Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Got Rhythm, Who can ask for anything more?

This past weekend I completed work to be a trained HealthRHYTHMS facilitator. It's a series of protocols using drums in a group to facilitate empowerment, community, connection all in a fun way. At times it is like a drum circle but more structured. There will be times in the session for each of the participants to  have the opportunity to lead the drum circle.  It is a fun way to feel safe and connected using drumming and music to express feelings, thoughts, ideas, dreams in a supportive group.

When I was about 10 years old, I fell in love with drumming. I was given a pair of drum sticks by my art teacher and I put them to use right away by playing along to drum centered 45s. Songs like, "Hawaii Five-0," and "Mission Impossible" theme songs were among my favorites.

I went on to be a the only girl drummer in my high school band.  It was great fun and something I loved most about it was the ability to express myself through an instrument where words failed. For example, I went through my teen years on a tumultuous roller coaster ride. I didn't 'feel comfortable talking to people about what I was feeling inside. But get me behind my drum set and I could pound it out--the whole neighborhood heard me!  There is much to be said about finding self expression through music and arts.

I know the power of rhythm and drumming in a group. It's empowering and transformational. I saw it this weekend and I look forward to offering Health Rhythms sessions in the near future! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Touring Singers' Homecoming Song

Yesterday I played at a nursing home in rural Virginia that is run by Mennonites. It is one of my very favorite places to go. Each time I make the 30 mile drive as I leave behind the remnants of city life behind, I feel such a sense of peace come over me. I so much needed this peace yesterday! It was a day I was feeling a little discouraged about being self employed and no longer working with a team of people or having a boss to guide me. Don't get me wrong, I love my work but it is not always easy.

I take refuge in this country nursing home run by such peaceful and kind people. Last night when I drove up to the home, I saw a bus across the street with a congregation of Mennonite people all dressed in purple standing near it. It was too far to hear, but the way the were standing, I could tell they were singing. (pictured above)

I sat in my car a few minutes and took pictures of the mountain view until it was time to go in and play for the residents. When I got to the door, a young woman wearing a purple dress let me in. Then I saw the rest of the group that was outside the bus. Standing together as if preparing to sing, they all looked windswept, well traveled and radiant. The band's leader said to me, "give us five minutes" and then he lifted his arms to signal them and they began to sing the most beautiful song.  Everyone who was not already seated to listen stopped their work and came to take in their impromptu performance.  I saw tears well up in the eyes of a few of the women looking on.  As I listened and took in the whole scene, I felt so lifted up. It was so what I needed! Being in the presence of such positive people and music making and offerings from the heart makes me feel such gratitude for being alive.

After their song ended, no one applauded. There was a stillness in the room for a few minutes and the leader of the band looked to me and said, "you can take over now." As I prepared to play, I spoke with one of the singers who told me they had traveled on a singing tour for 3,000 miles in just 4 days. I then set up my guitar and microphone and started to play but no..... it was like I was being played. It was a feeling I don't have often. A feeling like one gets when you do something called "automatic writing" --only I was automatic guitar playing. The music flowed from me with such ease and beauty that I could not claim my own. It was just magical. I know I can tell you all about this because I am sure you have had a similar experience. When have you experienced a magical moment? I'd like to hear about that. Thank you for stopping by!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Power of Creative Spirit

This past Friday night our community celebrated the annual VSA Charlottesville/Albemarle art show opening.  You can see some of the beautiful art work behind me in the picture.  It was wonderful as always to see the place filled with artists and those who support the arts. I was fortunate to have been encouraged at a young age to cultivate my creative spirit. I loved to draw and make crafts.  It was at a community recreation center in Chicago where I also took tap and ballet, acted in plays and participated in variety shows.

These artists in VSA are people who have a disability of some kind.  Some of them use a wheel chair to get around. Others' disability may not be visible but they may have a severe hearing loss (like myself) or a brain injury or some kind of special need. I say this because while on the one hand their lives may contain challenges that many do not experience, on the other hand their ability to express their innermost joy with art is unhindered.

I think about where we are as a culture now in this digital age. Many of us have Facebook pages. I see many people posting quotes from famous people or cartoons or other images with messages not of their own making to speak for them. We often use the words and images of others to give voice to our lives.

This makes me see that creating our own art and music and poems or however you choose to express yourself is so important.  It is an important contribution for an artist to capture something that could speak for others or express joy and beauty in a way that is unique to them. Their unique expression becomes a way to celebrate the human spirit. Up on these walls are the testimonies of lives well lived. I am proud to be a part of this community!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gospel and Goosebumps

There are times I am singing with a group and I get the goosebumps. I feel like when this happens, it is a sign of something magical going on. Today I got the goosebumps singing at a Mission Home.  It was such a high energy time of singing together. One reason it was especially enlivening is  because of a staff member named Mary. She's a CNA there and has been for nearly a decade and she loves her work. It shows in her bounding energy and spirit.

I know this group likes to sing hymns and gospel and I love to try out new repertoire.  I didn't grow up going to church and I'm from the midwest, so I love learning Southern Gospel songs. (I live in Virginia and many of the people I sing with are from rural areas). Today I brought with me, "There's a Storm Out on the Ocean." Maybe you've heard it.  Here are the lyrics:

"There’s  a  storm  out  on  the  ocean
And  it’s  moving  this a  way
If  your  soul’s  not  anchored  in  Jesus
You  will  surely  drift  away

Drift  away,
Lord,  drift  away
You  will  surely  drift  away
If  your  soul’s  not  anchored  in  Jesus
You  will  surely  drift  away..."

I started singing it the way I've heard it sung, kind of slow and bluesy and Mary joined in. Afterwards she said politely, "I've heard it done a different way." I asked her to sing it her way and this is where the goosebumps happened. What a soulful voice!  Her singing got the attention of one of the nurses and she came and joined in. We all started clapping and singing, "you will surely drift away, drift away Lord, drift away." We sang this song about 4 times over and over. It was great!

We had other such moments and got to talking and sharing about our lives. We found we had a lot in common. When it was time for me to go, she stood up and held out her arms.  I felt such a connection as we hugged. "See you next time and thanks for coming!" Mary said. I left feeling rich with gratitude.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

When Irish hearts are happy

Tis been a fun week of spreading the Irish cheer and good times.  I recently learned a bunch of old Irish songs to sing with my senior groups. Songs like, "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," "Molly Malone,", "It's a Long way to Tipperary," and others. Yesterday in one nursing home when I sang these songs, a woman who usually never sings was singing all of them! She also moved her hands to the beat as if conducting. She was more involved and lively than I have ever seen her.  Even one of the other residents pointed out her lively involvement. Her smiles and cheer spread to everyone in the room. You just never know what song(s) will spark a memory. I work to find songs like this that will touch someone in a new way.

Here are some Irish jokes:

Q: Why can't you borrow money from a leprechaun?
A: Cause they're always a little short

Q: How do you get an Irishman on the roof?
A: Tell him the drinks are on the house.

Never iron a four leaf clover. You don’t want to press your luck.

I so much enjoy making people happy and it has been great to have the holiday of St. Patrick's Day approaching to make people smile and laugh.

Last night I played at a fundraiser for the Fluvanna SPCA. It was held at the beautiful winery  in Scottsville called Thistle Gate. That's where I am in the picture above. It was taken minutes before the place filled up with people. Guess what? I got carded too! I told the guy he will faint when he sees how old I am. (He did appear stunned. Hint: I've been playing the guitar since 1975 to give you an idea of my age).   I enjoyed having a "Shamrock Sangria" and chatting with the supporters of the SPCA on my breaks. It's a grand life, this musician life! Being an O'Connell,  perhaps it's the Luck 'O the Irish :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Last night I was playing a "sundowning serenade" session at a nursing home in Madison County.  For some seniors, the time of sundown is an anxiety provoking time and it can be hard for them to unwind from the day.  My job is to play soothing, relaxing, comforting instrumental guitar music to help calm them. It is one of my favorite things to do. I love looking out at the group and watching their eyes drooping as they begin to let go of the day and prepare for the next.

There was a woman sitting right in front of me with whom I have never seen before. As I played my guitar, our eyes met and she smiled and waved at me. I could not wave back but I smiled at her and as I did, she burst into a fit of laughter. Which made me laugh too--all the while still playing my guitar. This went on the whole hour I was there! I would be deep in concentration and look over at her and she'd laugh, then I'd laugh too. Next she started hiding from me. I'd look over and she'd quickly put her hand over her eyes and I'd watch her until she moved her hand and make a silly face. More laughter. By the way, this was quiet laughter... the kind with hardly any sound but it was laughter nonetheless.

Later after I got home, as I was getting ready for bed, I remembered the laughing woman again and burst out laughing --this time out loud. What a funny encounter! Also though, I really felt we connected in a way i haven't done in awhile. It's rare you laugh with people for no reason. This week I had been having trouble sleeping and not feeling so energized as a result. Laughing with her gave me a real shot in the arm!