How about a beloved Scottish/Irish song which — I have read — is often sung at the end of a gathering of friends (in the player at the beginning of this blog post)?
That’s what the WordPress blogging community has felt like to me this year — a much-needed and much-appreciated gathering of friends.
I toast you one and all!
Looking back on the past year, I see that my response to Covid-19 entering our lives has been two-fold.
Both involved connecting with other human beings via music and stories.
My first response was to lead nightly half-hour sing-alongs via Facebook Live (which I had reluctantly learned how to use for my Music Together classes).
These sing-alongs lasted for several months and consisted of one Broadway song, one Beatles song, one original song, and a few favorites from the pop/rock/folk canon per night.
I also looked up the history of each song and shared a brief story about how they each came to be written.
A small community of singers/listeners — for whom I am very grateful — developed around these nightly sing-alongs.
I was also very grateful to have a daily musical goal — selecting, researching and practicing a short set of songs to share each evening.
Since all of my public gigs at libraries, retirement communities, synagogues, coffee houses, etc. were cancelled, these nightly sing-alongs gave my life some structure and meaning — and an uplifting sense of connection with other human beings.
Thank you to all of my Facebook sing-along friends and relations!
Then it was time for my summer camping sojourn on Cape Cod — which is also when I focus on writing new songs.
The sing-alongs stopped, and when I returned from the Cape, I shifted my focus to learning how to release music via digital music platforms… and to blogging.
I hadn’t written a blog post since March — but began again in September.
Like the sing-alongs, blogging is a way to connect with other music-loving human beings while sharing some of my thoughts and feelings about what is happening here on planet earth.
Thank you to anyone and everyone who devoted a precious few minutes of their lives to reading one of my blog posts this year.
And thank you to those who composed their thoughts and wrote a comment, too!
I have been honored to see the total numbers of visitors and page views continue to rise each month.
PianistDoug Hammerand I recorded “The Parting Glass” a couple of years ago when I was learning a bunch of Irish-related songs for an hour-long musical program in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
It uses the same tune as another song called “Sweet Coothill Town,” which is about emigrating from Ireland to America.
Doug and I have been excavating the past 20+ years of our musical collaboration — almost all of which was recorded so that I could have piano tracks with which to practice/learn new songs — in order to find music gems we can polish and share.
I am very grateful for Doug’s gifts at the piano keyboard as well as his gifts as an engineer and audio archivist.
Let us hum along in honor of the end of 2020 and all that we have lost — which may include friends, family, and other beloved members of our community as well as many ways of being in the world (going to the movies, eating in a restaurant, attending a sports event, etc. etc. etc.) which we might have previously taken for granted…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I look at our human response to the challenge of Covid-19 as a preview of our human response to the even more enormous, profound, and far-reaching challenge of climate change.
Who will listen to our scientific community?
Who will remain in denial?
Who will be willing to change DEEPLY ingrained assumptions and habits and hopes and dreams — about how often we travel, about how large our houses can be, about how many cars we own, about how fast and far we can drive, about what we eat, about how we use water, about how much electricity we use to write and read blog posts, and on and on and on — in the days and weeks and months and years ahead?
As the father of one of my friends used to say, “The jury is still out…”
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his ongoing presence in my musical life here on planet earth.
Thank you to the wonderful photographers at Pixabay for their beautiful images.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to my last blog post of 2020.
May continued hand-washing, continued mask-wearing, continued social distancing, and much-needed vaccines allow us to return to some sort of new, post-pandemic way of life in 2021.
If you are curious to hear more music, I’ve released a couple of songs in the past week.
You can click here to listen to the Frank Loesser classic — “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
And you canclick here to listen to Irving Berlin’s beloved “Count Your Blessings.”
Now I will end with a lovely dog-themed image that I found on Pixabay.
Rain is forecast for Christmas Day, which will probably melt the snow that fell last week.
Lot of folks are curtailing their holiday plans and modifying — or outright cancelling — long-standing family traditions in response to the fact that hospitals around the USA are again overloaded with Covid-19 cases.
And the infection numbers just keep rising…partly due to all the traveling that folks did a few weeks ago during Thanksgiving.
And the refrigerated trailer trucks parked outside of hospitals continue to fill up with the bodies of folks who have died — with no friends or family members at their side — as a result of this public health tragedy.
This is sad on so many levels.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Even in the best of years, winter holidays can be a very difficult time for some of us.
I read a couple of blog posts by my fellow bloggers this morning while I was avoiding other tasks on my “to do” list.
Clare from North Suffolk in England shared a bit about the challenges her family is facing this year, especially those who already experience high levels of anxiety about life here on planet earth.
She writes: “The damage all this isolation and lock-down is doing to so many people, physically, mentally and financially is unimaginably great…”
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Clare’s blog post reminded me of this song, written by John Meyer (in the audio player above).
I do not remember when I first heard “After The Holidays.”
Judy Garland performed it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1968 — and many copies of that performance can be found on YouTube.
I am guessing that it was included on some sort of Judy Garland compilation CD — released long after her death in 1969 — which I ended up listening to…
Here is Judy in 1963, photographed by Richard Avedon.
The man who wrote the song, John Meyer, had an intense, three-month-long relationship with Judy when he was starting his career as a writer.
He chronicles it in a very vivid book he wrote called Heartbreaker.
I think his relationship with Judy ended when she got serious about another man, Mickey Deans.
Here she is with Mickey in London during their wedding on March 15, 1969.
Judy was living with Mickey in London when she died on June 22, 1969.
It is my understanding, after reading many books about Judy Garland, that she often did not like to be left alone.
Mel Torme — a wonderful singer who also co-wrote “The Christmas Song” — wrote a book about his time working on Judy’s TV series.
In it he talks about becoming a member of “The Dawn Patrol” — a select group of staff members who would take turns spending the night with Judy and reassuring her that her show was going well.
Loneliness is certainly something that most of us have experienced at one time or another.
And loneliness during the holidays can be particularly excruciating.
By a sweet coincidence, while I was avoiding things on my “to do” list, I also found a video on YouTube about two dogs, Taco (a chihuahua) and Merrill (a pit bull mix), who were dropped off at a shelter together and did NOT want to be seperated.
In hopes of finding someone who would be willing to adopt both of them, the people who worked at their shelter started sharing posts via social media about their special bond.
They ended up being adopted by a family who starteda Facebook page about them, because so many other people wanted to know what had happened to them.
Hurrah for this one, small, canine happy ending!
I also would like for this blog post to have a happy musical ending.
So I am including links to several songs which pianist Doug Hammer and I have released this month to various musical platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.
You canclick hereto listen to our version of “We Need A Little Christmas.”
You can click hereto listen to our version of “Winter Wonderland.” You can click here to listen to our version of “The Christmas Song.”
You canclick hereto listen to our version of “Silver Bells” (which was featured in a recent blog post).
And you canclick hereto listen to our version of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”
Thank you to Pixabayand Wikimedia Commons for the images in this blog post.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his gifts as a pianist as well as a recording engineer.
Thank you to John Meyer for his beautiful song and to Judy Garland for being the first person to breath life into it.
And thank you to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!
May your holiday season be filled with comforting music and light.
I’ve been reading a lot of posts — as well as the comments they elicit — by my fellow bloggers.
One theme that often emerges is Covid-fatigue.
This is not the fatigue that one experiences when one contracts the Covid-19 virus (although I have been told that fatigue is often a symptom of Covid-19 infection and can last much longer than one would like…)
This is being tired of wearing a mask outside and sometimes even inside if one is quarantining at home with others.
This is being tired of not seeing people’s faces — and smiles — while going to work or buying groceries or walking one’s dog.
This is being tired of feeling scared that one might contract the virus.
This is being tired of feeling upset by the folks who have been listening to a different stream of news — one in which mask-wearing is not necessary and the virus is nothing to fear.
This is — in some very sad cases — being heart-broken that one is unable to visit and comfort a loved one who is fighting for her or his life in a hospital.
This is being tired of not seeing one’s extended web of family and friends at Thanksgiving — and probably not seeing them for the winter holidays either…
This is being tired of not being able to do many of the things that some of us formerly took for granted — like BBQ-ing with friends, or seeing a movie in a theater, or going on a date, or eating in a restaurant, or attending a concert or…. you fill in the blank.
The list goes on and on.
The news of surprisingly robust results from many different vaccine trials gives me a shred of hope — a possible light at the end of a long tunnel.
But this will take time — more time than most of us want to acknowledge.
And we will probably need to wear our masks even AFTER we have been vaccinated because there is very little data — yet — about how infectious those who have been vaccinated may be to others who have not yet been vaccinated.
And not everyone — for a spectrum of reasons both historical and personal and political — may agree to be vaccinated…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Then there is the fatigue — physical, emotional, spiritual — that our nurses and EMTs and doctors and others who help to take care of Covid-19 patients are experiencing.
In many cases it is beyond fatigue.
It is trauma.
We are going to emerge from this health crisis with a significant number of our caregivers having been traumatized and in need of all sorts of healing for THEIR bodies, minds and spirits.
Some of them may decide that they can no longer risk their lives taking care of others — especially others who minimize and/or deny the threat of Covid-19 (and thus help to worsen everyone’s collective health and the horrific burden being placed on our health care workers).
I learned recently that one of my friends — a former housemate with whom I lived after college (along with three other people) in a run-down but functional duplex apartment outside Central Square in Cambridge, MA — just spent five days in a hospital fighting to breathe with a Covid infection.
He posted on Facebook:
“I didn’t get the mild version. It was a grueling, terrifying experience. I would like to make a plea for any of you who doubt the danger of this bug to rethink that. If you are thinking, ‘I probably won’t get it’ or ‘it probably won’t kill me’ you’re in danger — and the people around you are as well. Please don’t let your guard down. You’ll never know what you’re missing.”
In another post he shared more details:
“When my COVID was at its worst I had a temperature of 103, and each breath only gave me a few teaspoons of air. I would get panicked, and I would cough and gasp, but there was no more room in my lungs. A nurse at the ER told me to try not to cough; so I started counting my breaths, trying to make it to 100 without coughing. I’d get to about 37 and involuntarily cough/gasp. And then came one of those moments when you realize you had something and never appreciated it and maybe it’s gone. I wanted a regular breath, nothing fancy, and if I could have it I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore. So today I am deeply thankful for my lungs. I’m sharing this hoping that, if you don’t already appreciate your lungs, you’ll take a nice deep breath and appreciate them right now…”
Deep breath in.
So how did my friend end up in the hospital?
“I got a flu shot the Wednesday of the week before Thanksgiving. Felt achy the next day. Not sure if it was the shot or COVID. By Saturday my chest was getting tight. On Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to the ER every evening (it gets bad in the evening — no one can tell me how the virus knows what time it is), struggling to breath, doing this sort of gasping/cough thing that just excited my lungs and made them more desperate. Fever kept getting worse — 103 degrees by Wednesday, (when) I went to a new hospital.”
They admitted my friend and started him on a 5 day course of Remdesivir.
“At this point I didn’t know where this was going. The thing about the coughing/gasping is that they really didn’t have anything to stop it. I asked a doctor how concerned he was that I might die, and he said, “Not at all.” That was reassuring. Up until then I was worried about A) being on a ventilator and B) dying. They tell me that they don’t put people on ventilators as much now that they know more about treatment. Gradually, my symptoms receded. Very grateful.”
He was treated in the hospital with Remdesivir, oxygen, cough syrup, nebulizer treatments, and tylenol to control his fever.
He’s pretty sure he got Covid from his 18-year-old daughter, who had a fever for a couple of days and then was fine.
His final comment on Facebook was:
“(Covid infection) varies greatly and it can turn on a dime.”
Another deep breath in.
Paul is the second person I know who has been hospitalized due to Covid.
The other — as regular readers of this blog may remember — is a fellow singer who ended up on a ventilator for many weeks and then spent time in rehab for weeks after that.
Both friends are now at home and gradually recovering their strength.
There but for the grace of g-d — along with a few face masks, a lot of physical/social distancing, and regular handwashing — go I…
And ANOTHER deep breath in.
Yesterday morning I picked up a bunch of postcards for me and two friends to personalize and then mail to potential voters in Georgia.
I loved riding my bike — and not burning any fossil fuels — while picking up and then delivering postcards to my friends.
Climate change is a WHOLE OTHER CRISIS which many of us — similar to the Covid-downplayers and non-mask-wearers during our current Covid crisis — are in denial about.
But that’s a topic for another blog post…
I definitely experienced — and was grateful for — my lungs as I pedaled up a bridge and over the commuter railroad tracks that separate Cambridge from Somerville.
I was also grateful that yesterday’s rain waited until I was home from my postcard pickup and deliveries to begin its gentle precipitation.
And I am grateful to share that a song I recorded many years ago — “Let Me Be Strong” by Barbara Baig — now has its own mini-website.
You can click here to check it out (and you may recognize the names of a few fellow bloggers on the feedback page, bless them…)
As you may also remember from a recent blog post about how modestly streaming platforms currently pay recording artists and songwriters, it is unlikely that we will make much money from distributing “Let Me Be Strong.”
But we have gotten such positive feedback that we decided — as a kind of mitzvah — to create this mini-website and devote some energy to sharing her song with the rest of the world (or at least those people who have access to digital music platforms…)
The chorus of her song says:
“Let me be strong and moving through fear.
When the truth is blinding, let me see it clear.
And when love comes, let me not hide.
Let my heart be open, let love inside.”
Easier said (or sung) than done, I know — but potentially helpful words for the days and weeks and months ahead…
We have begun reaching out to radio DJs, nurses, doctors, yoga instructors, hospital chaplains, ministers, rabbis, and anyone else whom we think might appreciate hearing the song — and possibly sharing it with others.
We would be honored if YOU, too, are moved to share “Let Me Be Strong” with anyone in your web of family and friends.
This year December arrived in Boston with rain and wind.
I had to lead my final Music Together class of the fall term via Zoom rather than outside in a local park — which is where, wearing masks and sitting in a circle on blankets set 10 feet apart from each other, we have been meeting weekly for the past two and a half months.
We have a two-week session featuring winter holiday songs starting next week, and then a few weeks of downtime.
I never imagined I’d be leading music classes out of doors in December, but if the sun is shining — and we wear enough layers of clothing — most families have been quite enthusiastic about making music outside.
2020 is a year full of surprises, and we are doing our best to remain flexible — and safe!
As regular readers of my blog posts know, during this pandemic I’ve begun distributing songs to digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.
During the month of December I hope to release one winter holiday song per week.
Jay (who wrote the music) and Ray (who wrote the lyrics) were a famous songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”
They were also both Jewish.
Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans the same year in Salamanca (not far from Buffalo) N.Y.
They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.
As I have noted in previous blog posts, many of my most favorite winter holiday songs were written by Jewish songwriters.
This fact is an example (to me, at least) of the pluralism that the USA has occasionally been able to embrace — and model for others — during our ever-evolving history.
I love that “White Christmas,” “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song” (among many others!) were written by Jewish songwriters — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.
I always associate “Silver Bells” with my mother’s mother — a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”
In the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope’s character is involved with gambling and ends up owing $10,000 to a mobster.
His solution is to disguise himself as Santa Claus and raise money from holiday donations.
In some interviews Jay Livingston explained that the inspiration for the song came from the bells rung by Salvation Army volunteers during the holiday season.
However, in an interview on NPR after Livingston had died, Ray Evans said that they were inspired by an actual bell which one of them kept on his desk at Paramount Pictures, where they were under contract at the time.
Probably the song was inspired by both of these things…
Not every song has a great verse — which is often why they are not included in popular recordings.
But “Silver Bells” has a lovely verse:
“Christmas makes you feel emotional…
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional…
Whatever happens and what may be, here is what Christmas-time means to me.”
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I hope we are able to consume fewer things this holiday season.
One of the reasons why I am excited about releasing songs via digital music platforms is that I no longer need to create a CD to share my music.
To manufacture a pound of plastic (30 CDs per pound), it requires 300 cubic feet of natural gas, 2 cups of crude oil and 24 gallons of water.
It is estimated that it will take over 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill.
People throw away millions of music CDs each year!
Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete (outdated, useless, or unwanted).
A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Futuresays, however, that “CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including: automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, and even jewel cases.”
And they offer a free recycling service if one pays to send one’s old CDs, DVDs and hard drives to them:
“CDs and hard drives are made of high value recyclable material – polycarbonate plastic and aluminum respectively. The recycling of CDs and hard drives saves substantial amounts of energy and prevents significant amounts of both air and water pollution attributed to the manufacturing of these items from virgin material.”
Maybe THAT will be one of my holiday projects this year… recycling CDs and DVDs that I will never listen to again.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
The news here in the USA seems to become simultaneously more hopeful (with the Biden-Harris team starting to build their administrative teams) and terrifying (with supporters of our current president calling for violence and even martial law) each day that we move closer to a graceless and belligerent transition of power.
So I will end this blog post with a bunch of lovely images from Pixabay which the song “Silver Bells” reminded me of.
Thank you to Jay and Ray for writing this song.
Thank you to the executives at Paramount who kept renewing Jay and Ray’s songwriting contracts.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for being such a terrific collaborator.
Thank you for the sun continuing to shine on our blue-green planet.
Thank you for the new, more energy efficient windows in our basement — with blown insulation in our walls on the horizon…
Thank you for the natural gas (energy collected by plants long ago from the sun) now fueling our furnace and kitchen stove.
Thank you for vegetables — which capture energy from the sun and convert it into delicious things for us to eat, such as bell peppers.
Thank you for all the families who have chosen to make music together with me during the past few years. I am grateful for our musical sessions, which serve — for me at least — as a much-needed respite from the unsettling news swirling through our lives these days.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!