts.  We were given a piece of paper with four empty quadrants in order to draw our own cartoon. Pictured above is mine--if you click on it, you can see it more closely.  The instructions were :

4-Frame Story Activity:

1. Think about a time when you were (dis)abled. ( for me this is about my cochlear implant journey)
2. Revisit from perspectives that decenter expectations of normal.
3. Show close-up through humor, parody, or metaphor your identity, experience, strengths, and capacities.
4. Deconstruct disabling social constructions.
I did this drawing on the train going home. I didn't really think too much about it, I just drew what I felt led to draw. I have my own interpretation of what i did but I thought i'd leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions. If you want to, you can comment below what comes to mind. Thanks!

Come on by my website sometime too! I have lots of music to listen to!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Amazing Grace and the unexpected gift

Yesterday I was singing at a group home and someone requested, "Amazing Grace". When we got to the second verse, suddenly I heard a beautiful male tenor voice ring out behind me, belting out the words to the song. I turned and saw it was the electrician working on the electrical sockets behind us! What an unexpected gift it was! He had a beautiful voice and I went to talk to him afterwards to see what band or choir he sang in. He said he didn't really sing anywhere.  He laughed it off and got back to work.

He may not have thought much about his singing ability but I will never forget his spontaneous expression. He made our day! 

It makes me think of how simple it can be to make someone's day.  A smile, an encouraging word, a kind gesture such as opening the door for someone. It does not take much. I make a point to remember the gifts of each day.

I wonder what today's gift will be?

PS Thank you for coming by! In addition, I play weddings and special events. Here's my website ( ) and keep in touch! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Christmas in July

Yesterday I sang at a Mission home and it was an unusual but very uplifting experience. This is a place for some people who otherwise have fallen through the cracks and seem to have no family in the area and not much of anything. Many of them are not very functioning or responsive when spoken to.    Many of the residents are elderly, some severely disabled, others are both.   It was only my 3rd time singing there and I had planned some gospel music but it turns out the people I played for last time were not there.

I started off singing some well known songs like "You are My Sunshine," "This Little Light of Mine", etc. but very few were singing and I was aware that there was an awkward feeling in the room and I was unsure how to proceed a few times.  Finally, I asked "is there a song anyone wants to sing?" and one of the workers said, "Miss Carla likes to sing Silent Night." and so we sang Silent Night.   Miss Carla smiled her toothless smile and said afterwards, "that is a beautiful song!"

I said, "let's have Christmas in July--why not?!" and so then we sang, "Feliz Navidad," "Joy to the World," "O Come all Ye Faithful" and on and on like that --meanwhile the room was hot from an old non functioning air conditioner but no one seemed to notice. It was great to see the staff at their desks singing along. Although there was one grumpy staff member who walked through the room during a rollicking rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"  who slammed her door behind her. Bah humbug!

It was a lesson in going with the flow. Had I just continued trying to lead the group with songs I thought they'd like, this experience would not have happened. Let the people lead and I follow.  It was such an uplifting experience!

P.S. Thanks for coming by and if you are looking for music for a wedding or special event-here is my page where I have samples:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Songs for the 11th hour

This coming November will mark my 10 year anniversary of working as a certified music practitioner playing therapeutic music for patients at U.VA hospital.  I don't often talk about my experiences with patients here on my blog because of confidentiality issues.   I will say that I love my work and even after 10 yrs, I am still filled with a sense of awe from doing this work.

I play mostly in ICU and meet people in what could be the most difficult time in their lives. Most of the time, patients are unable to speak to me as they are too ill or they are on oxygen (tube in their mouth). This was the case in the picture above but as you can see, we were still able to communicate. Music is the bridge that connects me to others. The picture was taken by a family member who is documenting the healing progress of their loved one. Music with me that day was the highlight of the day. What a gift for me to be that for someone.

In another room that same day, there were several family members present as I sat next to their loved one and played my guitar.  Doing this work, I feel so privileged to be allowed into such a private moment for all and to be able to provide comfort and hope with music.

It is so different from the performing world where the focus is on me. At the hospital, I tell patient it is ok to go to sleep (they often do) and to the visitors I say, "don't mind me, you can keep talking among yourselves."  Then I sit and do my work and weave in the musical prescription for that specific patient. Sometimes I fill the room with my own compositions or something improvised on the spot but no two music sessions are alike. Just like no people are alike. Music, the universal language has the capacity to break down all barriers and nourish the heart and soul. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When there are no words

Yesterday I sang with a lively group of seniors over at JABA. I was surprised to see that sitting in the front row was a man I used to sing with at another place where I do not go anymore. The facility let me go in favor of having new musical performers come. Some places prefer to have the same people coming to give their residents a sense of stability. Others want to change it around. At any rate, the man I saw yesterday was one of my favorite participants and I was happy to see him. I went and asked him if he remembered me and he nodded yes.

Once we all started singing, he did not miss one verse or lyric. While other people only remember the first verse and chorus, this man knows each verse and sings with such intensity. I can see from his expression that music is deeply important to him. We sang some patriotic songs for the 4th of July, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "God Bless America," "Grand Old Flag,". We sang old favorites, "You Are My Sunshine,""Oh Susanna,", Que Sera Sera." Just about everybody clapped and laughed after each song. We were having such a wonderful time.

Then I saw the quiet man in the front row begin to raise his hands up and with great effort and concentration, he placed them together to form a heart. (like in the photo above).  Oddly enough, I'd never seen anyone make a heart in this way. I asked him, "is that a heart?" and he nodded with a serious expression.

Later once we were done singing, I went to talk with him but I could see that words did not come easily for him.  So I reached out my hand to him instead while I said good bye. There was a moment of awkward silence and just when I thought he would not take it, he grabbed my hand and held it tightly.    I stood by him holding his hand for a long moment and told him I enjoyed singing with him and I would see him again soon. It seemed he did not want to let go of my hand. I too felt a strong connection was made with him. No words needed, just the bond of music-the universal language.