Everybody Says Don’t…

One of my favorite Stephen Sondheim songs — “Everybody Says Don’t” (on the player embedded above this paragraph) — is from his first official flop, Anyone Can Whistle, which starred Angela Lansbury, Harry Guardino, and Lee Remick on Broadway in 1964 and ran for nine performances.

Among other topics, the plot explored the classic question of who is saner — the folks in a mental hospital or those who are not.

“Everybody Says Don’t” invites us to consider how we make choices.

Many of us make choices based on what other people say or think.

Sometimes this demonstrates a healthy respect for our shared values as human beings — and helps to keep our societies more, rather than less, civil.

Sometimes it’s a way to avoid saying or doing something important — something which might be utterly, uniquely, and profoundly why we are alive here and now on planet earth.

I might have stayed in my non-musical day job as a PR/development/events professional for another 16 years if I hadn’t been laid off.

The job offered me teamwork, camaraderie, shared purpose, a paycheck, respect from my peers, and daily surprises/challenges.

But it was not tapping very deeply into my musical soul.

Now I am devoted to making music for a living — as a performer, a songwriter, and a Music Together teacher.

The sentiment of “Everybody Says Don’t” reminds me of one of the guiding principles of Music Together — that anything a child chooses to do during class is fine and needs to be respected as part of their learning process/style.

A child’s caregiver may want them to sit still and “play” a drum — or a shaker egg, or a triangle, or a set of wooden sticks — in a particular manner.

But their way of soaking up the music in class may involve moving their bodies around the room, sitting in a corner (seemingly disconnected from everything happening in class), or bouncing up and down in someone’s lap.

As long as the child is not endangering themselves or hurting someone else in class, s/he is free to respond to the music in her/his own fashion — which may change from song to song and class to class.

I sometimes imagine the adult caregivers (moms, dads, nannies, grand mothers, grand fathers, au pairs, uncles, aunts and more) as younger versions of themselves — who may have been told somewhere along the line: “don’t sing so loudly,” or “don’t sing out of tune,” or worst of all, “don’t sing — just move your lips.”

One never knows what musical wounds people may be bringing into our classrooms…

As one teacher remarked at the end of a three day Music Together seminar, “90% of our job is showing up with a compassionate heart.”

“Everybody Says Don’t” also reminds me of a song I started writing a couple of years ago called “A Beating Heart.”

I was inspired by a conversation I heard between a new author, Amber Dermont,  and Terry Gross on NPR radio about Amber’s debut novel, The Starboard Sea.

Two of the characters in her novel invent the term, “the starboard sea” as a possible metaphor for one’s life mission — the direction one sails in order to discover an authentic, respectful, fulfilling life.

Or at least that’s how I have remembered the definition of “the starboard sea” — and incorporated it into my song.

If you have time to listen to either or both of these songs, lemme know what you think!

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The Lord Of The Dance

Once upon a time, Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell for a wonderful series, The Power Of Myth, which aired on PBS.

I remember being very stirred up by many of Mr. Campbell’s observations.

One of them was the idea that plants grow back — sometimes more vibrantly — after being pruned/cut down and how this biological event might relate to the idea of a g-d such as Jesus, who was killed yet rose from the dead.

I think this concept stuck with me because of a song, “The Lord of the Dance,” which I first learned from a friend of my older sister when we were singing in my grandmother’s kitchen.

I had always assumed that “The Lord Of The Dance” was a traditional folk song, but a fellow blogger recently told me that the words were written by an English songwriter, Sydney Carter.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but also partly by a statue of the Hindu God Shiva as Nataraja which sat on his desk.

He later stated, “I did not think the churches would like [“The Lord Of The Dance”] at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.”

Many years ago I recorded a version of “The Lord Of The Dance + Simple Gifts” with help from Jere Faison (producer), Patty Barkas (back up vocals), Jonathan Keezing (guitar), and Robert M. (bass).

With Easter on the horizon, I thought this might be an appropriate time to share it.

Just click the player at the beginning of this post.

May we all be able to rise up again after we have been knocked down by one of life’s many challenges.

I will close with more thoughts from Sydney Carter.

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.

Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did.

The Shakers didn’t. This sect flourished in the United States in the nineteenth century, but the first Shakers came from Manchester in England, where they were sometimes called the “Shaking Quakers.”

They hived off to America in 1774, under the leadership of Mother Anne and established celibate communities – men at one end, women at the other; though they met for work and worship.

Dancing, for them, was a spiritual activity. They also made furniture of a functional, lyrical simplicity. Even the cloaks and bonnets that the women wore were distinctly stylish, in a sober and forbidding way.

Their hymns were odd, but sometimes of great beauty: from one of these (Simple Gifts) I adapted this melody. Sometimes, for a change I sing the whole song in the present tense. ‘I dance in the morning when the world is begun…’. It’s worth a try.”