Friday, April 20, 2018

VSA 10th Annual Concert


One of my favorite events of the year is the VSA Annual Concert hosted by VSA Charlottesville/Albemarle (therapeutic parks & recreation for people with special needs) .   I love the opportunity it gives me to try out a new musical idea on a very receptive audience.

This year I played my arrangement of a poem by George Eliot I set to music, "Spring Come Hither."
I accidentally found a bunch of her poetry online and I was really drawn in by her musings on nature and life.  She is a female writer from the Victorian Era whose real name was Mary Anne Evans. In those days, it was common for women to change their names to a man's name in order to have more opportunity to be published. She was most known for her novel, "Middlemarch, published in 1871.

Here are the words to her poem:

Spring comes hither
Buds the rose . . .
Roses wither
Sweet spring goes . . .
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would she carry me.
Summer soars
Wide-wing'd day . . .
White light pours
Flies away . . .
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would he carry me.
Soft winds blow
Westward borne . . .
Onward go
Towards the morn
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would they carry me.
Sweet birds sing
O'ver the graves
Then take wing
O'ver the waves
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would they carry me.

For the introduction, I played Pachebel Canon in D. 
I loved hearing all of the other artists as well. It is a time of sharing our love of music and enjoying our community. 

I have set 6 poems of George Eliot's to music and hope to record them some day!




Saturday, April 7, 2018

From regional to universal songs


I grew up in Chicago during the late 60s and 70s. Back then music was more regionally based. Songs played on the radio in Chicago were not played here in Virginia.  If you grew up in NYC, you weren't likely to hear the same songs played on the radio on Mississippi. For this reason, it can be a challenge when I lead sing alongs to a group of elders with varied background. Not only in terms of geographical differences but also ethnic and racial backgrounds can influence what songs resonate or not. However, there are also songs that are universally known and those are great to sing in all groups.

Since I moved to Virginia nearly 30 years ago,  my musical repertoire has expanded a lot and I love the songs that have come to be favorites to sing at local nursing homes. I have learned much from the Southern Gospel repertoire that really go over well. Songs like, "I Saw The Light," "I'll Fly Away," "Sweet By & By," Do Lord."

What I love to see is how much the words and meaning of the songs reflect some of the audience members' life experience. Back when I was just learning to play the guitar, and taking lessons at The Old Town School of Folk Music (in Chicago), I remember that the song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken, " was a favorite to play in our weekly jam sessions. The words at the time were just lyrics to me but now their meaning resonant with real life experience:

"I was standing by my window, on a cold and cloudy day
when I saw the hearse come rollin' for to carry my mother away.."

I feel those words, the sorrow of losing my mother and I know everyone feels this way. The song goes on to say,

"I will follow close behind her, try to hold up and be brave
but I could not hide my sorrow when they laid her in the grave."

I know everyone in the room has been there. It's a universal experience, letting our mother's go. Interesting too that the song gives a feeling of hope and connection - rather than sadness. It's because we are not alone in our feelings and experience.

Other universal songs are, "My Girl" by The Temptations - this always brings a smile and "Stand By Me."

"When the night has come, and the land is dark
and the moon is the only light you see
well I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
just as long, as you stand
Stand by me..."

When we sing that song, we are standing by and with each other.  A song can be the one who stands by us and gets us through a rough patch at times.

Yesterday the song that bonded my group the most was an unexpected one. Someone requested a song by Elvis Presley. The one that came to mind was, "Hound Dog." When I started to sing this- everyone started clapping and singing along. There were feet stomping too. We laughed and made up our own verses too. I always thought it was a silly song but silliness is part of our collective experience too. We had every feeling in there yesterday.

What songs get you clapping and stomping? May you sing that song today and brighten your day!

Thank you for stopping by!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Playing guitar brings me joy!


Last Saturday I played guitar for the VSA Charlottesville/Albemarle's annual Art Show opening.  It brought me so much joy to play my music for a room full of creative people. I believe in all forms of creativity. Writing, visual art, music, whatever ways you feel help express your passion and joy in the world.

For me, there is something about what happens when I play my guitar. I forget all my troubles. I forget about the world going crazy. I go to a place inside that I can't really tell you where that is. It's a place within but at the same time it feels far away. Do you know what I mean?  I thought so :)

Thank you as always for stopping by and for your support.  Happy spring!! (almost)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Music as a language


I play my guitar in the lobby at my gym once a month and it is always an interesting experience. Sometimes people walk right by me and don't seem to notice me. Other times people seem in a rush and don't want to stop to listen. Yesterday though, many people stopped and took a seat on the couch near me and listened. Mothers with small children sat them down and pointed to me to show them, "Music!" Weary people taking a break from endless activity sat down and closed their eyes and listened. One man I know, who cannot speak (due to a stroke) sat down and his eyes beamed brightly as I played. For someone who can't speak, his eyes say so much.

I loved connecting with people and talking about the songs I played or my guitar (a handmade classical locally made) or about how music makes them feel. It all made me wonder. What was it I was doing yesterday that caused the people to come and listen? Was I being more inviting somehow?

I discovered that what I played and how I played set a welcoming mood for others to join me in sharing a musical moment together.  What I did was, when someone came to sit down, I tried to gain as much information as I could about them by observing them. About how old are they? What song could I play that they would know? What memory could I spark? What kind of connection can be made?

There have been times when playing for the public in that kind of setting made me feel a little vulnerable. What do they expect of  me? I often think they want me to play something fast and flashy to impress them. Sadly, I do not really know fast and flashy songs and it's not what I really love to play.

Yesterday I felt like I opened up my heart and let them see the soundtrack of my life. The songs I have collected along the way. Songs from "The Sound of Music," "Mary Poppins,"  Motown, Stevie Wonder, Bach, Pachelbel, my own songs... I stood there and played and watched their responses. When their eyes lit up, I knew I struck a chord and it was a song with a memory attached.

It made me remember again that music is a language. Yes, the "Universal language."  And it does not matter how well we speak it but only that we try to connect.   Though my playing had mistakes and it was not a perfect performance - I was not playing to impress my listeners but to connect with them. "Do you remember this song?" I would ask and see them smile. We'd share our stories about the song.

Music is like any language. Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language and felt intimidated to use it with someone who was fluent in it? Did you notice they did not care that you spoke with mistakes--they only cared that you tried to speak their language. It means a lot. Have you ever tried to sign to a deaf person?  My signing is very limited but they do not notice imperfection, they notice I cared enough to share my vulnerability of my imperfect attempts. Same with music. So what about mistakes. Isn't that part of life? Don't let mistakes hang you up. They are what unites us too!
Good for me to remember this.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Keep the Dream Alive


Today is Martin Luther King, Jr day. A time to remember all the lessons and teachings he left behind.

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." - Martin Luther King, Jr

Whenever I hear words from Dr. King's moving, historical speeches, "I have a Dream,"  I am deeply moved. Now more than ever, we need to remember his words and teachings. 

Yesterday I was playing my guitar on a dementia unit at an assisted living center. In honor of MLK day, I played a series of Patriotic songs.  When I finished playing our National Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner," I looked up and was greatly moved to see an elderly woman standing out of her wheelchair with tears streaming down her cheeks. As I had been reading the music, I did not see her until I was finished playing. When I looked up and saw her tear-streaked face, she smiled a sad smile and saluted me and got back in her chair and left the room.  A few moments later, I heard a door slam down the hall. 

It made me stop and take note of all that is going on in the U.S. now. So much blatant disrespect, violence, chaos and turmoil.  I remember a day as a child having to sing the National Anthem in school while facing the flag and with our right hand over our heart. I did not fully understand why we did this but I am saddened it is gone from our schools now. There is no sense of allegiance to our country right now. At least, not with those I come in contact with. 

May we find out way back to the guiding principles taught by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

 "I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” - MLK "I have a Dream"

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Silence Made Visible


Happy New Year, everyone! I wish you all much happiness, prosperity, good health and success. 

Recently, I have been asked many times if I listen to music. For some of my old friends, it is a shock to them when I tell them these days I prefer to be in silence. This is because when I was younger, I was a voracious listener to music. Back in the days of vinyl LPs, I would often walk into a record store and buy 5 new albums and go home and listen to all of them. I would buy albums I knew nothing about and listen with such a hunger and curiosity. I loved discovering new artists, sounds, instrumental combinations, lyrical messages. I was also a radio DJ for 20 years at WTJU.net. I loved creating musical tapestries that would engage listeners in hopes of grabbing their attention away from whatever they were doing. I loved getting phone calls from drivers who pulled over to the side of the road to ask me, "What was that song you just played?" 

So now silence is my great friend. Many years ago for a humorous gift to a friend, I gave her a recording of an "Interview with Silence." In this interview I asked things like,:

 "What is your favorite sound?"
"How did the expression, 'Silence is Golden come to be?"
"What has been your greatest challenge being Silence?"
"What's the wildest thing you've ever done since you've been Silence?"

After each question followed a silent pause that really felt as if Silence was answering!  I had forgotten about this interview until I thought about my sister asking me over Christmas holiday, "So, you don't listen to music?"  I tried to explain to her how I love to go home and be in the quiet peace of silence. This being the New Year, I thought it would be a fitting topic to share with all of you. 
The picture above was from the view outside of the window of my train ride of the Hudson river. It's a picture of "Silence made visible. "

How is silence made visible in your lives? I'd love to hear from you. 

Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!  Below are some favorite quotes on silence.


"Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence."- Deepek Chopra

"We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls." - Mother Teresa


"Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment; that background which the painter may not daub, be he master or bungler, and which, however awkward a figure we may have made in the foreground, remains ever our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail, no personality can disturb us."- Henry David Thoreau