A Beating Heart (re-visited!)

I have been watching a TV series called “Peaky Blinders” recently.

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.

Image by Gloria Williams from Pixabay

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.

2) A wonderful blog post from Canada about the Japanese concept of IKIGAI which you can read by clicking here.

As Michelle explains it on her Boomer Eco Crusader blog, ikigai is similar to the French idea of raison d’être — which means “reason or justification for existence.”

And one can explore ikigai by reflecting upon four ideas/concepts/topics:

A) one’s own skills

B) the things one loves to do,

C) the things that the world needs,

and

D) activities one can be paid for.

Image by Angela C from Pixabay

Where all of these ideas/concepts/topics overlap is where one’s ikigai may be found.

And finding one’s ikigai can give one a reason to get up out of bed each morning…

Reading her blog post made me think immediately of a song I wrote called “A Beating Heart” — which I first shared in a blog post on April 29, 2014.

“A beating heart means you’re not dead.

A brand new start — get out of bed.

Your mission calls, and we all hope that you’ll succeed!

The time is here; the time is now.

So persevere; embrace the Tao.

Dear Lao Tse once decreed: only change is guaranteed…”

Image by Bohdan Chreptak from Pixabay

Deep breath in (like a whale…)

Deep breath out (like a whale…)

I have previously voiced a personal goal — which is to write shorter blog posts.

So I will end this blog post with a sincere hope that you, dear reader, are well on your way to finding your own ikigai!

And with thanks to Michelle for her inspiring blog.

And with thanks to the wonderful photographers and graphic artists at Pixabay.

And with thanks to Doug Hammer, for playing his Schimmel grand piano while also recording us at his terrific home studio.

And with thanks to Ashley Lieberman, who recently performed “A Beating Heart” here in the Boston area.

And with thanks to YOU for reading and listening to yet another one of my blog posts!

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find many songs and learn more about my musical life here on planet earth if you are curious.

You can also find “A Beating Heart” on various digital music platforms by clicking here.

You can also find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano — on SpotifyPandoraApple Music, YouTube and other digital music platforms.

Any song you “like” or “heart” or add to one of your playlists will improve the algorithmic activity of my music there!

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Very gratefully yours,

— will

The Beauty All Around (version 3…)

It’s autumn here in New England.

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.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

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.

Image by Ulrike Draper from Pixabay 

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 Hammer at his terrific home studio.

You can hear both versions in a blog post dated March 27, 2014 if you are curious.

I had been sitting on the Doug Hammer version for many years, intending to overdub a bunch of harmony vocals before releasing it.

But then I crossed paths with singer Carole Bundy and singer/pianist/songwriter/arranger Molly Ruggles.

And Molly added harmony lines for her and Carole to sing.

And we included it in a service at their Unitarian-Universalist church in Medford, MA.

And we sang it during several Porchfest performances.

And finally last December we recorded it for our first 8-song CD.

Hurrah!

So far we’ve given away or sold about 50 CDs and also have begun releasing some of the songs via digital music platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.

Right now we are working on new songs for a benefit performance on Saturday, October 29th at 7:30pm to raise money for the social justice programs at the UU Church in Medford.

Among other things that church runs a much-needed food pantry and is currently hosting a family who managed to get out of Afghanistan earlier this year.

We’ve been rehearsing in the main sanctuary of the church, and it has been a great pleasure to experience the excellent acoustics of the space.

So much is happening right now in the USA — and all around this small, blue-green planet!

Accelerating climate catastrophes such as drought, forest fires, hurricanes, flooding, polar ice/ permafrost melting…

Ongoing health anxieties related to COVID, the flu, monkeypox, and whatever else may be coming down the pike…

The horrible war in Ukraine…

The rise of fascist political rhetoric and activity and actions here in the USA and in many other countries around the world…

And the list goes on and on…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

My coping methods to deal with all of these challenges include:

Image by Johnnys_pic from Pixabay 

1) Personalizing and sending lots of cards and letters to potential voters in swing states…

2) Riding my bike, walking, or taking public transportation…

3) Singing with the families in my Music Together classes and also with Carole and Molly…

4) Donating tiny amounts of money to tight political races all around the country…

5) Savoring moments of beauty in the non-human world…

So far we have not yet had a frost; so the cosmos, zinnias, and daisies in my neighbors’ front yards are still blooming brilliantly.

And the basil and marigolds on my back porch are still going strong, too!

Thank you to Carole and Molly for our ongoing musical journey.

Thank you to my Music Together families — past, present and future!

Thank you for a roof over my head, clean drinking water, food to eat (much of it from a local organic farmshare!), a steadfast and loving partner, and a still-beating heart.

Thank you to Peter Kontrimas, who did the initial recording of our eight songs, and to Doug Hammer, who helped us mix and master them via Zoom.

Thank you for the great photographs from Pixabay.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my (not-particularly-frequent) blog posts.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

PS: You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find many songs (and learn more about my musical life here on planet earth if you are curious).

You can also find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano — on SpotifyPandoraApple Music, YouTube and other digital music platforms.

Boomer Eco Crusader!

Image by Christy Mesker from Pixabay

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.

Image by MetsikGarden from Pixabay

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.

Image by Peggychoucair from Pixabay

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.

If you are curious to listen to “We’re Running A Big Experiment” directly, you can click here for links to various digital music platforms (such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, etc.)

And if you resonate with it — please feel free to share it with other kindred spirits.

Image by tookapic from Pixabay 

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing the piano on this song and also recording, engineering, mixing, and mastering it with me.

Thank you to Stephen Fischer and his graphic design students who helped to create the artwork for this song.

Thank you to the photographers at Pixabay for their wonderful images.

And Happy Juneteenth to any/all readers in the USA!!!

Image by janeb13 from Pixabay 

Simple Rules…

Greetings after another long pause between blog posts!

I hope you remain well — fellow blogger or visitor from beyond the world of WordPress — and I am very grateful that you are reading this blog post.

I have continued reading (and commenting on) other blog posts during the past many months, but I didn’t have anything I felt compelled to blog about.

When I logged into my account yesterday, however, and looked at my stats, I was delighted to find that people have continued visiting my blog and listening to music even when I am not actively blogging.

Thank you!!!

Photo of Åland Islands by Lau Svensson — licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

It is truly inspiring to learn that — in the first three weeks of May — folks have visited from the USA, the UK, South Africa, Canada, Poland, Australia, Norway, Germany, India, Italy, China, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the Åland Islands (which I just learned are part of Finland at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea).

I’ll say/write it again.

Thank you!!!

Molly, me and Carole after a porch gig in Maine

Today’s blog post features a song called “Simple Rules” written by my friend Molly Ruggles.

Molly is a songwriter, pianist, arranger and singer who recently retired from her day job at MIT.

She created this lovely vocal arrangement for her and me and our friend Carole to sing — and we recorded it during a brief lull in the Covid pandemic last December.

Molly, Carole and I — as well as the recording engineer Peter Kontrimas at whose studio we were fortunate to book a session — were well-vaccinated AND wore masks except for when we were in our separate recording booths (connected via headphones with each other and with Peter).

We then fixed/mixed/tweaked/mastered it via Zoom with another great recording engineer, Doug Hammer — whose name will be familiar to many of my blog readers because he is also an astounding pianist with whom I have recorded many, many songs.

Molly’s song has inspired me to think about other “simple rules” that we human beings would do well to honor.

For example, this morning I read details on a BBC website about how many of the staff members at 10 Downing Street chose to ignore the official guidelines for appropriate behavior during a pandemic. One staffer explains that they felt that they were in a bubble (of privilege? of denial?) and thus ignored what the official guidelines were.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

One of my favorite “simple rules” is the rule/fact that we animals breathe out what plants need to stay alive (CO2) — and plants breathe out what WE need to stay alive (O2).

Photo of red panda eating bamboo by Pexels from Pixabay

I often feel as though we have done a very poor job educating each other about this profoundly simple rule.

Healthy oceans (full of plants ranging from single-celled phytoplankton to forests of kelp) and healthy forests (such as the Amazon jungle) and healthy agricultural fields and healthy gardens are not optional.

They are vital to every breath we are blessed to breathe — and which we hope to continue to breathe — here on planet earth!

Another simple rule/guideline which bears repeating again and again and again is the profound power of apology.

We all make mistakes.

In fact, making mistakes is an important way that we learn things — about how stoves can be too hot to touch, about how we need to look both ways before we cross a street, and about how lemon extract tastes more burningly bitter than delightfully sour (a shocking revelation which I learned at an early age when experimenting in the kitchen with my sister and one of her friends).

Photo by kalhh from Pixabay 

Apologies exist to repair human relationships when one person makes a mistake and hurts another person. Or another species. Or another community. Or an entire ecosystem.

In fact, I feel that much of the stress which we experience these days — directly in our own lives and indirectly from politicians, business leaders, and other authority figures — is due to past injuries for which no one has ever sincerely, authentically, and heartfully apologized.

Apologizing is not easy — but it is very worthwhile to do.

And if we are able to make amends for our mistake — taking action to make up for what has happened in the past — that is an even more profound act of healing.

Another deep breath in.

And another deep breath out.

I will end with one final simple rule: short blog posts are easier to read than long ones!

I am aware that I have written way-too-many, way-too-long blog posts in the past.

So I will cut this short and end with my customary thank yous… along with a lovely underwater photo of kelp (breathing in C02 and breathing out 02…)

Photo by Benjamin Davies from Pixabay 

Thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

Thank you to Molly Ruggles and Carole Bundy for their friendship and for our shared love of music.

Thank you to Peter Kontrimas and to Doug Hammer — for their patient engineering expertise.

And thank you to the photographers at Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons for their lovely images.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find more songs (and learn more about my musical life here on planet earth if you are curious).

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

Carole, me and Molly performing in upstate New York

I earn only a fraction of a cent any time someone plays one of my recordings on a digital music service — but they all add up…

And if you are inspired to create a “Will McMillan featuring Doug Hammer” channel, that is even more helpful.

Lastly, if you live in the Boston area, Carole, Molly and I will be performing as part of Arlington Porchfest on Saturday, June 18th (rain date: Sunday, June 19th) here in East Arlington, MA.

We would love to see you if you decide to drop by for a song (or more!)

Help Is On The Way

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay 

“Don’t give up the ship — even when you feel it sinking and you don’t know what to do…” writes David Friedman in his great song, “Help Is On The Way.”

I found myself thinking about this song when I heard Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say “Help is on the way!” on TV after helping to pass the American Rescue Plan.

Although I have not been able to confirm this from searching the internet, I think David Friedman created this song during a previous plague — HIV/AIDS.

I wrote about David in a post three years ago which you can read if you are curious by clicking here.

Image by Plz from Pixabay

Some were willing and able to ignore the threat of HIV/AIDS when it appeared — as some are still attempting to do with COVID-19.

However, HIV/AIDS left a vast trail of shock and grief for many human beings — as COVID-19 is now doing…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I thought of this song again when I was listening to yet another medical expert pleading with us to continue to wear masks, wash our hands, and practice physical dustancing.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

“We have the football on the five-yard line,” he said, “and we’ve got to hang in there so that we don’t lose possession of the ball when we are so close to making a touchdown and winning the game.”

His football metaphor was inspired by the fact that many states in the USA are currently relaxing health measures even as new — more communicable and possibly more lethal —varieties of the COVID-19 virus are spreading exponentially around the country.

Apparently we are now in a contest to see if we can vaccinate enough people before we are overtaken by yet another tidal wave of infections due in part to these new genetic variations and in part to us human beings letting down our guard.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

My heart goes out in particular to the health care workers who — amazingly — continue to care for people infected with Covid whether the infected people had chosen to take Covid seriously in the first place or not…

I’m not a healthcare worker or someone with a job that requires interaction with the public or a senior citizen.

So I’m wearing a mask when I go outside for my daily walks and waiting patiently — as I know many of us are — until I become eligible to get vaccinated.

Singer Bobbi Carrey, pianist Doug Hammer and I recorded this song many years ago as part of a musical program called IN GOOD COMPANY which explored working and business and capitalism using songs and stories.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I consider it to be a quintessential “helps me get out of bed in the morning” song.

And I’ve been needing these sorts of songs in recent weeks — because I’ve been feeling rather crabby.

Maybe it’s the rising spring energy of the northern hemisphere as we struggle — like bulbs — to push our way through the thawing soil towards the sun.

Maybe it’s the fact that a pandemic which we all thought might last a month or two has now stretched past the one year mark…

Maybe it’s an at-times-overwhelming sense of empathy for all of the folks who have already died due to Covid-19 — AND for their grieving family + friends.

Maybe it’s a sense of frustration that we human beings seem to have done an extremely poor job of teaching one another about the formidable power of exponential growth.

One doubles and becomes two.

Two doubles and becomes four.

Four doubles and becomes eight.

Eight doubles and becomes sixteen.

Sixteen doubles and becomes thirty-two.

Thirty-two doubles and becomes sixty-four.

Sixty-four doubles and becomes one hundred-and-twenty eight.

And sooner than one might think possible, the total rises into the thousands, then millions, then billions…

Understanding exponential growth deepens one’s respect/humility/awe/terror for how a virus left un-checked spreads exponentially through a host population — and thus has vastly more opportunities to mutate into new varieties as a result…

This is why we need to be distributing COVID-19 vaccines to every country in the world — even countries such as Tanzania, led by a Covid-denying leader who recently died after an 18-day period of ill health…officially attributed to a heart condition and unofficially speculated to have been Covid-related.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Clearly it is a huge challenge to change anyone’s mind when they have very strong convictions about a particular topic.

Here in the USA the Covid-related death of a newly elected, incoming, 41-year-old congressman from Louisiana — Luke Letlow — has done little to change the mindset and behavior of some of his Republican colleagues regarding the severity of the risk of Covid infection.

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I don’t entirely believe the message of this song — although I WANT to believe it because it gives me hope.

My favorite line is probably “from friends we may not have met yet.”

I feel that way about some of my fellow bloggers, and also about some of the photographers on Pixabay.

Now that I have started including their names underneath their beautiful photographs, I have begun noticing that certain photographers have taken a LOT of the photos I’ve used in past blog posts.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

David Mark is one of them.

Many of the images in this blog post were taken by him.

And he has thousands more at Pixabay.

I will end this blog post with several more of his lovely images.

Thank you to David Friedman for his wonderful songs and to Forbes Magazine for this great interview with him.

Thank you to Doug Hammer and to Bobbi Carrey for their heartful musicianship.

Thank you to all the “friends we may not have met yet” — who are growing our food, developing new vaccines, taking care of us in hospitals, working in grocery stores, delivering packages, etc. etc. etc.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Thank you to Pixabay and all of the photographers who generously share their images there — and allow me to travel far and wide around this extraordinary planet earth without leaving my living room.

Thank you to the cardinals who have been singing and singing and singing in my neighborhood in recent days.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Thank you for the return of spring here in New England.

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

I’ve re-designed my website in recent months to include a LOT more music — and you are always welcome to visit there.

You can also find me on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and other digital music platforms.

One more deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

“Help is on the way…”

Say Moon, Say Stars, Say Love…

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

So far everything has gone well.

For this I am deeply grateful.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new sense of respect…

A new vision for the future…

And new words…

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

Yes.

New words!

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

Fear.

And pain.

Pain from past hurts…

Past losses…

Past disrespects…

Past disappointments…

Past abandonments…

Past abuses of trust…

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

Yes.

Pain.

And fear.

I breathe them in.

And then I breathe them out.

Ahhhhh….

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

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

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

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

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

And comfort.

And acknowledgement.

And justice.

And inspiration.

And healing.

We shall see…

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I feel hope.

I feel love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet ANOTHER deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

This song inspires me to stick with love.

Thank you to Maury Yeston for writing it.

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

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

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

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

One more deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh…

This is why I do what I do.

If you are curious to learn more about my musical life here on planet earth, you are welcome to visit my website.

You can also find me on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and other digital music platforms.

It’s Not Over…

I’ve been feeling stunned and disheartened and — yes — terrified by the events unfolding recently here in the USA.

Maybe you have been feeling something similar.

And I have been wondering — yet again — how music might in some small way help to heal the soul of our country.

I shared a blog post 14 months ago which featured a song I co-wrote called “Let The Day Unfold” and which I recorded using Apple’s wonderful GarageBand program.

You can click here for a link to that blog post if you are curious.

The version I am sharing at the top of today’s blog post is a stripped down piano + vocal recording I made with the wonderful pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

There are so many things one could write about recent events here in the USA that I find it hard to know where to begin.

Here are just a few thoughts that have jumped out at me…

Many white Americans I have seen on TV (and heard on the radio and read online) who have been attempting to make sense out of what recently transpired in our nation’s capital have said things like, “This is not who we are as a country.”

And many people of color have responded — respectfully and persistently — by saying, “Actually, this IS who we are as a country. This IS who we have been as a country for hundreds of years.”

I have found that when I listen to the news nowadays, all I want to hear is what people of color are saying, thinking, feeling and yes — for what must feel like the umpteenth time to them — explaining to the rest of us.

They have lived with violence and threats of violence and terrorist acts — such as public murders/lynchings — for generation after generation after generation.

And — as one woman’s extraordinarily articulate and passionate viral video this summer further explained — they are not (amazing to me…) seeking vengeance.

They are seeking justice.

In recent days I have heard several African-American college historians explain, and re-explain, and explain yet again how every advance made by people of color in this country has been met by a huge — and terrifying — backlash from unhappy (and extremely vengeful) white folks.

They have pointed to our recent election of the first African-American/South Asian-American woman as vice president as well as the election of the first African-American and Jewish-American US senators from the southern state of Georgia as being one of the precipitating factors in the white mob take-over of our Capital building last Wednesday.

Ashton Lattimore, in a recent Prism report explains:

“Any flex of political power by Black and brown people in the United States (is) followed by a reactionary white supremacist show of force. The pattern of racist white backlash to the barest hint of racial progress has persisted since the earliest days of the republic up until now, from antebellum white mobs attacking free Black people essentially just for existing, to the Civil War itself and post-Reconstruction violence punishing Black self-determination in Tulsa, to the violent resistance to the civil rights movement, and then the enraged, panicked genesis of the Tea Party and the Trump era immediately after the election of the first Black president. Against that historical backdrop, the white insurrectionist takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was as predictable as a pendulum’s swing.”

You can read her entire article by clicking here.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

My brain now turns to is something I read earlier today.

A Republican congressman was explaining why many of his colleagues in the House of Representatives continue to support the charade of voter fraud even after an angry mob had burst into the Capitol building and sent them all into hiding.

According to him, they are scared about the safety of their family members.

That’s what terrorism does.

It makes people scared.

I empathize with these scared congressmen and congresswomen AND I want to say to them, “Do you get it now?! This is what people of color have been living with for hundreds of years! Do you get it now?!”

I wonder if any of them do or will.

I have certainly been slow to get it — or at least to begin to get it…

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

I chose photographs of sunrises for this blog post from the Pixabay website because I am guessing that most of us have already seen more than enough disturbing images from our nation’s capital.

I hope you are finding ways — going for a well-masked walk, stretching, visiting with loved ones via Zoom, singing, praying, writing, cooking, etc. — to keep well during this seemingly-ever-more-challenging time in our lives.

I offer my (perhaps now familiar) thanks for food, for shelter, for employment, for electricity, for internet access, for running water, for soap, for friends and family, for Doug Hammer, and for my fellow bloggers.

Let the day unfold… this life is wide open.

Every plan we make… can be broken.

We’ve got to find the strength to lose some of our cherished point of views…

We’ve got to have hope… it’s not over!

ps: I am aware that the correct grammar for the chorus of “Let The Day Unfold” is “cherished pointS of view,” but that didn’t rhyme as well.

pps: If you are wanting to hear even more music which might comfort and/or inspire your spirit, you are welcome to visit the mini-website which songwriter Barbara Baig and I have started to honor her (similarly titled) song “Let Me Be Strong.”

We’d love to hear from you there!

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

Just Stay With Me…

It’s a gray day here in the Boston area.

Rain is forecast for Christmas Day, which will probably melt the snow that fell last week.

Lot of folks are curtailing their holiday plans and modifying — or outright cancelling — long-standing family traditions in response to the fact that hospitals around the USA are again overloaded with Covid-19 cases.

And the infection numbers just keep rising…partly due to all the traveling that folks did a few weeks ago during Thanksgiving.

And the refrigerated trailer trucks parked outside of hospitals continue to fill up with the bodies of folks who have died — with no friends or family members at their side — as a result of this public health tragedy.

This is sad on so many levels.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Even in the best of years, winter holidays can be a very difficult time for some of us.

I read a couple of blog posts by my fellow bloggers this morning while I was avoiding other tasks on my “to do” list.

Clare from North Suffolk in England shared a bit about the challenges her family is facing this year, especially those who already experience high levels of anxiety about life here on planet earth.

She writes: “The damage all this isolation and lock-down is doing to so many people, physically, mentally and financially is unimaginably great…”

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Clare’s blog post reminded me of this song, written by John Meyer (in the audio player above).

I do not remember when I first heard “After The Holidays.”

Judy Garland performed it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1968 — and many copies of that performance can be found on YouTube.

I am guessing that it was included on some sort of Judy Garland compilation CD — released long after her death in 1969 — which I ended up listening to…

Here is Judy in 1963, photographed by Richard Avedon.

The man who wrote the song, John Meyer, had an intense, three-month-long relationship with Judy when he was starting his career as a writer.

He chronicles it in a very vivid book he wrote called Heartbreaker.

I think his relationship with Judy ended when she got serious about another man, Mickey Deans.

Here she is with Mickey in London during their wedding on March 15, 1969.

Judy was living with Mickey in London when she died on June 22, 1969.

It is my understanding, after reading many books about Judy Garland, that she often did not like to be left alone.

Mel Torme — a wonderful singer who also co-wrote “The Christmas Song” — wrote a book about his time working on Judy’s TV series.

In it he talks about becoming a member of “The Dawn Patrol” — a select group of staff members who would take turns spending the night with Judy and reassuring her that her show was going well.

Loneliness is certainly something that most of us have experienced at one time or another.

And loneliness during the holidays can be particularly excruciating.

By a sweet coincidence, while I was avoiding things on my “to do” list, I also found a video on YouTube about two dogs, Taco (a chihuahua) and Merrill (a pit bull mix), who were dropped off at a shelter together and did NOT want to be seperated.

In hopes of finding someone who would be willing to adopt both of them, the people who worked at their shelter started sharing posts via social media about their special bond.

They ended up being adopted by a family who started a Facebook page about them, because so many other people wanted to know what had happened to them.

Hurrah for this one, small, canine happy ending!

I also would like for this blog post to have a happy musical ending.

So I am including links to several songs which pianist Doug Hammer and I have released this month to various musical platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.

You can click here to listen to our version of “We Need A Little Christmas.”

You can click here to listen to our version of “Winter Wonderland.” 

You can click here to listen to our version of “The Christmas Song.”

You can click here to listen to our version of “Silver Bells” (which was featured in a recent blog post).

And you can click here to listen to our version of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”

Thank you to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons for the images in this blog post.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his gifts as a pianist as well as a recording engineer.

Thank you to John Meyer for his beautiful song and to Judy Garland for being the first person to breath life into it.

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

May your holiday season be filled with comforting music and light.

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

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.


I Heard The Bells…

I Heard The Bells…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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