Tag Archives: music

(365) Breathe It In

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A year ago I visited the beach after reading Parker Palmer’s Five Questions. I had this idea to write a blog based on the Five Questions, and I went to the beach for discernment. It was there I felt the move to do the blog.

This past week I have been looking forward to getting this done. But then today, coming on to the site, going to click “Add Post,” I was overcome with sadness. It is the end.

There are many things I will miss about writing here every day. It was hard at first to be “out there,” but I have gotten used to it. I have appreciated my followers and the comments I have received. I have loved that this was a place I could struggle with the issues of aliveness-vs-fixed answers; what it means to dare to be human; the moments of human and natural beauty; looking forward to what to love next; and to uncover and discover and explore what creations are waiting to be birthed. The Five Questions will continue to travel with me, as they have become a part of me now.

WordPress sent me a review of my year. Here are some stats from them:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

There were 625 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 433 MB. That’s about 2 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was December 19th with 86 views. The most popular post that day was(353) Best Day Ever.

The stats don’t tell the full story, of course. Besides what I have learned from the Five Questions, I have learned a lot about what it takes to write every single day. For those thinking of starting your own daily blog, here are some insights:

  1. Don’t be afraid to write short.  At first I thought it all had to be long. It is impossible on a daily blog to write long all the time unless it is your only job. Don’t even try.
  2. You will feel like giving up.
  3. When you feel like giving up, keep going.
  4. Create categories to fall back on.  For example, I had my Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Parallels, Tributes, Lyric Series, and Micro Memoirs. These can help be having a frame to fill when you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.
  5. Know that whatever you decide to do with your daily blog, it is leading you somewhere you weren’t aware you were going. Words are a river that carry us. Your blog will carry you to unseen territory. Relish the journey. Know when to end, and gratefully disembark to a new destination.

This project has been extremely fulfilling to me as a writer, a teacher, a friend, and a human being. I have considered all kinds of directions from here.  I am committing myself to my music on a more structured basis. Just like with my writing, I’ve diddled around a long time not getting serious about music. Now that I have this fine year of blogging behind me, I can move forward on making music. And, as already discussed with my music teacher, I can use blog posts as fodder for songwriting. Win-win!!!

For some reason today, the song “Beautiful Like You” popped into my head.  I feel it is a good send-off for my blog. I will miss coming here and writing for the 2-100 of you who happen upon my blog. At the same time, I am looking forward to putting my time and mental energies into other areas. Meanwhile, remember to breathe and take time to look and listen to the world around you. It will reflect all the beauty you need in the moment.

I know. I’ve learned it through the Five Questions.

If you could only just stop, stop, stop running
If you could only take a second to breathe it in
Everything that you know would be beautiful like you

You know they’re never gonna stop, stop, stop your love
Let’s pretend that the world is waking up
Everything that we see is beautiful like you, like you

 

(364) Stay Tuned

Yesterday a friend gave me this awesome shirt:

StayTuned

I decided it was perfect for my musings today. I am typing this as I go, after thinking about the theme a lot, after going to Lakes Park and sitting in my power spot. Here goes…second last post!

**

Moving toward 2016, I understand my life is going to be more and more about sound. How the world sounds. How I sound. How we sound to each other.

Walking in the park today, I was behind two people who both had ear buds in, yet were talking loudly to each other. They obviously were listening to something, but decided it was important to communicate.  But here was my thought: If we really want to hear each other, we should be cognizant of shutting out other noise. It is like the people who talk on the phone when the television is on. Why?

**

This year has opened me up to sound. I planned a whole vacation around sound. We heard bluegrass music and blues music and synthesized music and musicians talking about the sounds specific instruments make, the sound of Jim and I singing together in the music booth at the Birthplace of Country Music, the sound of the Flint, the Cumberland, and the French Broad Rivers, the sound of old blues musicians wafting across Dockery Farms, the sound of The City of New Orleans speeding next to Money Road in the Delta. These sounds have stayed with me and I call on them from time to time.

Today as I walked I brushed my hand through all the palm fronds I passed. “How can I duplicate that sound” was my constant question.

**

Paul Simon had an exhibit on his songwriting at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I was unable to get there, so I purchased the exhibit booklet. In it is Simon’s speech when he was inducted into the Rock Hall.  He said:

I thank Sam Phillips for Sun Records, for rockabilly’s Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, whose recording of ‘Mystery Train’ remains my all-time favorite. I spent a career trying to get that sound.

This stood out to me for many reasons. First, because “Mystery Train” is my favorite Elvis tune, mostly because of the way it sounds. And second, because this came late in the book and I had already read Simon’s words over and over again about trying to get to a sound.  The exhibit was called “Words and Music,” but from what I read it was really about sound.

As I stay tuned to the sounds in my life, I am looking to get them into any music I create. My music teacher talked mainly about sound when I told him I wanted to write songs. Silly me — I thought it was about lyrics. Seems that isn’t always the case.

Not sure why I’m just learning that.

**

A friend of mine posted this meme on Facebook:

Soundmeme

We are the music we love. I want to do this experiment. Tell me the song that matters most to you, and I will listen for you in it.

**

Years ago I heard that our DNA, when related to various musical notes, creates a different musical composition for every person. This idea has never left me, and continues to intrigue. Today I found there is a website for it (of course there is) where you can actually send in your DNA information and the type of music you like, and they will create the composition for you. Here is a future birthday present!

If interested, check it out here.

They have created songs for all kinds of things, including this one for whales:

 

So, yes, sound is in our very DNA.

With sound comes vibration. This is why crystal bowl meditation and bells during ritual services and chanting monks lift us to new dimensions. Sounds and vibrations are our lifeblood. They can heal or poison.

**

As I finish up this blog, my plan is to stay tuned to the Five Questions in my life. They have truly become a part of me during this journey, and now I cannot imagine living life without seeing it through the lens of the Five Questions. Not writing about it will free me up to be in the moment, to search for the sound in the message, to stay tuned to doing the next right thing. All year long I have been listening, and this message comes to me continually like a drumbeat.

Listen.

Here (hear).

Now.

 

 

 

(363) Don’t Fence Me In

When I was a kid, my dad gave me a record player and two 78 RPM records that I could keep in my bedroom.  I listened to these records over and over again. One was Jimmy Durante and the other was a western artist — Gene Autry or Roy Rogers most likely. That record had my favorite song: “Don’t Fence Me In.”  This was before I was allowed to listen to my dad’s stereo kept in his bedroom, where I later played The Music Man cast album over and over again. That is, until the Beatles hit the scene.

But when I was 4 or 5 years old, “Don’t Fence Me In” –written by Cole Porter — was one I listened to again and again. It is the reason I love western music. I recently downloaded a whole album of western songs sung by Emmylou Harris, although sadly, she didn’t do “Don’t Fence Me In.” The main lyric of the song really spoke to me as a kid. It evokes a real sense of freedom; it goes beyond being a cowboy. I think it is about losing yourself in the natural world with nothing to stop you, certainly a favorite activity of mine.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies,
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in

When I searched YouTube for the song, I was amazed at how many versions came up. Not just Gene and Roy, but Bing Crosby, the Killers, David Byrne, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr, and Bob Hope with the Muppets. By far, my favorite is the Ella Fitzgerald version. Not only is her voice wonderfully smooth, but she sings the complete lyrics, which is rare. “Don’t Fence Me In” is a narrative about Cowboy Kelley, who at the beginning of the song is about to be carted off to jail. Thus, he begins to sing the song to the sheriff. Later, he is being roped into marriage by his sweetheart. Okay, a bit sexist and cliche, I suppose, but still…

Here is Ella’s version with lyrics. Listen for yourself and see if it doesn’t take you somewhere far away, where there are no fences and no one to straddle you into situations you don’t want to be in!

 

 

(359) Visions

Here I continue with Encyclopedia of Ordinary Life, the letter “V.”  Not sure how ordinary visions are, but they have been a driving force for me.

August 1994

I’m walking on the trail in the Cuyahoga National Valley on a muggy summer weekday. As I walk, I feel “lifted” out of my body.  Everything around me looks alive and moving ever so slightly. Then I saw her.  A woman, well advanced in age (what we might call a crone), sitting on a rock in the woods with children gathered around her. She has gray hair, pulled back. She is wearing a long skirt. The children are apt with attention. I have no idea who this woman is, but I see her clearly. Then she’s gone.

Later I realized that somehow she is an incarnation of me.

September 1997

I have decided I want to learn an instrument, my first choice being a mandolin. My husband Jim suggests I start with a guitar. We walk into Sam Ash Music Store and start looking at the Martin guitars. The salesman takes one down, and I practice strumming it. For a few minutes Jim and the salesman walk away, leaving me alone with the guitar. I am in love with the sound it makes.

Then I see her.   A woman on a high stool, singing songs about mythology to a small audience. I can see her right there in the store, and this time I know that somehow she is me.

We buy the guitar.

Reflection 2015

I am not sure if I have ever had any other “visions” because these are the two that were most meaningful to me. I was in an incredibly interesting time in my life — my late 30’s to early 40’s.  In the next few days I will be sharing a lot of what happened during that time, the things that really drove me, and led me to the life I lead today.

I have not yet turned my guitar into a vehicle for songwriting, but feel that day is near. I am not yet the crone with the children gather around, but I do think of this vision whenever I think of giving up teaching. Somehow I am meant to be a teacher and somehow I am to make this vision become a reality in full. When I first saw this vision, I didn’t even know I was going to become a teacher. That wouldn’t be revealed until three years later.

As I wind up this blog, I will be revisiting all the things that have mattered the most to me. I think it will be the perfect way to end up this year of exploring the Five Questions I’ve been on — certainly another journey that has inspired me in ways yet to discover.

(357) Twilight Wine

It began the day I bought Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. It was April 2000, and my life was very close to changing drastically, as our move to Florida was right around the corner.

On this particular Saturday I had picked up the Davis CD at a good sale price. I had no idea if I would like it — I had just heard many times that it was very good. It was twilight, and I took a glass of wine and decided just to sit in my upstairs room alone and listen to the music, while I watched the changing light out my window.

I cannot really explain what happened. I’ve often likened it to a religious experience. This jazz music, created in 1959, moved me deeply. But not in a way I can put my finger on. All I know is that when it was done, something had moved inside of me.

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I tried to recreate the experience, but once something like this happens, it is hard to ever reinvent the the feeling. I still love listening to Kind of Blue, but it is always in the shadow of that first time.

Then last weekend I was talking to my music teacher, Tom, about writing songs. We discussed writing music and writing lyrics, the processes involved. Then he mentioned Kind of Blue. “Those songs don’t need lyrics,” he said. “It is all said in the harmonics and melodies of the music.”

Tom had named what I had been unable to verbalize. I was so stunned by what he said, I couldn’t even respond. That was what I had experienced. It is in the music. Words are not needed.

Somehow, during that Twilight Wine evening fifteen years ago, I heard all I needed to hear come through the currents and rhythms of a master and his band. When I said it was like a religious experience it is because it spoke to me on a level that I did not have direct access to. Trying to paint any fancy words on the experience diminishes it somehow.

So that’s it. Twilight, wine, and Miles.

Nothing more needs to be said.

(354)The Unspoken

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My 42nd birthday, the last I would share with my father. I bought my first guitar about a month later.

Every Sunday I look forward to checking out the poem that is printed in the New York Times Magazine, because it often prompts a poem of my own.  I’ve gone several weeks now without being inspired, but then today I read a poem by Geffrey Davis called “What I Mean When I Say Chinook Salmon” (read it here) and I immediately wrote this poem:

What I Mean When I Say I Love Music

My father held the unspoken version

of how to be a musician. This is how we practice.

This is how we improvise when it’s our turn. He would

stand and play the solo and everyone would applaud.

We knew that sound already, having heard it after dinner,

over and over coming from his bedroom, his practice spot,

 

a memory of melodies, the tenor of the tenor saxophone,

as it revisits me at times, like at the end of Diana Krall’s version

of “Why Should I Care,” or at a Hall and Oates concert when the

sax player steps forward. I absorbed from my father the knowing

that to be a musician is to have music in your heart, it is collaboration

and occasional solos, it is standing on the shoulders of those who

came before and taught you all you need to know, and mostly

 

about not being distracted or displaced, but to know that the

only place the music truly resides is in you.

 

(352) Angel

It was the summer of 1997, the month I was told I might have ovarian cancer. My friends and I had tickets for Lilith Fair, the first year, and nothing was going to stop me from being there. I recall Sara MacLachlan, Paula Cole, and Mary Chapin Carpenter were on the bill.  I don’t remember who else.

I was in the throes of getting several tests before my scheduled surgery, and the day after the concert I was to have a procedure.  I needed to be cleaned out for this procedure, so had to bring a huge plastic jug of stuff to drink while at the concert, in order to maintain the proper timeline. I was fortunate they let me into Blossom Music Center with the jug, as they were being very picky about what was being allowed into this outdoor venue.

At one point of the concert I left our seats and made one of many treks to the bathroom. I decided it would be better to park myself on the hilly grass rather than keep going back into the pavilion. The moon was out and Sara was singing. I didn’t know her music that well at this point. I rested on the grass, looking at the moon, and realized she was singing about an angel.

In the arms of the angel

Fly away from here…

You are pulled from the wreckage

Of your silent reverie.

You’re in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort there.

This was the first time I would hear her soon to be hit “Angel.” There, alone in my own reverie, future uncertain, I heard these words for the first time. And yes, I “found some comfort there.”

After my surgery, this was the first song I would have my friend play for me in my hospital room. I had brought my CD player with me specifically to listen to certain music that I believed was helping me heal that summer: James Taylor’s Hourglass, Sara’s Surfacing, and Gabrielle Roth’s Ritual.

Less than a year later, I would hear the song at a significant time. I had just left my father’s hospital room and was heading toward the parking garage. I had this thought that my prayer for him was to be in the arms of the angels, perhaps because the last prayer we had prayed together was the Guardian Angel Prayer. I heard “Angel” as I was getting on the highway.  Not long after I got home, I would get the call that he had made his transition.

Sadly, I feel “Angel” got overplayed, and it is really hard for me to hear it with any of the feelings I used to associate with it. Regardless, it is still a lovely song, and it helped me tremendously through a difficult time.

Here is a beautiful version with Emmylou Harris.

 

(348) My Personal Favorites 2015

All the lists of top books, songs, albums, etc. are permeating the media right now, so I thought I’d weigh in on some of mine.

Favorite Concert: Smokey Robinson at Barbara B Mann in April.

It is hard to choose when having been to Nashville for some shows, but Smokey’s concert was a real standout in my mind. His smooth vocals and dynamic stage presence marked me for life!

Runner Up: Grand Ole Opry  with Vince Gill, Chris Janson, and Bobby Osborne

Favorite Museum: The Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, Tennessee.

A totally engaging experience for the five senses.

Runner Up: The B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi.

Favorite Historical Site: Dockery Farms in Sunflower, Mississippi.

The land, the buildings, and the very sky are soaked with the sound of the blues.

Runner Up: Robert Johnson’s grave, along Money Road north of Greenwood, Mississippi

A place where fans of the blues pay their respects to the enigma.

Favorite Event: Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference

Surpassed my expectations which were pretty damn high!

Runner Up: Women’s Writing Retreat at Lover’s Key Resort

Favorite Book: Chinaberry Sidewalks by Rodney Crowell

Not a new book this year; an exceptional memoir that is hard to forget. Right up there with other favorite memoirs: Glass Castle, Angela’s Ashes, and Wild.

Favorite Movie: Woman in Gold

Fine acting by Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds  as they re-enact this true story of stolen art

Runner Up: The Intern

Favorite Television Show: Catastrophe on Amazon Prime

The main characters Sharon and Ron are my new favorite couple.

Runner Up: The Grinder

Favorite Restaurant while traveling: Blue Biscuit in Indianola, Mississippi

Out of this world barbecue and beignets

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Lunch at the Blue Biscuit in Indianola was fabulous–unbelievably good barbecue and complimentary beignets. Harlan Malone, the owner, made us feel welcome and toured us around his place he worked two years to create.

And now for the music, which was incredible this year!

#1 Favorite Album: The Blade by Ashley Monroe

Largely overlooked, but maybe finally getting some recognition with the Grammy nomination, I have not been able to stop listening to this fine collection of lyrical perfection and musical production. I continually recommend it, yet I don’t think anyone listens to me! (Hear title song below.)

#2 Cass County by Don Henley

If I’m not listening to Ashley, I am probably listening to Don. I figured his album would be good, but I had no idea it would be this good!  Lots of competition for my listening time, yet Don wins out over others time and time again.

#3 Angeleno by Sam Outlaw

Another overlooked artist.  Love the Mexican influences in the very SoCal sounding album produced by Ry Cooder.  (Hear one of his selections below.)

#4 Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves

One of my favorites back with a fine collection of her wit and cynicism and yes, even some hope.

#5 Traveller by Chris Stapleton

If you haven’t caught on by now, there’s no hope for you.

Other artists with great collections worth checking out:

Coming Home by Leon Bridges (Sam Cooke reincarnated…lots of soul. Hear him below)

Something More Than Fine by Jason Isbell (just as good as Southeastern)

25 by Adele (needs no explanation)

Daytime Turned to Nighttime by Patrick Sweaney (not even sure how I found him…Ohio boy…country blues…listen over and over)

Heartbreaker of the Year by Whitney Rose  (just discovered last week. Sweet voice, old time sound like Patsy Cline with some other influences.)

Favorites who never disappoint in no particular order:

Before This World by James Taylor

The Traveling Kind by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

Hoody by Dan Bern  (Hear him below)

Django and Jimmie by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

Here are some choices for your listening pleasure:

 

 

 

 

(347) Across the Borderline

My favorite Willie Nelson album came out in 1993. It was an album of covers, which many of his are, including “Graceland” and “Don’t Give Up” among them.  I’ve been listening to the CD in my car, and today the title song caught my attention: “Across the Borderline.”

 

As I listened to the words, I thought it was pretty ambiguous. Is the narrator talking about heaven or making or dreams come true?  It is all about loss and having to let go.  It talks about a “broken promised land.”

 

There’s a place where I’ve been told
Every street is paved with gold
And it’s just across the borderline
And when it’s time to take your turn
Here’s a lesson that you must learn
You could lose more than you’ll ever hope to find

 

When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then you’ll know that it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you’ve paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline

 

But then the lyrics take a shift, and it seems to be talking exclusively about Mexicans crossing the border:

 

Up and down the Rio Grande
A thousand footprints in the sand
Reveal a secret no one can define
The river flows on like a breath
In between our life and death
Tell me who’s the next to cross the borderline En la triste oscuridad (In the sad darkness)
Hoy tenemos que cruzar (today we have to cross)
Este río que nos llama mas alla (this river which calls us further away)

*

This took me back to my classroom of 10th graders, March 2010. They were working on an immigrant project, and as part of the project they were to do panel discussions regarding their immigrant background. The Mexican group was most compelling because of a story by one young man: David. As he told the story of crossing the river, tears streamed down his face. They had to meet up with a man and his mother lost track of the group, got swept away somehow. She ended up having to walk ten miles in the desert to find them — how she survived such an ordeal, I’ll never know. The story had every single person in the classroom in tears. I know it had a lasting impact because at the end of the year when we discussed the favorite things about the class, that day stood out to many students. They had received a huge lesson in empathy and understanding for the plights and traumas of others…something we can all use a bit more of these days.

 

But hope remains when pride is gone
And it keeps you moving on
Calling you across the borderline

When you reach the broken promised land
Every dream slips through your hands
And you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you pay the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline
Now you’re still just across the borderline
And you’re still just across the borderline

 

Songwriters: COODER, RYLAND PETER / DICKINSON, JAMES LUTHER / HIATT, JOHN ROBERT

 

 

 

(344) Dangling Conversation

This morning I stepped out onto the lanai at around 5:30 a.m. to say my prayers. I listened to the frogs conversing across the lake. One would croak, and then across the way another. After a bit I realized there were three frogs involved. Sometimes there would be a break in their croaks. That brought to mind the phrase “dangling conversation.” I would be eagerly awaiting the next croak that would not come.

“The Dangling Conversation” is a song written by Paul Simon and performed on Simon and Garfunkel’s album “Sounds of Silence.” I looked up the words today and, although it has nothing to do with frogs, it certainly has a lot to say about relationships. I have contended for many years that Simon is our greatest American songwriter, and this is another example of why. You don’t even have to know the song to appreciate the poetry in these lyrics. How he could evoke something like this at such a young age is truly marvelous.

Every year I think I am going to do a lyric study with my students on Paul Simon’s songs.  Reading these words makes me think once again what a great unit it could be. This song along is so full of subtle metaphor and hints of who these people are. My favorite: “And I only kiss your shadow…”

It’s a still-life watercolor
Of a now late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our places with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm
Couplets out of rhyme
In syncopated time
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives

Yes,we speak of thing that matter
With words that must be said
“Can analysis be worthwhile?”
“Is the theatre really dead?”
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow
I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives