Overjoyed…

I picked today’s song because WordPress tells me that this is my 100th blog post.

If I had been asked to guess how many blog posts I’ve written since I started in 2013, I would have said 30 – 40.

So I am surprised to discover that this is #100.

As loyal readers from the past years can attest, I do not write on a regular schedule.

If I do the math, however, I find that I have averaged one post per month.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

I am often happy — and sometimes even overjoyed — to be part of our WordPress writing community.

It is thrilling to check my statistics and find that folks have been reading and listening from different countries around the planet.

THANK YOU to everyone who has read and/or listened to one of my blog posts during the past eight years!

And a special thank you to the folks who have taken the time to leave a comment.

Reading and responding to these comments — and also writing comments after reading other people’s blog posts — is how the WordPress community comes to life!

“Overjoyed” was written by Stevland Hardaway Morris a.k.a Stevie Wonder and first appeared in 1985 on his 20th studio album, In Square Circle.

I am not sure when I first heard it — maybe when he performed it on Saturday Night Live or perhaps when a college friend, Rex Dean, sang it?

It became somewhat of an obsession for me and several of my musical friends…

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

I finally performed “Overjoyed” in 2006 as part of a program of songs written by people named Steve — which also featured songs by Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Foster, Stephen Sondheim, Cat Stevens, Stephen Flaherty, Steve Schalchlin, and my friend Steve Sweeting (several of whose songs have been highlighted in previous blog posts).

This recording is from a rehearsal at pianist Doug Hammer‘s studio north of Boston, MA, which was attended by a journalist, Joel Brown, who ended up writing a lovely feature story in the Boston Globe to help spread the word before my performance at Scullers Jazz Club.

If you are curious, you can read it on my website (look for “Interviews — Boston Globe June 4, 2006).

This recording also features a wonderful musician, Mike Callahan, playing clarinet.

Photo from MSU Website

I met Mike when he was an undergraduate at Harvard.

He arranged a bunch of songs for me to sing with the Harvard Pops Orchestra — and then later with the Timberlane Pops. You can click here to see him and me in action if you are curious.

He can play just about any instrument (which is very useful when one is arranging a song for an entire orchestra) and is also a delightful human being.

Mike went from Harvard to the Eastman School Of Music, where he earned an MA and a PhD and is now a professor at Michigan State.

If you click here, you can read his bio to learn more details about his outstanding musical life.

Finding strong takes from previously recorded rehearsals and then polishing them with Doug via Zoom has also been a process which has given me much joy during the past year.

And — well-masked — we’ve even started recording a new batch of my original songs in the past month (I take off my mask when I am in the vocal recording booth…)

Hopefully a few of them will turn out well enough for me to share them in future blog posts.

Watching things grow in the planters on my back porch this past summer has also been a quietly joyful pastime.

Photo by Carole Bundy

I started with kale, basil, tomatoes and marigolds.

The tomatoes yielded a small but sublime harvest of vegetable gems.

Mine were yellow, and I did not document them with a photograph because they were so tasty I had to eat them as soon as they became ripe.

But my friend Carole Bundy sent me this lovely photo of HER first two tomatoes.

I’ve also been eating one brilliant green leaf of kale every week or so…

When the tomatoes were done, I replaced them with cut up chunks of a potato which my mother brought to family gathering earlier this summer.

It was one of a batch which she described as being the most delicious potatoes she had eaten in a long time.

I wasn’t sure if the cut up chunks would grow, but they did have many “eyes” on them…

Now I am overjoyed that one of them has sprouted, grown tall, and even flowered!

I was very surprised by the flowers, which are quite pretty and fragrant.

Photo by me

They have also lasted a long time.

Now the soil under the flowering plant is starting to bulge a bit.

I think I may need to pile more dirt on top of what may be one or more baby potatoes growing down below…

The cat in this photo lives with our neighbors upstairs.

I may write about her in a future blog post.

Trixie did something on 9/11/21 which was heart-wrenching (not to her but to me and maybe also to her owner).

But that is a story for another day and another blog post.

Today’s theme is joy and gratitude.

Thank you to the great photographers who share their photos with the world via Pixabay.

I am overjoyed that I can include your photos in my blog posts.

Thank you to all the great songwriters named Steve.

I am overjoyed to sing your songs.

Thank you to Doug and Mike for your musical gifts — and thank you to Doug for your engineering magic, too.

I am overjoyed to be able to make music with you both.

Image by Mircea Ploscar from Pixabay 

Thank you to the plants which have been so patient and cooperative with my humble attempts at gardening — as well as generous with their fruits and leaves and roots!

I am overjoyed that you breath out what I breath in and vice-versa.

I know I thanked my readers earlier in this blog post, but I will now thank you again!

THANK YOU.

It is a pleasure and an honor to be part of this WordPress community.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

PS: You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find all sorts of songs.

Or you can find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano — on SpotifyPandoraApple Music and other digital music platforms.

And if you are hungry for more music, you are welcome to listen to a sublime version of “In My Life” which I recorded with Doug Hammer.on a bunch of different digital music platforms.

In Praise of Food…and Lillian Rozin!

I am well aware that all sorts of challenging — and often heart-breaking — situations continue to unfold here on planet earth.

However, I have decided in recent blog posts to accentuate the positive.

Part of the fun of re-vamping my website earlier this year was re-visiting my musical past.

When I first started working at the Cambridge Center For Adult Education in Harvard Square, we co-produced a lot of events — open mics, workshops, seminars, performances — with the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA).

BACA is a humble and surprisingly resilient non-profit group which a bunch of us helped to start over 25 years ago.

And it is still going strong — an ongoing labor of love — due to the efforts of a generous and ever-evolving group of singers, musicians, songwriters and music fans who serve on its board, bless them.

I do not remember exactly how I met singer/actor Lillian Rozin, who is now a psychotherapist, yoga instructor and author, too.

Maybe at a BACA open mic?

In any case, we hit it off and Lillian started creating lavish spreads of appetizers and desserts for our open mic nights.

I am not someone who follows recipes or considers himself to be much of a cook.

But Lillian is an inspired and inspiring goddess in the kitchen.

She learned to love food and cooking from — among other people — her mother, the much-published food writer, Elizabeth Rozin.

Eventually we started performing together as “The Will & Lil Show” — co-creating two different shows of music and ideas before she moved from the Boston area back to her homeland of Philadelphia.

Our first show focused on the subject of water — in rivers, clouds, oceans, harbors, showers, wading pools, and even our own metabolisms.

We followed that with a show called We Are What We Eat — A Potluck Cabaret which featured songs about eating, serving and preparing food such as Cole Porter’s “The Tale of the Oyster,” Bernstein, Comden and Green’s “I Can Cook, Too,” Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the Sherman Brothers’ “Feed The Birds,” and Stephen Schwartz’s “It’s An Art.”

The show began with Lillian and me on stage chopping and slicing and preparing various finger-foods while audience members were finding their seats.

Once everyone had arrived, we began singing a song (in the player at the start of the blog post) from William Finn’s musical “March Of The Falsettos” while serving the audience what we had been preparing onstage.

It was a lot of fun.

The original lyrics for “Making A Home” included some references to food — to which we added a few more.

Recently I was happy to find a computer disk which contained some of our original PR photos as well as a script for our food show.

Here’s a list of food-related items that we used during the show:

Image by Bernadette Wurzinger from Pixabay

Microwave pre-set with popcorn.

Baguette. 

Hardboiled eggs.

Little pots of strawberry jam.

Toast.

English muffin.

Little jar of mustard.

Watercress or heavy duty parsley.

Hamsteak.

Bones/chew toys.

Root vegetables.

Image by Jordan Stimpson from Pixabay 

Brie, cheddar, harvarti dill, goat, and cream cheeses.

Grapes.

Olives.

Cornichon.

Pop tarts.

Pringles potato chips.

Spam.

Count Chocula/Cocoa Puffs/Lucky Charms cereal boxes.

Jello.

Bacon bits.

Strawberry Newtons.

One pound of smoked fish.

Horseradish.

Lots of crackers.

Cider.

Bag of salad.

Packets of Sweet & Lo.

Vinegar cruet.

Celery.

Peanut butter and peanuts.

Bologna.

Non-dairy whipped topping.

Bananas.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Melon.

Bosco.

Two pie plates.

Marischino cherries.

Cutting boards.

And knives.

As you can probably extrapolate from this list of props, we covered a lot of ground in this show — from the processed food industry (for which Lillian’s mother had once consulted) to food norms in different cultures (Lillian has traveled a lot) to my past as a child actor doing commercials for various food products (such as Ring Ding Juniors, Lifesavers, Imperial margarine, and Oreo cookies).

Here’s an excerpt from what we said after we sang “Making A Home” while serving appetizers to the audience.

Lil: “Will and I love to cook.”

Will: “And we love to feed other people what we have cooked.”

Lil: “And we love to eat; so this show was a no-brainer.

Will: “Eating is something that is easy to take for granted. 

Lillian Rozin and Will McMillan standing back to back and smiling...
Photo by Stephen C. Fischer

Lil: “We do it several times a day, often out of habit or while we are focused on something else.”

Will: “But eating is really a magical process.  Think about it… radiation from a nearby star is captured by plants who transform it into something that we can absorb into our bodies, which becomes… us.”

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Over twenty years later I am still amazed by how life works here on planet earth!

Near the end of the show Lillian tied me to a chair while singing “Have An Eggroll Mr. Goldstein” from Gypsy and stuffing all sorts of delicious, cut-up fruit into my mouth.

Then we sang “You’re The Cream In My Coffee” while throwing pie plates full of non-dairy whipped topping in each other’s faces.

Our encore was “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries.”

This delightful anthem was written by Lew Brown (lyrics) and Ray Henderson (music) for Ethel Merman to sing in George White’s Scandals of 1931 after she had rejected another song they had wanted her to perform.

I am very thankful that Ms. Merman knew — when she was still in the early years of her extraordinary career the entertainment industry — what kind of song she could and couldn’t deliver to an audience.

Otherwise Ray and Lew might not have written this musical gem.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Thank you for reading and listening to this somewhat light-hearted blog post.

I will undoubtedly return to more serious topics in the future.

Today I have been inspired by a statement currently circulating (I hope accurately) on FaceBook from a Hopi Indian Chief named White Eagle.

“This moment humanity is experiencing can be seen as a door or a hole. The decision to fall in the hole or walk through the door is up to you.

“If you consume the news 24 hours a day, with negative energy, constantly nervous, with pessimism, you will fall into this hole. But if you take the opportunity to look at yourself, to rethink life and death, to take care of yourself and others, then you will walk through the portal…

“Don’t feel guilty for feeling blessed in these troubled times. Being sad or angry doesn’t help at all…

Lillian with her beloved dog Albee!

“Show resistance through art, joy, trust and love.”

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Thank you to Lillian Rozin for being one of my favorite collaborators… and one of my favorite chefs, too!

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing piano AND recording the rehearsal from which we recently selected and mixed these songs.

Thank you to Ray Brown and Lew Henderson for writing “LIfe Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries” — and to Ethel Merman for inspiring them to do so.

Thank you to William Finn for writing “Making A Home.”

You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find more songs from The Will & Lil Show celebrating food.

Or you can find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano — on SpotifyPandoraApple Music and other digital music platforms.

And if you are hungry for more music, you are welcome to listen to my latest release, “The Carter Family” by Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman on a bunch of different digital music platforms.

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.

You are always welcome find me on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and other digital music platforms.

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.

Let My Heart Be Open…

These are challenging times.

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.

And out.

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.

And out.

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.

And out.

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…)

I met Barbara when I was organizing open mics at the Cambridge Center For Adult Education in Harvard Square, where I worked for 16 years,

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.

You can use the share option by clicking on the upper right corner of this page of our mini-website if the spirit moves you.

We also welcome any ideas about other people, DJs, yoga instructors, nurses, doctors, rabbis, ministers, chaplains, etc. to whom we might reach out — one heart to another.

Clearly a lot of our hearts in the USA are quite frozen with fear (and rage) these days.

And music is one way that we can thaw out and begin to feel/heal…

Deep breath in.

And out.

Let’s all keep singing and dancing and listening to music whenever we can muster the time and energy and heart in the weeks ahead!

In addition to my lungs, I am grateful for pianist/producer Doug Hammer, with whom I recorded “Let Me Be Strong” along with Gene Roma (drums) and Chris Rathbun (bass).

I am grateful that my two friends are recovering from Covid-19.

I am grateful for Barbara Baig, who wrote this song.

I am grateful to Pixabay for their wonderful images.

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

Thank you!

I hope you remain well — and well-masked AND well-rested — as viral and political turmoil continue to swirl through our lives.

May our Covid fatigue diminish…

Let us continue to hope for brighter, wiser, happier days ahead

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

And maybe a refreshing shake!

ps: You are always welcome to visit my website, and you can find me on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and other digital music platforms.


Silver Bells


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.

You can click here to listen to “We Need A Little Christmas” and click here to listen to “Winter Wonderland” if you are curious.

I’ll also be sharing a few holiday songs in blog posts.

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

Today’s song — “Silver Bells” — was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for a 1950 movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, where it was sung by Marilyn Maxwell and Bob Hope.

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.

I found these rather stunning statistics on the web site of a waste disposal company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • 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).

Yikes!

A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Future says, 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!

ps: You are always welcome to visit my website, and you can find me on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and other digital music platforms.

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?

ps: You are always welcome to visit my website, and you can find me on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and other digital music platforms.

Dancing In The Dark…

I have long loved the song “Dancing In The Dark.”

It was originally written for a 1931 revue called The Band Wagon — which was notable for being one of the last times that Fred Astaire and his sister Adele performed together on Broadway.

The lyrics feel like an existential poem to me.

Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz

They were written by Howard Dietz — who also co-wrote the script for The Band Wagon with George S. Kaufman — plus music by Arthur Schwartz.

Dietz went on to become the head of public relations at MGM movie studios.

He is reputed to have chosen their lion logo as well as their motto: Ars Gratia Artis (art for art’s sake).

While based in MGM’s New York office, he wrote co-wrote songs for decades with Arthur Schwartz, including “That’s Entertainment” for MGM’s film version of The Band Wagon in 1953 — which again featured Fred Astaire, who performed with Cyd Charisse while…”Dancing In The Dark.”

Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse

The message of the song seems particularly appropriate in the days leading up to a very important national election here in the USA.

I have been limiting my exposure to radio and TV because most of the news is simply very high-octane speculation.

However, I was happy to learn that early voter turnout is very high.

People are engaged with the political process!

But I am also concerned that gun/ammunition sales are very high (although I have been told this often happens when gun-using folks in the USA fear a Democratic victory which might lead to future firearm regulations…)

The state of our democracy can seem very dark these days — with our president repeatedly saying that he may not honor the results of our upcoming election while simultaneously casting seeds of doubt about the voting process itself.

And he continues to hold large public rallies during a health pandemic — after one of which his ally (and former presidential candidate) Herman Cain died from COVID-19.

All the while hospitals in cities around the United States fill up to capacity…

And nurses, EMTs, and doctors — who are working 12 hour shifts day in and day out to save the lives of their fellow citizens — continue to plead with us to wear our face masks, wash our hands, and maintain our social distancing…

I am truly amazed by our health care workers’ dedication, selflessness, and love for their fellow human beings.

I am amazed that they show up for work — day after day and night after night — while putting their own lives AND the lives of their loved ones at risk for catching this virus.

I am amazed that they treat the folks who deny the threat of Covid-19 and refuse to wear a mask with as much compassion as they treat the folks who wore a mask and still got sick.

What they are doing is astounding.

I don’t have adjectives to describe how I feel about the virus-deniers.

Or at least adjectives that I want to put into print.

I do sometimes wonder if the extreme dysfunction unfolding in our country is a symptom of mother nature getting serious about reducing the number of human beings who now live on (and some might say over-run and infest) planet earth…

Denying the science of how a virus spreads and multiplies — exponentially! — is a form of madness which has already killed hundreds of thousands of people here in the USA…

I see it as being very similar to denying the science of climate change.

One can deny it all one wants…

Yet the scientific processes — such as the fact that a virus can spread exponentially if unchecked and will swiftly overwhelm the staff of your local hospital — will continue to unfold whether one denies the scientific realities or not.

The fact that our earth’s atmosphere is changing due to our human (mis)use of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial era is also undeniable.

In fact I recently saw a reprint of an article from the early 20th century in which scientists described and predicted how our increasing use of fossil fuels would alter the earth’s atmosphere.

Some people have been aware of this challenge for generations!

The fact that climate change is increasing the severity of storms, increasing the frequency of forest fires, and changing the patterns of how ecosystems around the planet do (or don’t) stay in balance is undeniable.

It’s all over the news in the USA.

It’s what hundreds if not thousands of scientists have been warning about for decades.

Will we as a species continue to deny it is happening?

Will we continue to live our lives as if nothing huge and profound is changing?

Continue to drive our SUVs and pickup trucks as many miles as we (or our credit cards) can afford?

Continue to travel as much as our budgets (or credit cards) will allow?

Continue to refuse to put solar arrays on our roofs?

Continue to consume more resources than can be sustainably grown/harvested/produced here on planet earth?

Fundamental patterns and cycles here on planet earth will continue to tip out of balance regardless of what our leaders may or may not be saying.

There are scientific processes and realities at work which can’t be denied or spun or ignored until they go away.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It is indeed an extraordinary time to be alive…

I hope and trust that we will persevere.

That enough people will wake up to the realities of science.

That enough people will realize that wearing a mask and continuing to practice social distancing is in fact a very loving and respectful thing to do for one’s self, for one’s family, for one’s co-workers, for one’s neighborhood, and for all the folks who risk their lives working at one’s local hospital.

And that we can continue to dance through this period of darkness, keeping a sense of love and light and fairness and respect burning in our hearts as we cast our ballots.

Thank you to Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz for writing this song during another very challenging era in our country’s history…

Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for making music and recording music with me for the past 20+ years AND then for fixing and mixing songs with me from his home studio via Zoom in recent months.

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

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

I truly treasure our community of WordPress bloggers and readers and commenters…

A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

amusement-park-1045212_1280As longtime readers of my blog probably recall, when I was laid off from my day job as assistant director of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education seven years ago, I decided to devote my life to making music.

And writing songs.

And leading Music Together classes.

A few months after my lay-off, a Boston-area jazz pianist named Joe Reid reached out to see if I might like to do a gig at the retirement community where his dad lives.

I had met Joe several years earlier — when HE was in the midst of a life transition from working full-time as a lawyer to working full-time as a musician — and promptly said, “Yes!”

We needed to prepare an hour of music, and I mentioned that I had long loved many songs co-written by composer Harold Arlen — a list which includes “My  Shining Hour,” “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “Accentuate The Positive,” “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Blues In The Night,”  “That Old Black Magic,” “If I Only Had A Brain,”  “Over The Rainbow,” “Happiness is Just A Thing Called Joe,” “Let’s Fall In Love,” “Get Happy,” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”

Harold Arlen

I had sung a few of these songs in a program of music featuring the lyrics of Johnny Mercer with singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — because one of Mr. Arlen’s many collaborators was Mr. Mercer.

And I was familiar with others due to the movie version of The Wizard Of Oz, for which Mr. Arlen composed the music and Yip Harburg wrote lyrics (and a lot of uncredited dialogue  —  a topic I will explore in a future blog post dedicated to Yip).

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I biked over to Joe’s house — in the town next to mine — with a bunch of sheet music.

We spent about 90 minutes running through thirteen songs — picking comfortable keys and exploring tempos/feels for each of them.

And that was it for rehearsing with Joe.

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Joe (on the left) is very much a “let’s-trust-in-the-moment” kind of musician who welcomes improvisation and spontaneity.

I, too, value spontaneity — and I also appreciate structure.

So I booked time with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

We recorded all of the Arlen songs once or twice so that I could have a set of piano-only tracks to play on my iPod as I walked around Arlington memorizing lyrics.

And some of the versions we recorded — such as the version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” included in the player at the beginning of this blog post — came out surprisingly well.

“It’s Only A Paper Moon” was written for a 1932 play (not a musical) called The Great Magoo set in Coney Island which was not a big success.

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It is credited to Arlen, Harburg, and impresario Billy Rose — who was somewhat infamous for adding his name to the songwriting credits of other people’s work after having contributed an idea or two during the creative process.

You may recognize Rose’s name because he was married for many years to the great performer Fanny Brice, and his character appears in the movie Funny Lady starring Barbra Streisand as Brice.

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Somehow this Coney Island hot dog made me think of him…

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Luckily the song was rescued from The Great Magoo and included in a movie called Take A Chance the next year — which led to successful recordings by a wide range of musicians over the past 70+ years.

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I love the metaphors and imagery used in the song — all things one might encounter at an amusement park like Coney Island.

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I also love the sentiment of the song — that if someone believes in and loves another person, their belief and love can be transformative.

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And looking at these photos, I am struck by the way an amusement park transforms from day to night…

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I would like to dedicate Doug’s and my version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” to all of the folks who have at one time or another believed in me — including friends and acquaintances in the WordPress blog-o-sphere.

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Your positive feedback regarding my music and my blog continues to touch and inspire me every day.

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Thank you to Pixabay for the great color photographs of Coney Island and other amusement parks around the world.

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Thank you to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and Billy Rose for writing this wonderful song.

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And to Joe Reid for asking me to do a gig with him seven years ago.

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Since then Joe and I have done hundreds of gigs together and created twenty five different one-hour musical programs.

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Thank you to Doug Hammer for his engineering excellence and his playful virtuosity at the keyboard.

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And THANK YOU for reading and listening — and even leaving a comment or two from time to time.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

 

I love this song written by Frank Loesser in 1947.

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Apparently it was not created for a particular movie or show.

And Mr. Loesser thought that it was fine to sing it any time of the year — because it is about someone who is in the early stages of a romantic relationship who is thinking ahead…

I recorded it with Doug Hammer when I was putting together an hour-long program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricist and/or composers.

Mr. Loesser started off as a lyricist, collaborating with Jule Styne (with whom he co-wrote “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You, Baby”), and Hoagy Carmichael (with whom he co-wrote “Heart and Soul), and other composers in New York and in California.

During WWII he joined the military and helped to create original musical shows which could easily be produced with minimal costumes, props and scenery at military bases and camps all around the globe as a way to boost the morale of the troops at home and abroad.

It was during this time that he became more confident about composing the music to go with his lyrics — and one of first hit songs for which he wrote both music and lyrics was “Praise the Lord and Pass The Ammunition.”

After WWII his career as a songwriter gained momentum.

He wrote songs for the hit musical WHERE’S CHARLEY? — which gave us the standard “Once In Love With Amy” sung by Ray Bolger (who had starred as The Scarecrow in the movie version of THE WIZARD OF OZ many years earlier).

RayBolger

Then he wrote songs for the musical GUYS AND DOLLS, which was a huge hit when it opened on Broadway in 1950 and which — almost seventy years later — continues to be performed all around the USA and beyond…

He expanded from writing lyrics and music to writing the libretto (script) as well for his masterwork THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, which was as much an opera as it was a Broadway show.

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His other shows include GREENWILLOW — starring a young Anthony Perkins, which was not a hit — and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT TRYING, which was a hit and won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

He also wrote songs — including “Inchworm” and “Thumbelina” for a successful movie about Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye.

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And he won an Academy award in 1949 for his song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which he had originally written as a fun duet for him and his first wife, Lynn to perform at parties.

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She was apparently very upset when he sold “their song” to MGM FOR a movie called NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER starring Esther Williams.

In recent years this song has generated some controversy since the lyrics involve a man (called “the wolf” in the original sheet music) seducing a woman (called “the mouse” in the original sheet music) using persistence, charm, and alcohol.

Since relatively few books have been written about Mr. Loesser, his daughter Susan Loesser penned a book called A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life.

It is very candid and informative about Mr. Loesser — who does not sound like he was  the easiest or the happiest guy to work with. In fact he infamously slapped one of the original leads in GUYS AND DOLLS, Isabel Bigley, during rehearsals because he did not like the way she was interpreting one of his songs.

IsabelBigley

However, he was extremely supportive of up-and-coming songwriters and helped nurture the careers of Meredith Willson (THE MUSIC MAN), Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (THE PAJAMA GAME and DAMN YANKEES), and even Stephen Sondheim, who received a very supportive and empathetic letter from Frank after one of Sondheim’s early musicals, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, closed after only nine performances.

Mr. Loesser was also a lifelong three-pack-a-day smoker, and died in 1969 at age 59 from lung cancer.

Loesser3

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

As another year — and another decade — draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who has visited my blog during the past six years to read and listen.

And the wonderful photographers whose work has graced my blog posts.

Also all the folks with whom I have made music during this past year!

This next decade is a make-or-break one for human beings here on planet earth.

We have ten years — or less!!! — to change the way we consume resources before climate change will swing more and more out of balance in un-imaginable, catastrophic, and un-fixable ways.

I have no idea what a contemporary human society which consumes only sustainable/renewable amounts of food and water and fuel and natural resources would look like.

But I deeply hope we are all able to WAKE UP and STOP CONSUMING fossil fuels and plastic items and unnecessary consumer goods and air travel and vacations-to-far-away-places, and car travel, and excessive food and water so that future generations of beings — human and otherwise — can exist on this lovely planet.

Many of us have somehow been raised to feel we are entitled to consume/enjoy/waste natural resources simply because we want to consume/enjoy/waste them — with no consideration or reflection about how our choices and actions affect the larger web of sustainable life here on planet earth.

This Christmas I gave copies of several books — The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Hidden Life of Trees, The Inner Life of Animals, and The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohlleben — to various family members.

Overstory

I was slightly ambivalent to buy and give books (made from dead trees, after all…) about how amazing and wise and generous and precious trees are to life here on planet earth.

But I am hoping that sharing these books will help with the process of AWAKENING all of us human beings to the extraordinary web of life — of which we are merely one (albeit an often-times astoundingly ignorant and destructive) strand.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

I will be hanging out with family in upstate New York this New Year’s Eve.

ChristianneJasperAriannaRyder

I learned yesterday from my older sister that the hens started laying more eggs as soon as the days started getting longer here in the northern hemisphere.

ChristianneChickens

How amazingly calibrated to subtle changes in light they are!

And I bore witness to the sheeps’ concern about getting their fair share of the grain which my sisters feed them each evening.

I learned from a television program earlier this year that a wide variety of animals — not just sheep — are very aware of what IS and is NOT equitable.

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Here we are walking the sheep to a temporary pasture area in another field.

The snow has almost all melted due to several days of non-freezing weather including rain…

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Here is one of my nephews testing fate by walking on a previously frozen stream…

Tomorrow night after evening chores are done, we will drive to the next town and cook a small feast with cousins.

Then we will play ukuleles, sing, and reflect upon the past year.

What are YOU doing New Year’s Eve?

I Heard The Bells…

I Heard The Bells…

Joe&WillinMarshfield+Piano

Jazz pianist Joe Reid (left) and I (right) have put together a bunch of one-hour programs of music during the past six years.

You can click here for a list of our musical programs if you are curious.

We share them at public libraries, retirement communities, memory cafes, and coffee houses.

Joe&WillRobbinsLibrarybyJinny

Our latest program features songs written for — and/or made famous by — Bing Crosby.

I had known very little about Mr. Crosby before requesting several biographies about him via our local inter-library network (which includes the terrific Robbins library pictured above in a photo by Jinny Sagorin).

Mostly I remembered him for singing an incongruous but lovely duet with David Bowie on a Christmas TV special.

Bing Crosby and David Bowie

I also knew that he loved golfing and had sung “White Christmas” — which became one of the highest selling recordings ever made.

And I was aware that at least one of his children had written about how challenging it was to have him as a father.

After reading several books about him, my perspective on Mr. Crosby has become much more complicated and fascinating and human…

To begin with, I hadn’t understood how HUGE a star Bing was.

His weekly radio programs reached millions of listeners for decades.

He was in the top ten of Hollywood box office money-makers for decades.

His recordings regularly topped the charts for decades.

He was definitely one of America’s first “superstars.”

He was also a devoted Catholic, following the spiritual path of his mother (who had requested that Bing’s father convert to Catholicism before they were married).

He sang an extraordinarily wide range of songs — from cowboy to Irish to jazz to pop to show tunes to hymns to Americana.

Although a Republican, he had a huge hit during the early years of the Great Depression with Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s empathetic lament for the common man, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” — which hit the airwaves right before FDR was elected to his first term as president.

And he was one of the first recording artists to release an album of Christmas holiday songs.

Bing-Crosby-Christmas

One of the many Christmas songs Bing recorded — “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” — has become a new favorite of mine.

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Bing recorded it on October 3, 1956, and it soon became a holiday classic.

I recorded it earlier this month with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA (and our version is included in the player at the beginning of this blog post).

I discovered on Wikipedia that the lyrics were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1863 while the USA was in the middle of our astoundingly horrible and bloody Civil War.

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He lived in Cambridge, MA — a couple of miles away from where I now live — and one of his sons had left home to fight in the Union Army.

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You can click here to learn more about Longfellow’s poem on Wikipedia if you are curious.

He experienced many deep losses during his lifetime — his first wife died after a miscarriage and his second wife died from burn wounds after her dress accidentally caught on fire — and perhaps as a result, he developed very empathetic heart.

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Many different composers have been moved to set this particular poem to music over the years.

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In 1956 Johnny Marks — a Jewish songwriter whose creative output also includes “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” “Run, Rudolph, Run,” “Silver and Gold,” “A Holly, Jolly Christmas,” and all of the other songs from the Rudolph holiday TV show — devised a lovely tune for a few stanzas from Longfellow’s poem.

I’m not sure why this song touches me so deeply…

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Perhaps it is an echo of Longfellow’s broken-heartedness and faith reverberating from the depths of America’s civil war to our present moment of cultural unrest…

I am grateful to be reminded of the gentle power of words and music during this season of short days and long nights.

I am grateful to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons and Stephen Fischer and Jinny Sagorin for the images in this blog post.

And I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

May we experience more peace and empathy in the new year!

RedBellOnChristmasTree