New Blossoms Emerging…

Photo by Alexander Popov from Unsplash.

March has begun!

And I am realizing that it’s been over a month since my last blog post.

Why?

Well… I stumbled into an opportunity to be interviewed by an old acquaintance who writes about the arts for a New England-based magazine.

And after I learned that my mini-profile was going to run in their March/April issue, I decided it was time to re-do my website — which had remained functional but increasingly antiquated in recent years.

So February was devoted to researching website design options, choosing a company, and learning how to use this company’s cornucopia of templates and design features.

Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay

After all sorts of challenges (which I may share in a future blog post as a case study in hiking up a new learning curve…) I am happy — and relieved — to report that my new site is now up and running at my old website address: willsings.com.

In the process of transferring information from my old site to this new one, I had the opportunity to reflect upon the past twenty years of my musical life — which has been a very sweet and slightly surprising experience.

I had forgotten, for example, exactly how much media coverage I had garnered in past years… and how often certain angels in our local media had written about various musical undertakings, concerts, recordings, collaborations, etc.

Photo by Benjamin Dickerhof from Unsplash.

I also discovered how much I still like various recordings I helped to make in past years.

And this new website makes it relatively easy to create separate pages for all of them, which I can continue to update and improve as time allows.

Deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Lots of opportunities to practice feeling grateful!

I recorded the musical selection at the top of this blog post with pianist Doug Hammer on his Schimmel grand piano a few years ago when I was putting together an hour-long program of songs created for Disney movies.

Photo by Sunflair from Pixabay.

These three songs were written by the Sherman Brothers — Robert and Richard — for the magical movie Mary Poppins.

Recent weather — very cold with 30 mph winds! —reminded me of this medley.

As usual I have visited the wonderful photographic website Pixabay as well as a new one called Unsplash (when Pixabay was not functioning well) to find some images to grace this blog post and uplift my spirit.

So far the only sign of spring I have seen is ONE snowdrop which has managed to push up through the earth in our tiny front yard and bloom.

Amazing!

Photo by Will McMillan.

Inside the house, a pot of hyacinth bulbs I bought last winter from Trader Joe’s — and then left in the sun on the back porch all summer — has experienced a glorious re-birth.

They are very fragrant.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Hurrah!

Spring may indeed return to New England…

This three-song medley is one of many recordings that Doug and I have been finding in his sonic archives — and have been fixing and mixing every Friday afternoon via Zoom.

There is a tiny lyric bobble in this recording which we will re-record when I am vaccinated and Doug is ready to welcome human beings back into his studio.

Did you hear it?

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay.

My favorite song in this medley is the last one — “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.”

I was reminded when looking for images of kites that there are also raptors named kites.

So I am including a photo of this magnificent bird as well.

Even though I live in a suburb of Boston which does not have a lot of green space, I am delighted to see hawks flying overhead on a surprisingly regular basis as I walk around town.

I think this is partly because I do not use a smart phone — so I tend to be looking at what is actually going on around me more than many of my fellow humans — who often seem to be living in a parallel universe defined by their phone.

Image by Stacy Vitallo from Pixabay 

Last week I may have even seen a bald eagle fly around a cemetery where I like to walk which overlooks a neighboring town’s lake.

As many of my fellow bloggers often remind me, there are few things better than spending time outside in/with the natural world!

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

I released a new recording at the beginning of March — “Plant A Radish” from the musical The Fantasticks by Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (lyrics).

You can click here to listen to it on several digital music platforms if you are curious.

Photo by Romain Mathon from Unsplash.

Now I am looking forward to seeing how many of the crocus bulbs I planted last fall have survived the hungry — and deserving — animals who amazingly manage to survive each winter living outdoors.

And I am waiting for another (warmer) windy day to call up my neighbors and go to a local playing field where we can enjoy a well-masked, kite-flying + pizza picnic.

Thank you to all the wonderful photographers at Pixabay and Unsplash whom I decided I needed to respect by taking the time to credit by name (and whose credits I wish I could figure how to center under their photos…)

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his sublime piano playing and archiving and engineering and mixing and mastering.

Photo by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Thank you to the Sherman Brothers for writing so many great songs during the course of their impressive career.

Thank you to my friends in Toronto who gave me a slightly used but still very functional laptop computer several years ago — which has allowed me to blog, lead music classes via Zoom, create a new website, etc.

Thank you to planet earth for managing to support as much life as she does — even as we human beings continue to rip apart, poison, and contaminate ecosystems right, left and center with our wildly hubristic over-confidence and greed.

Photo by Will McMillan

Thank you for — and to — the WordPress community.

The illness of a fellow blogger has reminded me in recent days of how oddly intimate — and deeply supportive — the WordPress community can be.

So thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

Now…

“Let’s go fly a kite up to the highest height.

Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring up through the atmosphere — up where the air is clear.

Oh, let’s go fly a kite!”

Photo by Martin Blonk on Unsplash.

Say Moon, Say Stars, Say Love…

I am writing this blog post as I watch many inaugural events on TV.

So far everything has gone well.

For this I am deeply grateful.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

The song for this blog post, “New Words,” was written by Maury Yeston — a professor at Yale who also created beautiful songs for the Broadway musicals NINE and TITANIC.

I first heard it sung by a woman named Andrea Marcovicci at Town Hall in New York City.

She also recorded it, along with a bunch of other great songs by contemporary songwriters, on a CD called NEW WORDS.

I performed it as part of an evening of SONGS ABOUT PARENTS AND CHILDREN, and again as part of a cycle of songs I shared at my 25th high school reunion.

Then last year this version gracefully jumped out of my archives of past rehearsals with pianist Doug Hammer — and I decided I would wait until after our new president was inaugurated to release it.

After four years of a certain kind of leadership, I have been hungry for a new tone…

A new sense of respect…

A new vision for the future…

And new words…

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

Yes.

New words!

I have been told — and sometimes have experienced with my own eyes and ears — that underneath anger and acting out and conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios and threatening comments and violence and all sorts of drama is simply…

Fear.

And pain.

Pain from past hurts…

Past losses…

Past disrespects…

Past disappointments…

Past abandonments…

Past abuses of trust…

Past unhappiness of all different shapes and sizes and colors and tastes and smells and densities…

Yes.

Pain.

And fear.

I breathe them in.

And then I breathe them out.

Ahhhhh….

Like many of us, I’ve experienced new pains and new fears during this past year.

I don’t need to go into any of the details, which I have so far chosen to keep private.

Suffice to say that some of them involve rites of passage related to families and health and time and aging which all of us inevitably experience in one form or another.

And some of them involve things which have happened locally, nationally, and globally.

I have a sense that our new president — who has himself experienced some of the most profound losses a human being can experience — and our new vice-president — who has experienced life as a child of immigrants, as a woman, as a person of color, as an attorney general, and as a US senator — may be able to offer us some new words of consolation.

And comfort.

And acknowledgement.

And justice.

And inspiration.

And healing.

We shall see…

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

As regular readers of my blog already know, in addition to writing postcards to potential voters in swing states and going for long walks in local cemeteries full of trees, I find refuge and inspiration in music.

The song “New Words” reminds me of the Music Together classes I lead each week — which give me much-needed infusions of joy and spontaneity and playfulness and creativity and connectedness and love.

We set aside the worries of the world for 45 precious minutes and are present with each other — having fun clapping and snapping and drumming and waving scarves and shaking rhythm eggs and singing and dancing together — even via Zoom.

Some families have stayed with me for many years — so I experience the happiness of bearing witness to their children’s new movements, new vocabulary, new ideas, new competencies, new stuffed animals, new Lego creations, and, yes, even new siblings!

Part of me is amazed that anyone would dare to bring a child into a world teetering on the brink of so many disasters.

Yet part of me also sees how these precious, blessed beings can awaken a profound sense of responsibility and interconnectedness in their parents.

I hear mothers who are breast-feeding begin to re-think what they are themselves eating — and start to become curious about how and where and by whom our food is grown and processed.

I bear enthusiastic witness to families’ participation in social justice marches, in political activism, in fighting for a more respectful and sustainable future here on planet earth.

And I feel hope.

I feel love.

I do not know if love really IS capable of overcoming systemic racism, economic inequality, environmental degradation, accelerating rates of extinction, ignorant non-mask-wearers, brain-washed insurrectionists, and the myriad other challenges facing us here in the USA.

A very brave man who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee over 50 years ago once said:

“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” (1958)

“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” (1963)

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (1963)

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” (1963)

And “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” (1967)

Yet ANOTHER deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

This song inspires me to stick with love.

Thank you to Maury Yeston for writing it.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing such beautiful piano and then helping me to mix and master it via Zoom.

Thank you to the generous photographers at Pixabay for these glorious images.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

If for some reason you want to listen to this song on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, YouTube, Amazon or Tidal, you can click here for a link to those digital music platforms.

ps: As I was doing my final proof-reading of this blog post, I received an email from one of my favorite former Music Together parents.

She wrote:

“We have been enjoying your music on Spotify! I started following you, and now new songs of yours come up on my new release playlist that Spotify sends out periodically.

Scarlet (her super-sensitive, fairy-like, delightful daughter) especially loves ‘New Words’ — she stopped what she was doing and came over and gave me a hug when it came up on my playlist. She found it so moving, and she didn’t even know it was yours.”

One more deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh…

This is why I do what I do.

An Attitude Of Gratitude


Today’s song is actually a two-song medley from the musical Sweet Charity.

I included it because the first song, “I’m A Brass Band,” mentions the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which is coming up soon…

I learned online that this year there will be very little marching.

Most of the performances and activity will unfold where the parade usually ends: Herald Square — which is the intersection of Broadway, Sixth Avenue, and 34th street in Manhattan.

Some segments will be pre-recorded and some will be live.

And there will be performances by the casts of many Broadway shows — all of which have been on hiatus for months due to Covid-19.

John McMartin and Gwen Verdon

Sweet Charity was a big hit on Broadway in 1966 starring Gwen Verdon and John McMartin.

Bob Fosse and his wife/muse Gwen Verdon had seen a Fellini movie, The Nights Of Cabiria, and Fosse soon began writing a treatment about how it could become a musical.

Lyricist Dorothy Fields and composer Cy Coleman joined the creative team — and after they had written a few songs, Bob convinced his old friend Neil Simon to work on the script.

I wrote a blog post about Dorothy Fields three years ago which you can read by clicking here if you are curious.

She had an extraordinary career as a lyricist, co-writing hit songs from the late 1920s through the early 1970s.

I’m not sure why she is not a household name similar to Cole Porter or Irving Berlin — both of whom, incidentally, she worked with as a librettist (script writer).

Maybe because she was a woman?

Maybe because she didn’t hire publicists to keep her name in the papers?

When many of her friends and contemporaries like Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Richard Rodgers had become frustrated by the arrival of rock & roll on the cultural landscape, Fields teamed up with a composer almost half her age — Coleman, who was 37 years old — and experienced one of the biggest hits of her entire career when she was 61!

Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman

Her lyrics for the songs in Sweet Charity are witty and hip in a pre-summer-of-love-kinda-way.

And I love the verse for “I’m A Brass Band.”

“Somebody loves me — my heart is beating so fast. All kinds of music is pouring out of me — somebody loves me at last…”

I feel very loved — or perhaps a more understated word would be appreciated — by the WordPress community.

I am not sure why, but the average number of people visiting my site has doubled in recent weeks.

And so far in November I have already had more people visit the site than in any previous month!

The WordPress community continues to feel like a blessed parallel universe — where respect for others is still a norm.

I love reading other people’s blog posts, and I love reading the comments that each post inspires.

And I love seeing increasingly familiar names turn up in the comments section of an ever-widening variety of blog posts.

I also love when people take the time not only to read and listen to one of my blog posts but also to leave a comment.

Thank you!!!

Last Sunday I was listening to a sermon via Zoom while addressing postcards to potential voters in Georgia — encouraging them to register to vote in the upcoming senate elections.

The theme of the sermon was gratitude — and how powerful a practice it can be in our lives.

As soon as one slows down and starts looking around, most of us can find a seemingly endless stream of things to be grateful for.

And Thanksgiving IS a traditional time to count one’s blessings.

So let’s begin…

I am grateful for music and for great songwriters like Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman.

I am grateful for pianist/engineer Doug Hammer, with whom I have recorded (and mixed and mastered) many fun versions of songs over the past 20+ years — some of which I share on this blog and some of which I am starting to share via Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, etc.

I am grateful for marching bands — who do not need any electricity at all to generate a soul-stirring amount of sound and excitement.

I am grateful for friends and family.

I am grateful for food, clothing and shelter.

I am grateful for photosynthesis — which creates oxygen for all of us animals to breathe and transforms energy from a nearby star (our sun) into something we can eat and use to fuel our own lives.

I am grateful for all the folks who grow and harvest and package and deliver food for us city-dwellers to eat.

I am grateful for the two twenty-somethings who recently gave my bike a complete tune-up at a store they help to run not far from where I live.

I am grateful for electricity, my laptop computer, and the internet — which allow me to write blog posts, record songs, and share them with anyone else in the rest of the world who also has access to electricity, a computer and the internet.

I am grateful for my Music Together families — with whom I hop and clap and kick and spin and dance and sing each week (in a local park wearing lots of masks and also via Zoom).

I am grateful for the men installing new, more efficient windows in our basement today.

I am grateful to my friend, the jazz pianist and composer Steve Sweeting, who gave me the sheet music for “I’m A Brass Band” many years ago because he thought I might like to perform it some day…

I am grateful for all the folks around the world and in the USA who are actively engaged in the challenging, ever-evolving work of living in a democracy.

I am grateful to Pixabay and ye olde internet for the images in this blog post.

A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to you and yours

And, of course, I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

What are YOU feeling grateful for these days?

Happiness…


is a thing called Joe!

This song was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by one of his top-three collaborators, Yip Harburg.

They wrote it for the great Ethel Waters to sing in a 1943 movie version of the musical Cabin In the Sky made by the Freed unit at MGM.

Ethel Waters

The film had a rather extraordinary cast — including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Butterfly McQueen and Duke Ellington.

It was also the first movie directed by Liza Minnelli’s father, Vincente — who before that had been a successful designer and director on Broadway.

Ethel Waters had also starred in the original Broadway version of Cabin in The Sky, which was directed by the famous choreographer George Balanchine with music composed by fellow Russian Vernon Duke and lyrics by John Latouche.

I’m not sure when I first heard this song, but it was a natural to include in the very first program of music — featuring songs composed by Harold Arlen — which I put together with pianist Joe Reid.

Joe Reid

Joe had called me up and asked me if I would like to do an hour of music with him at a retirement community called Brookhaven (where his dad lives).

This was a few months after I had been laid off from a non-profit where I had worked for 16 years, and I said, “Yes, please!”

Joe has proved to be an excellent collaborator.

During the past seven years we have put together one-hour programs of music featuring songs by — and stories about — Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, the Gershwin Brothers, Oscar Hammerstein, Yip Harburg, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Jule Styne, and Harry Warren as well as one-hour programs of songs written for Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and Ethel Merman.

We also have assembled programs featuring Irish-American songs, songs in honor of Father’s Day, songs in honor of Mother’s Day, songs written for Disney movies made while Walt was still alive, and winter holiday songs written by Jewish songwriters.

Joe and Will

In addition to his agile musicality as a jazz pianist, Joe brings a reliable hybrid car and a level temperament to our collaboration.

He always shows up on time, and has only missed one gig in the past eight years due to an unusually bad cold.

He is also passionately involved with politics and recently installed solar panels on the roof of his house.

He is a musical mensch.

In addition to making music together, we have spent hundreds of hours driving to and from gigs in his Prius — discussing the current political climate, his extended family, how he transitioned from corporate lawyer to full-time pianist, and much more…

We were on track to perform over seventy five gigs together in 2020 before Covid-19 stopped us in our tracks.

In the past seven months we’ve performed together once — outside and well-masked — at one of our favorite retirement communities, Springhouse.

We watch the Covid case numbers rising again in Massachusetts and wonder when we will be able to perform together again…

This song also takes on a new resonance following the recent election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead our country for the next four years.

Joe Biden celebrating his 75th birthday

Many of us are very excited by this election.

I am also aware that there are many who are sad and angry that their candidate lost…

Deep breath out.

Deep breath in.

I remain very grateful to live in a country that holds presidential elections every four years.

I also am truly grateful to live in a country with a system of checks and balances between our president, our congress, our judicial system, and our investigative media.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

I am hopeful that our country can re-discover a sense of respect and inclusivity with different leadership in the White House.

In my Music Together classes I see on a weekly basis how strong the “monkey see, monkey do” effect is…

Not just on children, but on everyone!

One of the main ways we learn what is possible — and how to behave — is by seeing other human beings in action.

Joe Biden brings compassion and empathy — which he gained in part due to the heart-breaking losses of his first wife Neilia, baby daughter Amy, and grownup son Beau — to the White House.

He also brings a decades-long history of collaboration in the US Senate, working with Republican peers across the aisle on behalf of the residents of the USA (and also on behalf of many corporate donors and lobbyists…)

We shall see how he governs!

Joe and Jill Biden stepping off an Amtrak train…

I am also very curious to see who Joe and Kamala invite to join them as part of their cabinet and staff…

And as someone who loves to travel via trains, I like that Joe is a long-time commuter — from Washington, DC to Delaware — on Amtrak.

Thank you to Joe Reid for seven years of musical collaboration.

Thank you to all the poll workers who stepped up — some for the first time! — to run our recent national election.

Thank you to Wikimedia Commons and to Stephen Fischer for the photos in this blog post.

Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for recording this song with me at his studio north of Boston (where I record all of my musical programs so that I have piano-only versions with which to practice…)

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.