It’s quite dark yet beautifully made — and reminds me of a similarly high-quality series called “House Of Cards” from several years ago.
Both of them explore power and how we human beings are often overtaken and damaged by it.
They also both opened my eyes to how complicated, interconnected and corrupt our human-created world can be… especially when our wounded hearts lead us astray into greed, retribution, domination and revenge.
I watched several episodes before bedtime; so it is probably not a surprise that I woke up in the middle of the night and was unable to fall back asleep…
So I got out of bed and skimmed my inbox — which these days means that I deleted inumerable emails asking for money from all sorts of political candidates and organizations — until I found two uplifting pieces of information.
1) News that Catherine Cortez Masso is projected to win her senate race here in the USA.
I am not a big fan of autumn — with ever-lengthening nights and ever-colder temperatures…
But I understand that I can’t experience spring and summer without also experiencing autumn and winter.
So I strive to accept and make peace with the arrival of autumn.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
This week I rode my bike from East Arlington (where I live) to Arlington Heights (where I lead Music Together classes three mornings per week) via a rail-to-trail bike path.
At one point there was a stretch of sugar maple trees with orange, red and yellow leaves silhouetted against a very blue sky.
And I had to acknowledge the beauty of autumn…
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Dedicated readers of this blog may remember a song called “The Beauty All Around” which I wrote not long after taking a class called “Ukulele for the Almost Musical” led by a wonderful teacher, Danno Sullivan.
I recorded it using my ukulele and Apple’s wonderful GarageBand application, and then I recorded a new piano/vocal version a few years later with pianist/engineer Doug Hammerat his terrific home studio.
Today we are experiencing unseasonably cool and windy weather in the Greater Boston area.
I sit on my back porch (wearing a winter coat for warmth) and listen to the cardinals, robins and mockingbirds who are all taking turns singing from the tops of nearby trees, roofs, and utility poles…
I also savor the marigolds, basil, kale, cilantro, and sunflowers sprouting in pots around me.
Sprouting seeds and growing plants fill my heart with hope.
It is such a weird and wonderful thing that a tiny speck of a seed can transform into a seedling!
To me it feels very similar to the mysterious miracle of how a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I am deeply honored to learn that last Friday Michelle at Boomer Eco Crusader published an entire blog post featuring my song “We’re Running A Big Experiment.”
I have been reading her blog for a couple of years.
I always find inspiration about ways to improve my life right now — as well as ways to improve the future lives of our children, grandchildren, and all the other beings who will inherit the fossil-fuel-driven messes that we are leaving as our legacy here on planet earth.
If you are not already following her blog, I heartily recommend you check it out by clicking here.
THANK YOU to Michelle and to everyone else who has been listening to — and sharing! — this song after it was officially distributed to various digital platforms earlier this month.
I am aware that music can at times be considered somewhat trivial/pointless/insignificant.
But at other times, it can be a vital glue that brings us together and inspires us.
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:
Microwave pre-set with popcorn.
Little pots of strawberry jam.
Little jar of mustard.
Watercress or heavy duty parsley.
Brie, cheddar, harvarti dill, goat, and cream cheeses.
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.
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.
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…
“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 Spotify, Pandora, Apple Musicand other digital music platforms.
More than two months has passed since my last blog post.
I started writing several drafts, but none seemed worthy of completion…
This morning, however, I awoke from very sweet dreams — about returning to my elementary school as an adult — and started the day by stretching on our back porch.
A mockingbird was singing a wonderfully idiosyncratic song from a nearby roof, and the sky above me was totally blue.
Many birds passed high in the sky — swallows swooping back and forth (maybe catching bugs?), a pair of ducks en route from one body of water to another, some cooing doves, a bright red cardinal, and a seagull.
It was first recorded by actress and singer Karen Akers in 1994, and since then it has been performed by a bunch of Broadway folks including Ben Platt, Betty Buckley, Brian Lane Green, and Sutton Foster.
When I recorded it with pianist Doug Hammer, I was still working as the assistant director of a non-profit in Harvard Square — the Cambridge Center for Adult Education — and longing to break free from my day job so that I could devote myself to making music.
I had started at the CCAE by volunteering to help with a new musical series that the PR director, a wonderful singer named Tracy Gibbs, was putting together called The Cabaret Connection.
My offer to help transformed into a part-time job overseeing not only The Cabaret Connection but also another series called The Jazz Chair and a few other special events.
Then I began sharing responsibility for publicizing these events, and when Tracy left for a new job, I was offered a full-time position as PR director for the entire CCAE.
This was not my plan.
My plan was to have a part-time day job so that I could continue to do plenty of music on the side.
But now my day job would INCLUDE music — and I would gain new perspectives (such as what it was like to have performers contacting me about the possibility of being booked into one of our musical series…)
So I said, “Yes.”
After a few years, our development director left, and I took over her responsibilities as well.
Eventually I became assistant director and helped to bridge the transition between the retirement of our beloved executive director and the arrival of his successor.
Then I was laid off.
Time for a deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
This was a surprise and a shock — but perhaps also a blessing.
I had been working 40-70 hours per week for many years — and I was grateful to slow down.
I also have a fair amount of “the disease to please” in my emotional constitution as well as a low tolerance for risk.
So even though many of my more psychologically astute (and cherished) co-workers had seen the writing on the wall regarding the pros and cons of our new executive director and had found new employment elsewhere, I had remained loyal (or some might say “stuck”) to the longtime CCAE community of teachers, board members, students and volunteers.
Being laid off might have been the only way to get me to leave.
Now I listen to “Flight” with a very different perspective from when I first learned it — and was feeling such a longing to break free…
Now my time is completely my own — to vision, to plan, to shape, to fill!
I have nothing I want to escape.
My only deadlines are the minor ones I give myself AND the major ones related to climate change which loom ever larger and more terrifying with each passing day of denial and inaction.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I love the imagery in Craig’s lyrics — and the flow of the narrator’s thought processes from one moment to the next…
It reminds me of a sailboat tacking to and fro in response to the ever-changing winds.
However, we human beings were not satisfied with sailboats.
So we created the motorboat, which zooms, noisily and relentlessly — oblivious to what it might run over, hit, injure, or disrupt — in a straight line from point A to point B.
And then the airplane!
Life before fossil fuels seems like it was much less linear.
Paths and roads followed the curves of hills and streams — rather than being bulldozed or dynamited to create the most efficient and convenient line of travel.
I saw this same phenomenon in the sky this morning — with birds swooping in curvy lines while far above them a jet plane left a perfectly straight line of moisture and toxic emissions in the sky…
Yet another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
The desire to fly — and perhaps to fly away — has been with us human beings for thousands of years.
I often think about the myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus — who enthusiastically flew too high and too close to the sun (forgetting or ignoring his father’s warning about how the wax adhering the feathers of his marvelously-constructed wings could melt…) and fell to his death in the Mediterranean sea.
Oftentimes our human culture in the 21st century seems to be soaring ever higher on a frantic, teen-aged exuberance for relentless, profit-driven innovation and stimulation.
We ignore wise warnings about how our fossil-fuel-powered desires (for 24/7 computer functionality, for food at any hour of the day or night (much of it shipped from hundreds or even thousands of miles away), for the ability to travel via motorcycle, car, motorboat, ocean liner, bus, train, or plane wherever we want (and as much as we can afford… or choose to put on a credit card), for alternative currencies, etc. are leading us faster and faster towards global catastrophe.
One would think that any one of the challenges we have experienced in recent years here in the USA — flooding of major cities, changing weather patterns which have led to increased wildfires/hurricanes/tornadoes, as well as a year-long viral pandemic — might lead us to re-think and change our habits of consumption.
And might lead us to listen to scientists with a deepened respect.
But I don’t see much of that happening…
Denial is indeed an extraordinary human phenomenon.
I certainly understand why the likely scenarios — such as famine, wars over water and arable land, vast migrations of desperate refugees, more epidemics of diseases — are too terrifying for most of us to set aside any time to contemplate.
And — getting back to the topic of flight — the creation of rocket ships — which take our human desire for flight to an entirely different level.
I saw a posting on Facebook recently with which I immediately agreed:
“Mars sucks. Its weather sucks. Its distance sucks. Its atmosphere sucks. The little water it has…sucks. It has sucked for billions of years and will suck for billions more…
You know what doesn’t suck?
I have life.
I have vast oceans and lush forests.
I have rivers to swim and air to breath.
But the way I’m being treated — that part sucks.
You use me and pollute me.
You overheat me.
You use every resource I have, and return very little back from where it came.
And then you dream of Mars — a hellhole — a barren, desolate wasteland you can’t set foot on fast enough.
Why not use some of that creative energy and billions of dollars on saving me? You know, the planet that’s giving you what you need to live right now.
Mars can wait.
The only part of this posting with which I don’t agree is the idea that earth needs to be saved.
I am pretty confident that planet earth — having already withstood billions of years of evolutionary changes — will be OK.
We human beings are the ones whose existence is at stake — along with the millions of other forms of life (such as birds and bees and fungi and bacteria and trees and grasses and turtles and whales and algae and shrimp and wolves and bison) which are vital links in the amazing web of life here on planet earth which we are in the process of altering and destroying.
Awake, fellow humans!
Now is the time to make significant changes in how we live here on planet earth…
And I am realizing that it’s been over a month since my last blog post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
And, of course, I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.
The holidays are approaching, and I am staying home.
As Covid-19 cases rise exponentially around the USA, we are being advised not to travel.
And to limit all gatherings to as few people as possible.
And to wear masks.
And to socialize outside if possible.
It’s very difficult not to spend time with loved ones, especially during the holiday season.
I’ll participate in a couple of Zoom gatherings on Thanksgiving and probably on Christmas, too.
I recorded this song by Robert Allen and Al Stillman a few years ago with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.
Composer Robert Allen and lyricist Al Stillman wrote several hits for Perry Como (Allen was his accompanist for many years) and also for Johnny Mathis — such as “It’s Not For Me To Say” and “Chances Are.”
Al Stillman also had a decades-long career as a staff writer at Radio City Music Hall.
Both of them were Jewish.
As I have written in past blog posts, a lot of my favorite holiday songs were written or co-written by Jewish songwriters — including “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks.
Most of these composers and lyricists were immigrants or the children of immigrants.
I think of these songs as valuable threads in the social fabric/history of the USA.
However, when I was mixing this particular song with Doug via Zoom earlier this month, one word in the lyrics jumped out at me in a new way.
This year’s activism in the USA has changed the way I hear certain words — such as “Dixie.”
According to an article I found on WRAL.com — a North Carolina TV station’s website — “historians disagree about the origins of the word ‘Dixie.'”
“Some believe it derives from the Mason-Dixon line, between Maryland and Pennsylvania (which) was drawn in 1767 to resolve a border dispute between the colonies but later became the informal border separating the South and North.”
Other historians trace the word “Dixie” back to $10 notes in Louisiana in the 1800s.
On the back of these notes was printed “dix” — which means ten in French — and the Citizens’ Bank of New Orleans issued many of these notes before the Civil War.
They became known as “Dixies.”
The word “Dixie” appears in a LOT of popular songs dating from the middle of the 19th century right through most of the 20th century.
“I Wish I Was In Dixie” a.k.a. “Dixie” was written by Daniel Decatur Emmett and published in 1859 — although some historians believe that Ohio-born Emmett appropriated/stole it from an African-American family (also from Ohio) who performed for many decades as the Snowden Family Band.
“Dixie” originally appeared in minstrel shows — a very popular form of entertainment in which white performers impersonated and made fun of black people using racist stereotypes — which Dan Emmett performed in and produced all around the USA.
Then it became a popular Confederate Army marching song and an unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy.
I was surprised to learn that it was also a favorite song of Abraham Lincoln (who was born in Kentucky) and that many different sets of lyrics for “Dixie” have been written over the years by people living north AND south of the Mason-Dixon line.
You can read a Wikipedia article about the song by clicking here.
After the Civil War, the word “Dixie” continued to turn up in popular songs — often written by northern songwriters who had never even visited the south.
It was usually used to evoke a mythical way of life full of relaxed pleasures while completely ignoring the horrific history of slavery (which happened not just in the southern states but all over the USA, including on an estate in Medford, MA, just a short bike ride away from where I live outside Boston).
This is why the musical group The Dixie Chicks (whose name I did not realize was in part a pun on a beloved album and song, “Dixie Chicken” by the rock band Little Feat) recently decided to rename themselves The Chicks.
This is also why commissioners in Florida’s Miami-Dade county voted unanimously earlier this year to rename sections of the Old Dixie Highway under their jurisdiction as the Harriet Tubman Highway in honor of the abolitionist who led many, many enslaved people to freedom.
So… as soon as Doug is comfortable hosting other human beings in his recording studio again, I am going to re-record the line in “Home For The Holidays” which mentions Dixie — singing “Georgia’s southern shore” instead of “Dixie’s southern shore.”
I will also continue to wear a face mask whenever I go outside.
And I will remain grateful to live in a state led by a governor — and a Republican at that! — who respects science and scientists.
And I will continue to light a candle for all of the folks we have lost to Covid-19 so far.
Deep breath in…
Deep breath out…
Thank you to all of the health care professionals and hospital support staff who take care of folks with Covid-19 — even the people who refuse to wear masks or respect the fact that we are living in a public health emergency.
Thank you to all of the essential workers who staff our food stores and deliver our packages.
Thank you to Al Stillman and Robert Allen for writing “Home For the Holidays.”
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical AND production skills.
Thank you to Pixabay for most of the beautiful images in this blog post.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
May you have safe and loving holidays this year despite our current pandemic.