We Need A Little Christmas!

We Need A Little Christmas!

 

Although it is still autumn for another two weeks here in the northeastern United States, last weekend we had our first big snow storm.

SnowonBranchesatFarm

So it feels like winter has already begun, with the holidays of Solstice and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Christmas looming on the horizon…

As recent readers of this blog may recall, my two sisters live on a farm in upstate New York.

SnowBranchesBarn

One of them has lived there for many years, is a terrific photographer, and has agreed to let me use her photos in this blog post. You can click here to read a post from two years ago which also featured her photos and the song “Winter Wonderland.”

StellaWalkingInSnow

My sisters take at least one long walk with their dogs each day.

Stella, a very large black Lab mix, is unfazed by rain or snow.

StellaInSnowByFalls

My younger sister and nephew moved from California a couple of summers ago.

He, too, is unfazed by snow…

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Their beloved dog of 14 years recently died, and after some reflection they decided to welcome a herding dog into their lives.

This is Tasso.

RyderandTassoSplitWood

Right now he’s still growing.

But eventually he will help with these woolly beings..

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My older sister works in Cornell’s department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.

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This is one of the reasons why she invited several pregnant Icelandic ewes onto the farm last winter.

SheepArrivingInTruck

Here is a sampling of their un-dyed wool…

They have a soft, insulating undercoat as well as a hardy outer coat which helps them keep warm during the winter months.

SnowFootprints

My older sister also has a very hardy flock of Australorps who are willing to venture out into the snow if someone offers something delicious such as sunflower seeds.

SnowChickens

They have been very healthy and generous egg-producers.

My sister has learned firsthand how intimately connected with sunlight their egg-laying cycles are.

Egg production drops off as the days get shorter and gradually picks back up after the winter solstice.

TwoFreshEggsCloseup

I continue to be amazed that hens can create such enormous and beautiful and nutritious objects inside their bodies ON A DAILY BASIS!!!

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My sister feeds them organic grain from a local mill and lots of left-over vegetables — and in non-snowy months they forage outside all day long, too.

She sells some of the eggs to local customers, and her family consumes a goodly number of them, too.

During the holidays my grown up nephew and niece and her husband return to town to partake in various family rituals.

JasperHoldingTree

The cutting of a tree..

MakingGingerbread

The baking…

And decorating of cookies.

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The chopping of wood…

SIngingwithCandles

The singing of songs…

SolsticeTorches

The lighting of torches with cousins to drive away the winter’s gloom…

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The trimming of the tree…

PieWithLeaves

The baking of pies…

PomegranateSeeds

The eating of pomegranates…

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And those daily walks around the farm with the dogs…

SnowPondReflection

Past the irrigation pond…

SnowyBlueFieldAt Farm

Along the edge of a field…

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Admiring the beauty of an invasive species…

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Sometimes shoveling a path…

SheepSniffingJasper

Sometimes visiting with a sheep…

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Or watching a squirrel’s adventures on the side of one of the barns…

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Under which Stella is taking a break…

StellaSnowTobaccoShed
I have long loved the song “We Need A Little Christmas” — written by the songwriter Jerry Herman for Angela Lansbury to sing in the musical Mame.

AngelaJerryCarol

Here he is with Angela and Carol Channing, who starred in another one of his hit musicals — Hello Dolly.

Pianist/composer Doug Hammer and I recorded the version in the player at the beginning of this blog post several years ago.

I also perform it each December as part of an hour-long program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and composers which jazz pianist Joe Reid and I bring to Boston-area retirement communities and public libraries.

SheepWhiteCloseUp

In our current era of cultural polarization, I am grateful to remember that some of our favorite winter holiday songs — including “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (and all of the other songs from that animated TV special), “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a. “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire”), “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and “White Christmas” — were written or co-written by Jewish-American songwriters.

I thank them for their creativity and their appreciation/respect for the loving spirit of Christmas.

I thank my older sister for letting me grab all of these photos (except the one of Angela, Jerry and Carol) from her Facebook archives.

WillInSnowyFieldAtFarm

And I — standing in snowy field during a visit to upstate NY — thank you for reading and listening to another blog post.

May you enjoy healthy and happy holidays during this season of short days and long nights…

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And maybe some pie and tapioca pudding and colorful root vegetables, too…

StrawberryRhubarbTapioca

 

 

The Look of Love!

The Look of Love!

 

My last few posts have been a bit grim.

So here’s a post filled with joy and happiness.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Last fall my niece married her boyfriend at a beautiful place called the Treman Center in upstate NY not far from the farm where she spent most of her childhood and teen years — and where her mother still lives.

Here she is with her father, husband, mother, brother, and dog.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

My niece recently gave me access to a huge cache of their wedding photos, which I plan to feature in two separate blog posts.

Today’s theme is “The Look Of Love…”

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

The Treman Center is itself a labor of love by a wife and husband team — full of all kinds of beauty. The husband is a tremendous stone mason. The wife is a terrific host who — among her many gifts — is also an extraordinary makes-things-beautiful person.

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Beauty can be found everywhere at the Treman Center — as well as whimsy, such as this rubber ducky floating in their reflecting pool…

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My niece’s husband’s family also lives in the area, and we have loved becoming friends with them over the past six years.

DawnTimAnn

At first I did not understand why my niece and her (then) boyfriend wanted to have a fancy wedding.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

But as soon as I arrived at the Treman Center, I got it.

They wanted to create and share a weekend of love and beauty with a small tribe of their nearest and dearest.

Weddings can be a transformative event not only for the bride and groom, but also for the community of family, friends, and beloved pets whom they invite to surround them, bear witness to their vows, and celebrate with them.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

This wedding proved to be a wonderful mix of hands-on work by family and friends + catered deliciousness which wove everyone together in new ways.

A&S Wedding Cake 1

For example, the wedding cake was made by the groom’s mother.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

It featured custom-made replicas of the groom and the bride plus their beloved dog.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

All of the flower arrangements — except for the bouquets and boutonnieres of the bridal party — were grown and harvested and assembled by local family members who spent most of Friday focused on this exquisite undertaking.

A&S Wedding FlowerTeam

Here is some of their — and mother nature’s — handiwork…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

All of the wedding favors for guests were also grown, harvested, and preserved by members of our family.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

My other sister (the bride’s aunt) is — among many other things — a terrific chef, and she took leadership of a pre-wedding pickling marathon.

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Yum!!!

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

My sisters also canned a lot of peach-raspberry jam…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

And my sisters’ neighbors keep bees; so some guests took home jars of local honey, too.

Many friends and family members also pitched in to make pies.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

A lot of pies…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

They were served from a Ferris Wheel Of Pie — which was something I had never seen before.

And very delicious.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Friday night was the rehearsal dinner, and somehow the caterers were running late.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

So everyone — except the bride and groom — pitched in to set up tables, plates, glasses, silverware on the second floor of the elegantly converted barn that is the heart of the Treman Center.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Working together like this is one of my favorite ways to spend time with other human beings — and a tried-and-true way to jumpstart a sense of shared purpose and community.

After dinner the father of the bride — who is a professional trumpeter — and I and a dear friend of the bride and groom who happens to be a great pianist (and who had driven all the way from Norfolk, VA, with his fiancee to be part of the celebration) sang jazz standards at a funky old Steinway which graces the Treman Center.

WalterDavisWill1

My niece wore a beautiful and very red dress.

AriannaRedDress1

She had a terrific group of friends as bridesmaids, and the spirit throughout the weekend was often quite playful.

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The groomsmen were also full of fun and creativity.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

I love this photo of the groom and his parents.

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The bride’s quietly extraordinary  younger brother (my older nephew) was part of the bridal party, and pitched in to help at every conceivable opportunity.

AriannaJasperDress

Their mother is a hardworking farmer and photographer who like many hardworking farmers — and photographers — also has a day job.

Currently she works at Cornell University’s department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design — which meant that she was able to have a gown created for her by an up-and-coming clothing designer.

ChristianneInSilverDress

One of the unexpected pleasures of this wedding was seeing friends and family members whom I usually see in shorts and swim suits — or in the case of my sister, a one-piece jumpsuit which she wears when she takes care of the chickens and sheep and gardens on her farm — wearing somewhat fancier clothing.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Everyone cleaned up very nicely!

YoungCousinsGolfCart

My younger nephew and some of my younger cousins looked very sharp when they were given permission to drive a golf cart around the venue.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

The wedding ceremony was held in a stone courtyard which had all sorts of fruit trees growing in huge planters.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

While everyone was assembling on Saturday afternoon before the ceremony began, the pianist friend and I shared more standards while the bride’s father rocked his trumpet.

WalterAppleTree

He has toured with Wynton Marsalis, Maynard Ferguson, and Harry Connick, Jr. among others…

SepChristianneArianna

I will share lots of photos from the actual wedding ceremony in my second (future) post.

Here are a few observations:

The groom is very tall.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

He has a wonderful family.

And he and my niece are very fond of each other.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

If I am remembering correctly, they originally met when he was an assistant coach for her crew team.

They both went to the same college — although they didn’t overlap as undergraduates because he is a few years older — and their romance began when they both worked on the island of Elba in the Mediterranean one summer.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

She was the cook and he was the gardener on the estate of a college professor.

She wrote a wonderful blog which documented many of her adventures on Elba — culinary and otherwise. You can click here to get a taste of her blog if you are curious…

One of the highlights of the ceremony on Saturday was the ring-bearer — their beloved dog companion named Dozer.

SepDozer

The ceremony was not-too-long and very sweet — culminating, of course, with a lovely kiss.

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After this was dinner.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

And an extraordinary sunset.

A&S Wedding Sunset

The proactive and very congenial wedding photographers grabbed the bride and groom for a sunset portrait…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Then we all danced for several hours in varying states of abandon to a great live band.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Dancing was interspersed with a few wedding games.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

And the cutting of the cake…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

One of the unplanned highlights of the night was when the band started playing the song “Uptown Funk” — which my younger nephew had previously memorized to perform in a talent show at his school.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

One of the singers in the band gave my nephew a mic so that he could lead us in what became a Dionysian explosion of energy on the dance floor.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

If you got tired of dancing, there was also a wall for Polaroid photos + written thoughts…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

And lots of bittersweet ice cream…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

I will devote a future blog post to the wedding ceremony itself — which included its own spontaneous surprise from their beloved ringbearer, Dozer.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Thank you to my niece and nephew-in-law for letting me blog about their wonderful wedding.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Thank you to everyone who pitched in to help make this such a loving and delicious and memorable wedding celebration.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Thank you to Julian Huarte with Couple of Dudes Photography, to Mary Bloom (a longtime family friend and professional photographer), and to everyone else whose photos of the wedding I have included in this blog post.

Thank you to Nina Vansuch, Michael Ricca, and Brian Patton for recording the two-song medley (included at the beginning of this post) with me many years ago. You can click here to hear more of our music at CD Baby.

And thank YOU for reading all the way to the end of this post!

Time To Pull Our Emergency Brake

Time To Pull Our Emergency Brake

 

I haven’t written a new blog post for over a year.

And I am amazed to discover — after visiting my stats page — that people have continued to visit my site.

THANK YOU to everyone who nosed around my blog while my creativity was lying fallow for the past thirteen months.

I’m sure exactly how or why I stopped writing new posts.

Partly — because we have created an economy which encourages us to replace and discard things as often as possible — I needed a newer computer, which a friend extraordinarily gave to me at the end of last year!

Partly I lost blogging momentum.

And partly I didn’t feel that I had much to share that would brighten anyone’s day.

ClimateChangeGraphicBut I HAVE continued to write new songs as well as create demos of my songs using Apple’s wonderful GarageBand program.

And I have continued to lead Music Together classes.

And I have continued to offer hour-long programs of music at retirement communities, assisted living homes, senior centers, and public libraries accompanied by pianist Joe Reid or pianist Molly Ruggles.

I started writing the song at the top of this blog post sitting on the porch with my dad and younger sister at a shared family cottage in upstate NY in the summer of 2015.

I was inspired to finish working on it by the youth-led climate march earlier this month.

Protest8

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I had a somewhat unusual childhood.

My mom, siblings, and I spent our summers at my grandmother’s home in Queens, NY (where my mom had grown up) while my dad stayed home in Washington, DC.

A few days each week we’d walk to the end of the block, get on a bus to Flushing, and then ride the #7 train into Manhattan so that we could go on interviews for TV commercials, voice-overs, modeling jobs, plays, and movies.

As I look back, I realize that it was rare for us ever to drive anywhere using a car during these summer months. We just used buses or trains.

Maybe this is why I still like to use public transportation.

When we started out, my older sister was five and I was an infant. Eventually my younger brother and sister were born and joined the process.

willa

This is what I looked like as a small child.

My family became very familiar with the lobbies, elevators, and waiting rooms of many advertising agencies (depicted in the TV series Mad Men) such as Young & Rubicam, Doyle, Dane & Bernbach, and Grey Advertising.

The ratio of interviews to actual jobs was very steep — and in my early years we considered ourselves a success if each one of us managed to film one commercial per summer.

However, the summer before fifth grade I was cast as a standby in a musical which was trying out at the newly-built Kennedy Center.

My parents allowed me to do this partly because we could live at home during the out-of-town preview period (although I would miss the start of fifth grade that fall), partly because most Broadway musicals flop, and partly because it would be exciting to watch Bob Fosse and the rest of his creative team build a new show,

The musical — Pippin — proved to be a hit, and we ended up moving to my grandmother’s house in Queens year round.

This is when my and my siblings’ careers gained a lot of momentum — since we were now able to audition for work year-round.

willc

This is what I looked like as my career gained momentum…

During the next three years I ended up doing many commercials, a couple of made-for-TV movies, another play, and a lot of voice-over work.

Then I entered prep school, and my life as a child performer came to an end.

willd

This is my last professional headshot.

With hindsight — and many years of psychotherapy — I have come to see how odd it was to learn to say “yes” to almost anything we were asked in an interview such as “Do you like to eat peanut butter on bananas?” or “Can you roller skate backwards?” or “Would you be comfortable singing and dancing on a tugboat in the harbor?”

People who said “no” (as one of my siblings did when asked if they liked to eat peanut butter on bananas…) didn’t get hired.

We were supposed to say “yes” and then — if we found out we had gotten a callback visit — we quickly learned how to do whatever we had claimed to be able to do during the initial interview.

Even more sobering is to realize that much of the time I was using my g-d given talents to encourage people to buy stuff that they didn’t need (more clothing, for example) or that was unhealthy to ingest (such as Ring Ding Juniors, Lifesavers, Oreos, and Dr. Pepper) as part of an economy built on our ongoing over-consumption of natural resources.

Protest6

The climate march this week and Greta Thunberg’s speech in Washington, DC a few days before it — in which she explains how necessary it is for all of us human beings to pull the emergency brake NOW on our fossil-fuel-driven lives — gave me a few minutes of much-needed hope.

But I continue to feel deeply discouraged by the stuckness/denial/apathy/fear regarding fossil-fuel consumption and climate change that I see all around me — in the media, in the advertising industry, in my neighborhood, in my friends’ lives.

Protest5

Almost everyone seems to be continuing to take lots of trips via airplanes and automobiles, continuing to eat lots of meat, continuing to use our air conditioners as much as we want, and continuing to behave as we have been behaving for the past many decades here in these not-so-united states.

And really, why should I expect anything different?

I know from psychotherapy how very difficult it can be to change one’s behavior.

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We in the USA have grown up in an era of hopes and dreams and habits and assumptions which are based on using way more than our fair share of fossil fuels.

Of course we can travel anywhere — and as often — as we want.

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Of course we can own as large a house as we want.

Cyclone

Of course everyone can own and drive a car, everyone can apply for jobs which require a car to commute, everyone can eat as much as we want in any season of the year — foods which may have traveled thousands of miles before ending up on our plates — and everyone can squander the amazing inheritance of fossil fuels from millions of years of photosynthesis by billions of plants that all of us here on planet earth have inherited.

CrackedEarthVersusMeadow

Deep sigh.

And if you can’t afford to do these things, you can pay for them using one or more credit cards and become ever more deeply in debt.

As you may know from having read previous blog posts, I am blessed to have cobbled together a very modest living during the past six years (after having been laid off from my day job helping run a non-profit in Harvard Square) which depends largely on bicycling and public transportation. GreenVersusDesertMindset

And I live quite happily without a cell phone.

But my sweetheart of 27 years DOES commute to work using a car.

And I gratefully use his cell phone when we drive to see friends and family around New England and New York.

Another deep sigh.

TiredPolarBear

What will it take for us to pull the emergency brake on our selfish, out of balance, unsustainable, fossil-fuel consuming, all-too-human habits?

Protest1

I think of the anecdotes I have read about conventional farmers who have converted to more sustainable, organic farming practices — but it’s often (very sadly) because they or someone in their family has developed some sort of disease as a result of exposure to toxic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.

MeltingIceberg

I wish we human beings could choose to make deep changes in our life habits without having to experience health/climate crises in our personal lives.

But maybe that’s the path we are on…

DeadTreeInDesert

What do you think?

How have you changed your daily habits in response to climate change?

Where do you find hope in these challenging times?

Protest2

Thank you, as always, to the folks who share their photos and graphics at Pixabay which is a wonderful resource for imagery.

Protest7

A Kind and Steady Heart!

A Kind and Steady Heart!

 

I recorded the song “That’ll Do” when I was part of a vocal quartet called At The Movies many years ago with fellow singers Nina Vansuch and Michael Ricca plus singer/pianist/arranger Brian Patton.

Arci's Place At The MoviesAll the songs we performed were related in some way to the film industry.

If you are curious, you can click here for a link to the CD we made together called Reel One.

“That’ll Do” appeared in a movie called Babe: Pig In The City — which was a sequel to the movie Babe.

BabePiginCity

Both of them featured extraordinarily well-trained animal actors plus a few human actors who illuminate heart-breaking lessons about ostracism and community, betrayal and faith, love and loss.

“That’ll Do” was written by Randy Newman — who has crafted songs and soundtracks for a bunch of movies including the Pixar Toy Story series.

RandyNewman

And it was originally sung by Peter Gabriel — who is also a great songwriter as well as a globally-engaged rock musician.

PeterGabriel

I love the wisdom of this song.

It feels like an antidote to many of the forces wreaking havoc on our cultural, political, and environmental landscapes these days.

Holiness

How easy it can be to overlook the gentle power of kindness…

And perseverance!

In an age of instant gratification, how reassuring to be reminded of the value of perseverance.

And steadiness!

And balance…

My mind immediately connects the concepts of steadiness and balance with boats — canoes, kayaks, row boats, and sail boats.

Kayaking

One doesn’t want to tip too far to the right OR to the left — unless one wants to capsize.

And one has to communicate and cooperate with any other beings (human, dog, cat — yes, our family even took our cats sailing with us on occasion) on the vessel, or else everyone aboard runs the risk of capsizing.

Space exploration notwithstanding, for the foreseeable future planet earth is our shared vessel, our shared home, our shared ark.

EarthInSpace

And some of us (almost all HUMAN beings) are making choices each and every day that are tipping ALL of us closer and closer to some epic/epoch capsizings.

What choices could each of us make differently which might lead us back in the direction of balance?

How might we live more simply?

How might we consume fewer shared resources?

“That’ll Do” reminds me somehow of social justice, too — of folks who are brave enough to show up and engage in non-violent social protests.

I am pretty sure steadiness is a hallmark of non-violent protest.

As is kindness.

GandhiI also appreciate that “That’ll Do” doesn’t espouse perfection as a goal.

The next blog post I write, or music class I lead, or song I create doesn’t have to be perfect.

I do not need to be cowed into inactivity by the powerful illusion of perfection.

Finally, “That’ll Do” reminds me of the humble — yet powerful — concepts of “enough” and “gratitude.”

I am grateful for the extraordinary blessings of today — such as the hundreds of people who work to bring food to my table, water to my faucets, power to my electrical devices, and peace to my neighborhood.

What I have right now is more than enough!

I am grateful to Michael Ricca, Nina Vansuch and Brian Patton for the hundreds of hours we spent rehearsing, performing, and eating home-cooked dinners together.

I am grateful to Randy Newman for writing so many terrific songs, and to Peter Gabriel for putting his heart into the original recording of this song, and to the extraordinary cast and crew of the Babe movies.

I am also grateful to Pixabay for most of the images in this blog post.

And I am grateful to you for reading and listening to another blog post.

ThankYouBlocks

Let’s show up with a kind and steady heart… and see what happens.

Heaven… Here on Planet Earth

Heaven… Here on Planet Earth

 

Anyone who has spent time on the outer arm of Cape Cod can be deeply grateful to John F. Kennedy due to the creation on August 7, 1961 of the Cape Cod National Seashore during his short presidency.

Cape_Cod_National_Seashore_Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia — which is where I borrowed this map — it includes over 68 square miles of “ponds, woods and beachfront (in) the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecoregion.”

It’s also where I and my sweetheart and various family members are fortunate to camp each summer during the last week of July and the first week of August — in North Truro on the Atlantic side of the outer arm (or wrist, really…) of the Cape.

TruroBeachDunesSkyIn 2010 the campground where we have stayed for over 25 years — called North of Highland — was protected with a conservation easement thanks to the hard work and generosity of many people and organizations — including JFK’s younger brother, Senator Ted Kennedy.

So hopefully it will remain in operation for generations to come!

For me camping in North Truro is heavenly…

This is a view of our site from a site which some of our family members rent above us.

UpperViewofCampsitebyAndrewWe are in a bowl which is home to pine trees, grasses, chipmunks, red squirrels, all sorts of birds, lots of ants, a few oak trees, crickets, various fungi, and quite a few blueberry bushes.

There are also visiting dragonflies, bees, mosquitos, horseflies, June bugs — who appear in the evening, attracted by our lights — and on some nights we can hear coyotes howling in the distance.

Although I have never seen a raccoon or opossum or rabbit or turkey or deer at our campsite, on one night someone DID get into our niece’s trash can.

So I am guessing that larger animals are around — just wisely inconspicuous during the day.

I love the way that sunlight dapples the trees and grass — and I love picking a few blueberries each morning.

BlueberryPlantThere weren’t very many this summer, which may be because it has been somewhat dry.

We only experienced rain three times this summer while we were camping — a) on the day we drove down to set up camp, b) once overnight, and c) a substantial storm on the day that we were packing up to return home.

When it rains I imagine how good the moisture must feel on the roots of all of the trees and shrubs and grasses.

Each berry is such a jewel… and hopefully there are plenty more for the folks camping at this site right now as well as for any animals who like to eat them, too.

BlueberryCloseup

I spend most of the day in our tent — which is quite spacious — with a ukulele, a little handheld digital recorder, a rhyming dictionary, two lap top computers, and several bags worth of song ideas.

Each morning I stretch and listen to song ideas I’ve accumulated during the previous months — or in some cases years — until something catches my fancy.

Then I focus on that particular idea for the rest of the day — writing lyrics, coming up with chords for a missing bridge, etc.

The song in the player at the beginning of this blog post is one I wrote a few camping sessions ago and later recorded with the pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

This is a view of our (green) screen house — where we cook and eat — and our (orange) tent.TwoTentsinBowlIf you look past our tents in the upper left corner of this photo, you can glimpse the tent site from which the first photo in this post was taken…

There are many, many things I love about camping.

For example, when we are camping, we become much more aware of our relationship with water — since we are carrying it in big multi-gallon containers down to our campsite for drinking and cooking and cleaning dishes.

CampingSinkAreaAlso all of the sinks in the bathrooms at the campground have faucets that automatically shut off after a couple of seconds.

And hot showers cost 25 cents for three minutes of bathing time.

I also love that there are LOTS of stars visible at night.

I went for several long walks along the beach late at night when the sky was clear  — and the moon so bright that I didn’t need to use a flashlight to see where I was going.

Being away from street lights and TV screens and radios — while spending hours and hours surrounded by birds and insects and trees and sky — helps me reconnect with what’s important.

Like time with family and friends.

And intact ecosystems.

TruroSandWaterSkyBefore dinner — which is often something delicious cooked by my brother-in-law who bikes to the local fish store on an almost daily basis, bless him — I usually walk down a pine-needle-covered path to the Atlantic ocean and swim.

In recent years the tide and winter storms have created a gully along the beach which ranges in depth from one to five feet depending upon the time of day.

Since there is now a robust population of seals who swim up and down this section of the Atlantic ocean — as well as great white sharks who come to eat them — my family is much happier if I swim laps in the gully rather than in the ocean.

TruroTrenchLifeGuardChairThere were a couple of great white shark sightings during our two weeks at the camp ground, and also one day when a bunch of whales cavorted within sight of the beach.

But I did not see them because I was working on new songs in my tent…

Everyday I checked in with a hydrangea plant which grows near the path to the bathrooms and showers.

HydrangeaPlantThere was so much happening on this plant — it was a world unto itself!

Every day flowers would unfold new petals.

And bees and wasps and even flies in many different shapes and sizes would gather pollen.

HydrangeaCloseupDuring the course of our time at the campground, several spiders wove webs — which in due time trapped a quite a few meals.

Here is a close up of one of the spiders against a green hydrangea leaf.

HydrangeaSpiderWebEventually it was time to pack everything up and return home.

This is always a sad and somewhat stressful process for me.

But my sweetheart and family members are very patient, since they know it happens every summer on the last day of our camping adventure.

TruroBeachTwilightTrenchWhat doesn’t usually happen, however, is an hours-long rain storm on the day of our departure.

Strangely this lifted my spirits…

I even got to continue working on a new song after our tent was down — with our brown tarpaulin providing protection during a prolonged period of deluge…

WillUnderTarpWithUkeThank you to all of the folks who keep North Of Highland camping area going year after year. I highly recommend it if you are in need of some rejuvenation!

Thank you to Andrew for letting me use his photo looking down towards our camp site, and for making so many delicious meals.

Thank you to the Kennedy family, whose love for — and lobbying on behalf of — Cape Cod has impacted millions of people — and plants and animals — for many, many decades.

Thank you to my sweetheart for all of the beach photos and for letting me use his phone to take photos of the hydrangea and our camp site.

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

Where is your heaven on planet earth?

TruroTrenchSkyClouds

Here’s To Life

Here’s To Life

 

“Here’s To Life” is a song I recorded with pianist Doug Hammer many years ago

It was written by Phyllis Molinary and Artie Butler and first recorded by Shirley Horn in 1991.

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Sometimes people say, “They don’t write songs like they used to.”

I respond that many great songs ARE still being written.

But the era of different pop stars each recording their own version of a particular hit — with different versions of the same song riding up and down the charts simultaneously — are long gone.

So a song like “Here’s To Life” is savored by a few rather than beloved by multitudes.

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I had not known anything about Mr. Butler and Ms. Molinary until I started poking around on the internet.

Mr. Butler is a composer, arranger, songwriter, music director, and record producer who has worked on an extraordinary range of songs — including Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”

For a more complete list of songs with accompanying stories, you can visit his web site.

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He was inspired to write the tune for “Here’s To Life” after watching Johnny Carson interview George Burns on The Tonight Show.

He gave it to a few different lyricists before Phyllis Molinary (about whom I have not been able to learn much of anything…) wrote the set of lyrics which became “Here’s To Life.”

And now we are all blessed with this wise and elegant song…

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It reminds me of a birthday party I recently attended for a vibrant eighty-year-old who has lived much of her life in western Massachusetts.

Before dessert was served, many of her friends shared stories about their relationships with her.

In her understated, thoughtful, generous, organized, humorous, and wide-minded — as one woman from South America described her — way, this woman has touched thousands of her fellow human beings in significant ways.

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She taught for many decades at her local college, serving as the head of the psychology department (if I am remembering correctly) and also overseeing the college’s counseling center.

She has advised several generations of students, mentored countless faculty members, led the campus teachers’ union, been very active in town politics, and on and on and on…

I know her mainly as a very faithful cousin-in-law.

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She always visits during the winter holidays, bringing gifts for everyone and sharing stories about a web of family and friends she has accumulated around the planet.

And she shares her perspectives on what is happening locally — what options her town is exploring to mitigate an underground plume of contamination that the water department has recently discovered, for example, or how a new local restaurant (which she, of course, is eager to support) is faring.

She has a gentle finger on the pulse of her town…

Her birthday party was held at a local retreat center which is run by a very ecologically-minded order of nuns.

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As the festivities were winding down, we were invited and encouraged to explore the property.

They have converted a huge carriage house — originally built in the late 1800s by the Crane family, who earned a lot of money making paper (including the paper which is still used to print US currency) — into a function hall.

On the second floor of the carriage house they have created many different areas where guests can make art, meditate, read, pray, explore eco-spirituality, marvel at the miracle of evolution, and rejuvenate their souls.

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Outside the carriage house are fruit trees, free-ranging chickens, a labyrinth, a cathedral of very tall pine trees, a huge community garden, and lots of flowers.

To me it felt a little bit like heaven on earth.

Here’s a link to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center if you are curious to learn more.

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I found these great photographs on Pixabay, and I am grateful to all of the photographers who have shared their images there.

I am also grateful to Doug Hammer, for his exquisite piano playing and terrific engineering skills.

And to the birthday woman whose life is an ongoing inspiration for how to move through the world with empathy and wisdom and generosity and balance.

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And to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center for inviting us to roam around their property after her birthday gathering.

And to Art and Phyllis for writing such a lovely song.

And to you for reading and listening to another blog post.

A healthy and happy summer to you — full of berries and flowers and friends and family (unless you are reading this from somewhere in the southern hemisphere, in which case I wish you delicious winter adventures instead…)

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May all your storms be weathered, and may all that’s good get better.

Here’s to life…

Here’s to love…

And here’s to you!

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Father’s Day!

Grandpa Tom

Andrew Thomas McMillan

This Sunday is Father’s Day in the USA.

My father (pictured above) died a year and a half ago.

He was a loving man who sang to me and my siblings at bedtime when we were young.

He didn’t teach me much about business or money — unless it was to inspire me to make different decisions than he did regarding concepts like saving…

But he was always willing to talk and listen.

At one point when he needed to stop driving, sell a trailer home he owned which was costing him money, and do some strategic planning regarding his declining health, two of my siblings and I and he met with a mediator.

It was not easy or fun to meet with a mediator, but we emerged with an agreed-upon list of things that needed to be accomplished.

And bless him, he accomplished everything on the list (with significant help from my older sister, with whom he lived for many years…)

As his health declined and he became less and less mobile, the sweetest way to spend time with him was sitting by his bed and playing the ukulele.

He loved to sing — even when his face was more and more disfigured by the cancer which eventually wore him out — and knew lots of standards from the 1920s – 1970s.

The wonderful team of David Shire (composer) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyricist) wrote a song called “If I Sing” which always touches my heart.

It was inspired by a visit which David Shire made to his father who was living in a retirement community/nursing home.

When I perform “If I Sing,” I am very grateful that my dad shared his love of music with me.

And I think of several male voice teachers who have nurtured me over the past couple of decades.

And I think of my step father, who was a professional flautist for many years — and  is now a passionate music educator who loves his students and continues to teach in his 80s.

A heartful Father’s Day to you, dear reader.

I am well aware that not everyone is blessed with a loving and functional father — or even a father at all…

However, I hope you are able to feel grateful for something your dad — or a trustworthy male teacher, or minister, or rabbi, or mentor — has given you.

Thank you for reading and watching and listening to this blog post.

Thank you, too, to Maltby & Shire for writing such a terrific song.

And thank you to Mike Callahan — himself now an enthusiastic and loving father! — for creating this great orchestration, for inviting me to sing with the Timberlane pops orchestra, and for conducting the orchestra so tenderly and skillfully.

Catch Me…

Catch Me…

 

Recently I read a small but devastating article in The New Yorker about what our new Secretary of the Interior has already accomplished in the first year of his service.

It immediately reminded me of the song “Catch Me” (which opens with a few seconds of silence after you hit the play icon at the top of this page…)

“Catch Me” is another song by David Friedman (about whom I wrote recently) which Bobbi Carrey and I recorded with pianist, arranger, and engineer Doug Hammer for our If I Loved You CD.

Although Ryan Zinke held much more conservationist views when he was a Montana state senator — acknowledging climate change as a significant threat to US national security, for example — now that he is Secretary of the Interior, he is working hard to remove burdensome regulations to industry on public land and in our coastal waters.

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He even reversed a recent ban on lead ammunition in wildlife refuges designed to protect birds that eat carrion.

The article concluded by saying that — while it is possible future elections will nudge our leadership back in more sustainable and respectful directions — the damage already being done to our public lands and wildlife will take decades to re-balance or repair (which, of course, is not even possible when a plant or animal becomes extinct…)

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Somehow this article has thrown me into what I trust is a temporary tailspin of depression and hopelessness.

As lyricist Fran Landesman once noted, spring can really hang you up the most…

Obviously there is SO MUCH that we human beings need to do to reduce and re-balance our patterns of consumption and destruction as soon as humanly possible.

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And yet so many of us — me included — are unable to change a lifetime of habits and assumptions and behaviors in order seriously to address the coming environmental challenges/catastrophes/opportunities.

For example, many of us who are blessed to live in countries such as the United States continue to think, “Of course I deserve to travel as much as I can afford.”

Yet according to a recent article on The Conversation web site, “no other human activity pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air travel.”

Yikes!!!

And even if we can’t afford a plane trip to someplace warm (or intriguing or affordable or colorful) we are strongly urged by our morally bankrupt financial institutions to pay for it using a credit card…or two…or three.

Man-Help

How many of us are basically indentured servants to our credit card companies, making minimum payments yet never paying off all our accumulated debt?

Another assumption I find odd is that most of us continue to think that we deserve to have one — or more — cars.

Of course, this is often related to the fact that many of us think that we deserve to live wherever we like — places which may not be located anywhere near public transportation, for example — so, of course, we have to have a car in order to get to work, to shop, to visit friends and family, to drive to the gym (the practice of which I truly don’t understand… why not ride your bike or walk to the gym? Or ride your bike/walk/run instead of joining a gym and donate what you used to pay for your gym membership to a deserving non-profit group?) etc.

And how about those of us who feel that we deserve to own vacation homes — sometimes built in very unwise locations?

north-beach-erosion

Many of these structures sit uninhabited for weeks or months at a time, consuming fuel/electricity so that the pipes don’t freeze, or so that the house doesn’t get too humid, or so that the burglar alarms are functioning…

The list of possessions and privileges to which many of us aspire is loooong — and has been extremely well-marketed for at least a couple of generations here in the USA.

Yet so few of us seem to be able or willing to pause and ponder the consequences of our consumption…

And global greenhouse gas levels continue to rise.

And weather becomes more erratic — affecting wildlife habitats as well as human agriculture (and thus the ability of more and more countries to feed their citizens).

And plastic — some of it visible and some of it in tiny fibers — continues to pollute the waters of planet earth and contaminate aquatic life on all levels of the food chain.

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Sadly — depressingly — tragically — hubristically — the list of human pollution, deforestation, and environmental degradation goes on and on and on…

I often feel — as I watch TV or listen to the radio or use the internet — that I have entered a frantic cocoon created solely so that we human beings can hide (for couple of hours or for an entire lifetime) from the terrifying realities of the larger patterns/feedback loops which are unfolding/unraveling right now on planet earth.

Times-Square

And I want to say — to myself and to most of my fellow human beings here in the USA — WAKE UP!!!

Often this is when I catch a cold.

And I stay home and write a blog post like this…

I am aware that I am extremely blessed to live a life where I can moan about larger environmental challenges because my basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, employment, love, and respect have already been met.

And I have a job — leading Music Together classes — to which I can walk or bike or take the bus.

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However, I am also aware that anyone writing or reading a blog post is using electricity and some sort of magical electronic device which contains metals mined all over the planet by human beings under inhumane conditions as well as plastic from fossil fuels — and which have most likely been assembled by human beings working under inhumane conditions.

And my other job — sharing one-hour programs of beloved standards at retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and public libraries — involves driving many miles per month in a trusty, high mileage Prius belonging to the jazz pianist Joe Reid, with whom I do 50+ gigs per year.

So I am utterly complicit.

And I wonder what the f–k I am doing with my one precious life here on planet earth.

Moss+Water Droplets

Yet I also know that music matters in some way — that it can touch our hearts and even inspire us to do unimaginably courageous things.

A documentary I watched recently about James Baldwin reminded me that there was a lot of singing by heroic non-violent protestors as they were marching… and as they were being beaten… and as they were being thrown into police vehicles.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

What do you think/feel about any of this, dear reader?

What do you think/feel about the sad news that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — two people who have achieved international success, wealth, fame, influence, celebrity, and in theory the happiness which success/wealth/fame/influence/celebrity are alleged to bring — have taken their own lives during this past week?

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Thank you to David Friedman for writing such compelling songs.

Thank you to Bobbi Carrey for her musical collaboration over the past 15 years.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his piano playing, engineering, production wizardry, patience, and humor.

Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.

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

And thank YOU for making time so that you could read and listen to another blog post.

Daisy-Pier

 

If I Loved You…

If I Loved You…

 

Rodgers&Hammerstein

Today’s post is inspired by the act of collaboration.

Theater is all about collaboration — as are many forms of music.

I have been part of a musical collaboration with singer Bobbi Carrey for almost 20 years.

The song at the beginning of this blog post — “If I Loved You” — was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers for their musical Carousel.

Both Hammerstein and Rodgers had achieved tremendous success working with other collaborators before they joined forces during WWII to create the musical Oklahoma! 

Following the triumph of Oklahoma! they rose to new heights, co-creating a new musical every couple of years — interspersed with producing plays and musicals (such as Annie Get Your Gun) created by others.

And as their extraordinary list of hit shows — including South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music — expanded, they also devoted a considerable amount of time to overseeing touring companies, movie adaptations, and revivals of their work.

It was an extraordinary creative and business collaboration — the fruits of which will continue to be harvested  and celebrated for decades to come!

Collaboration can be a mysterious process — and theirs was not without its challenges.

But they persevered, remained respectful of each other’s gifts, and left an astounding body of work for the rest of us to savor for decades to come.

Pianist/composer/engineer/producer Doug Hammer, singer Bobbi Carrey and I recorded “If I Loved You” — one of their most beautiful ballads — for a CD we put together with exquisite arrangement input (both vocal and instrumental) from Michael Callahan.

Mike wrote the cello part on this recording of “If I Loved You,” for example.

My collaboration with Bobbi, too, has included a variety of challenges — and we have also respectfully persevered

Right now, due to a variety of factors, our collaboration is in a fallow period.

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Mike is busy being a music professor at Michigan State as well as an enthusiastic husband and father.

Doug’s career as a composer, producer and touring musician — in addition to being a devoted husband and father of two terrific sons — has meant that he is less available to perform with singers (although regular readers/listeners of this blog know that he is still willing to make music together in his wonderful home studio on the north shore of Boston).

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Bobbi was working for a while in various parts of Asia — with a home base in Kuala Lumpur.

And I — now that I am making a very modest living as a singer, songwriter and teacher — am (somewhat paradoxically) less available to collaborate with Bobbi than when I had a full-time, non-musical day job.

Will&Bobbi2

Blessedly, recording technology exists so that all of the collaboration we did together has not evaporated without a trace.

 

Here’s a version of “The Little Things You Do Together” that we recorded with Doug playing piano plus a playful string arrangement by Mike.

Stephen Sondheim wrote it for the musical Company, and it paints a slightly different picture of love and marriage (another type of collaboration) than one might find in a Rodgers & Hammerstein show.

I have loved this song ever since my parents bought the cast album — which I listened to again and again and again as a child.

Sondheim knew both Rodgers and Hammerstein very well, having been unofficially adopted into the Hammerstein family when he was a teenager.

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Hammerstein became a role model and mentor for Sondheim as he, too, devoted himself to musical theater and songwriting.

And after Hammerstein died, Sondheim even collaborated as a lyricist with Richard Rodgers on a show called Do I Hear A Waltz? — along with one of Sondheim’s collaborators from West Side Story, librettist Arthur Laurents.

As someone who writes songs, I am always curious to learn more about the lives, practices, and habits of other songwriters.

I forget where I read it (maybe in one of Laurents’ great memoirs? or one of Sondheim’s terrific books about his own creative process?) but I was surprised to learn that Sondheim — with Laurents’ approval and support — transformed chunks of the dialogue  which Laurents wrote for early drafts of the West Side Story libretto into lyrics for certain songs in West Side Story.

And Laurents did not ask for co-credit on the lyrics for these songs,

It was simply part of their generous and respectful collaborative process.

Now Sondheim continues to support, nurture, encourage and inspire new generations of musical-theater-lovers. librettists, songwriters, and performers.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM

Thank you to Sondheim and Laurents and Rodgers and Hammerstein — and all of their scenic, costuming, choreographic, lighting, casting, directorial, production, and performance collaborators — for leaving us an extraordinary body of songs and shows and ideas.

Thank you to Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer, Mike Callahan, Jon Lupfer (who did the final mix of our CD at Q Division), Jonathan Wyner (who mastered our CD at M Works), and the musicians who played on it — Mark Carlsen (bass), Jane Hemenway (violin), Mike Monaghan (tenor sax and flute), Gene Roma (drums, percussion), Johann Soults (cello), and Kenny Wenzel (trombone).

Thank you to the internet for the photos of Rodgers, Hammerstein, Sondheim, Callahan, and Hammer.

Thank you to Paul Forlenza for the photos of Bobbi and me.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this post!

What have YOUR experiences with collaboration taught you?

Can We Slow It Down?

Can We Slow It Down?

 

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Although spring is just arriving here in the greater Boston area, I am deeply aware of how quickly it will pass.

Yesterday I was celebrating the 22 crocus flowers in my front yard.

And today there are only 9…

Someone nibbled the rest of them down to the ground overnight!

I do not begrudge anyone (rabbit? skunk? possum? squirrel? raccoon? rat?) an early spring feast.

But it was a reminder of how life changes… and sometimes much too quickly.

Stars-Highway

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by the pianist/songwriter Molly Ruggles to share a few songs during a Sunday morning service at the Unitarian Universalist church in Medford, MA.

It’s a beautiful building — with lots of stained glass windows and gently curving pews — and the congregation is very welcoming.

One of the longstanding members of the church is someone I worked with at my very first job after dropping out of college. He and I have reconnected a little bit in recent years due to a shared interest in music and poetry — and it was a pleasure to see him before and after the service.

The minister, Reverend Marta Valentin, was planning a sermon about the value of observing some sort of Sabbath in one’s life.

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I immediately started thinking about standards which might fit this theme, such as “Up A Lazy River” by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin or “Bidin’ My Time” by the Gershwin Brothers.

But it also occurred to me that a couple of my original songs might fit the theme, too.

With some shyness, I sent them — “Can We Slow It Down” and “The Beauty All Around” — to Molly for consideration.

Much to my delight, she liked them and forwarded them to Reverend Marta, who also liked them.

In fact, Reverend Marta visited my blog and found another original song, “May Your Life Be Blessed,” which she asked us to include in the service.

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Needless to say, I found this entire experience to be a much-needed affirmation that my original songs can be meaningful to people other than myself…

It was also exciting because I had been thinking that I could only perform my original songs in public with Doug Hammer (who is playing in the recording at the top of this page) at the piano with me.

I write songs using a ukulele — which I play very rudimentarily — and then flesh them out with Doug at his recording studio north of Boston. And Doug has performed many of them with me in different showcases during the past few years.

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So it was a revelation that another pianist would be able to bring them to life as well as Molly did (with very little rehearsal)!

The service itself was very satisfying, too.

My songs — especially “Can We Slow It Down?” — almost seemed as though they had been written to complement the Reverend Marta’s sermon.

Hurrah!

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As I have probably noted in previous blog posts, there is a thriving ukulele Meetup community in the greater Boston area.

I attend a group which meets the 2nd and 4th Wednesday night of each month and another which meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesday afternoon of each month.

Most ukulele Meetup groups include a humble — and very supportive — open-mic period where attendees can share a song they’ve been working on.

This is the main place I have dared to share my original songs during the past few years.

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After I played “Can We Slow It Down?” two weeks ago, a couple of fellow ukulele attendees asked me if I might post it somewhere.

So this post is created for them!

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Thank you to Molly Ruggles, Reverend Marta, Doug Hammer, and my ukulele-playing peers for their enthusiastic support and encouragement.

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Thank you to Pixabay for some lovely images.

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

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I welcome any thoughts/feelings you might have about the pace of life these days…

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