Flight

Greetings!

More than two months has passed since my last blog post.

I started writing several drafts, but none seemed worthy of completion…

This morning, however, I awoke from very sweet dreams — about returning to my elementary school as an adult — and started the day by stretching on our back porch.

Photo by Russell_Yan from Pixabay  

A mockingbird was singing a wonderfully idiosyncratic song from a nearby roof, and the sky above me was totally blue.

Many birds passed high in the sky — swallows swooping back and forth (maybe catching bugs?), a pair of ducks en route from one body of water to another, some cooing doves, a bright red cardinal, and a seagull.

They reminded me of a song by Craig Carnelia called “Flight.”

It was first recorded by actress and singer Karen Akers in 1994, and since then it has been performed by a bunch of Broadway folks including Ben Platt, Betty Buckley, Brian Lane Green, and Sutton Foster.

The Cambridge Center For Adult Education

When I recorded it with pianist Doug Hammer, I was still working as the assistant director of a non-profit in Harvard Square — the Cambridge Center for Adult Education — and longing to break free from my day job so that I could devote myself to making music.

I had started at the CCAE by volunteering to help with a new musical series that the PR director, a wonderful singer named Tracy Gibbs, was putting together called The Cabaret Connection.

My offer to help transformed into a part-time job overseeing not only The Cabaret Connection but also another series called The Jazz Chair and a few other special events.

Then I began sharing responsibility for publicizing these events, and when Tracy left for a new job, I was offered a full-time position as PR director for the entire CCAE.

Photo by Peter H from Pixabay 

This was not my plan.

My plan was to have a part-time day job so that I could continue to do plenty of music on the side.

But now my day job would INCLUDE music — and I would gain new perspectives (such as what it was like to have performers contacting me about the possibility of being booked into one of our musical series…)

So I said, “Yes.”

After a few years, our development director left, and I took over her responsibilities as well.

Eventually I became assistant director and helped to bridge the transition between the retirement of our beloved executive director and the arrival of his successor.

Photo by Bessi from Pixabay 

Then I was laid off.

Yikes!

Time for a deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

This was a surprise and a shock — but perhaps also a blessing.

I had been working 40-70 hours per week for many years — and I was grateful to slow down.

I also have a fair amount of “the disease to please” in my emotional constitution as well as a low tolerance for risk.

Photo by Gerhard Bögner from Pixabay

So even though many of my more psychologically astute (and cherished) co-workers had seen the writing on the wall regarding the pros and cons of our new executive director and had found new employment elsewhere, I had remained loyal (or some might say “stuck”) to the longtime CCAE community of teachers, board members, students and volunteers.

Being laid off might have been the only way to get me to leave.

And dare to focus on music.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Photo by Nora Dybdal

So I signed up to learn how to be a Music Together teacher — which some of my musical peers had thought I might enjoy.

And they were right!

I also began putting together one-hour programs of music with a jazz pianist, Joe Reid, who had left full-time employment as a corporate lawyer to pursue HIS love of music.

And I continued writing songs.

Now I listen to “Flight” with a very different perspective from when I first learned it — and was feeling such a longing to break free…

Now my time is completely my own — to vision, to plan, to shape, to fill!

I have nothing I want to escape.

My only deadlines are the minor ones I give myself AND the major ones related to climate change which loom ever larger and more terrifying with each passing day of denial and inaction.

Photo by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay 

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

I love the imagery in Craig’s lyrics — and the flow of the narrator’s thought processes from one moment to the next…

Photo by Jörg Peter from Pixabay 

It reminds me of a sailboat tacking to and fro in response to the ever-changing winds.

However, we human beings were not satisfied with sailboats.

So we created the motorboat, which zooms, noisily and relentlessly — oblivious to what it might run over, hit, injure, or disrupt — in a straight line from point A to point B.

And then the airplane!

Life before fossil fuels seems like it was much less linear.

Paths and roads followed the curves of hills and streams — rather than being bulldozed or dynamited to create the most efficient and convenient line of travel.

I saw this same phenomenon in the sky this morning — with birds swooping in curvy lines while far above them a jet plane left a perfectly straight line of moisture and toxic emissions in the sky…

Photo by Dan Fador from Pixabay 

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

The desire to fly — and perhaps to fly away — has been with us human beings for thousands of years.

I often think about the myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus — who enthusiastically flew too high and too close to the sun (forgetting or ignoring his father’s warning about how the wax adhering the feathers of his marvelously-constructed wings could melt…) and fell to his death in the Mediterranean sea.

Oftentimes our human culture in the 21st century seems to be soaring ever higher on a frantic, teen-aged exuberance for relentless, profit-driven innovation and stimulation.

Photo by danny moore from Pixabay 

We ignore wise warnings about how our fossil-fuel-powered desires (for 24/7 computer functionality, for food at any hour of the day or night (much of it shipped from hundreds or even thousands of miles away), for the ability to travel via motorcycle, car, motorboat, ocean liner, bus, train, or plane wherever we want (and as much as we can afford… or choose to put on a credit card), for alternative currencies, etc. are leading us faster and faster towards global catastrophe.

One would think that any one of the challenges we have experienced in recent years here in the USA — flooding of major cities, changing weather patterns which have led to increased wildfires/hurricanes/tornadoes, as well as a year-long viral pandemic — might lead us to re-think and change our habits of consumption.

And might lead us to listen to scientists with a deepened respect.

Photo by WikiImages from Pixabay 

But I don’t see much of that happening…

Denial is indeed an extraordinary human phenomenon.

I certainly understand why the likely scenarios — such as famine, wars over water and arable land, vast migrations of desperate refugees, more epidemics of diseases — are too terrifying for most of us to set aside any time to contemplate.

How about a really deep breath in…

And a really deep breath out….

Photo by Pierangelo Averara from Pixabay 

The most recent — and to me ridiculous — example of our human hubris is Amazon gazillionaire Jeff Bezos building a huge, 500-million-dollar super-yacht.

And — getting back to the topic of flight — the creation of rocket ships — which take our human desire for flight to an entirely different level.

I saw a posting on Facebook recently with which I immediately agreed:

Photo by GooKingSword from Pixabay 

“Mars sucks. Its weather sucks. Its distance sucks. Its atmosphere sucks. The little water it has…sucks. It has sucked for billions of years and will suck for billions more…

You know what doesn’t suck?

Me, earth.

I have life.

I have vast oceans and lush forests.

I have rivers to swim and air to breath.

But the way I’m being treated — that part sucks.

You use me and pollute me.

You overheat me.

You use every resource I have, and return very little back from where it came.

And then you dream of Mars — a hellhole — a barren, desolate wasteland you can’t set foot on fast enough.

Why not use some of that creative energy and billions of dollars on saving me? You know, the planet that’s giving you what you need to live right now.

Mars can wait.

I can’t.”

Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

The only part of this posting with which I don’t agree is the idea that earth needs to be saved.

I am pretty confident that planet earth — having already withstood billions of years of evolutionary changes — will be OK.

We human beings are the ones whose existence is at stake — along with the millions of other forms of life (such as birds and bees and fungi and bacteria and trees and grasses and turtles and whales and algae and shrimp and wolves and bison) which are vital links in the amazing web of life here on planet earth which we are in the process of altering and destroying.

Deep sigh.

Awake, fellow humans!

Now is the time to make significant changes in how we live here on planet earth…

I am very grateful to the wonderful photographers who share their images at Pixabay.

I would also like to thank pianist/producer Doug Hammer for playing so magnificently on this track.

Another big thank you to Craig Carnelia for writing “Flight.”

And a final thank you to YOU for reading — and listening — to yet another one of my blog posts.

Photo by jplenio from Pixabay 

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 final breath in.

And out.

Life goes on…

New Blossoms Emerging…

Photo by Alexander Popov from Unsplash.

March has begun!

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

Why?

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

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

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

Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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

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

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

Photo by Benjamin Dickerhof from Unsplash.

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

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

Deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Lots of opportunities to practice feeling grateful!

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

Photo by Sunflair from Pixabay.

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

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

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

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

Amazing!

Photo by Will McMillan.

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

They are very fragrant.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Hurrah!

Spring may indeed return to New England…

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

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

Did you hear it?

Photo by TheOtherKev from Pixabay.

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Stacy Vitallo from Pixabay 

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

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

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

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

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

Photo by Romain Mathon from Unsplash.

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

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

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

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

Photo by Will McMillan

Thank you for — and to — the WordPress community.

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

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

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

Now…

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

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

Oh, let’s go fly a kite!”

Photo by Martin Blonk on Unsplash.

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.

Silver Bells


This year December arrived in Boston with rain and wind.

I had to lead my final Music Together class of the fall term via Zoom rather than outside in a local park — which is where, wearing masks and sitting in a circle on blankets set 10 feet apart from each other, we have been meeting weekly for the past two and a half months.

We have a two-week session featuring winter holiday songs starting next week, and then a few weeks of downtime.

I never imagined I’d be leading music classes out of doors in December, but if the sun is shining — and we wear enough layers of clothing — most families have been quite enthusiastic about making music outside.

2020 is a year full of surprises, and we are doing our best to remain flexible — and safe!

As regular readers of my blog posts know, during this pandemic I’ve begun distributing songs to digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.

During the month of December I hope to release one winter holiday song per week.

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

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

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

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

Jay (who wrote the music) and Ray (who wrote the lyrics) were a famous songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”

They were also both Jewish.

Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans the same year in Salamanca (not far from Buffalo) N.Y.

They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.

As I have noted in previous blog posts, many of my most favorite winter holiday songs were written by Jewish songwriters.

This fact is an example (to me, at least) of the pluralism that the USA has occasionally been able to embrace — and model for others — during our ever-evolving history.

I love that “White Christmas,” “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song” (among many others!) were written by Jewish songwriters — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.

I always associate “Silver Bells” with my mother’s mother — a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”

In the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope’s character is involved with gambling and ends up owing $10,000 to a mobster.

His solution is to disguise himself as Santa Claus and raise money from holiday donations.

In some interviews Jay Livingston explained that the inspiration for the song came from the bells rung by Salvation Army volunteers during the holiday season.

However, in an interview on NPR after Livingston had died, Ray Evans said that they were inspired by an actual bell which one of them kept on his desk at Paramount Pictures, where they were under contract at the time.

Probably the song was inspired by both of these things…

Not every song has a great verse — which is often why they are not included in popular recordings.

But “Silver Bells” has a lovely verse:

“Christmas makes you feel emotional…

It may bring parties or thoughts devotional…

Whatever happens and what may be, here is what Christmas-time means to me.”

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I hope we are able to consume fewer things this holiday season.

One of the reasons why I am excited about releasing songs via digital music platforms is that I no longer need to create a CD to share my music.

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

  • To manufacture a pound of plastic (30 CDs per pound), it requires 300 cubic feet of natural gas, 2 cups of crude oil and 24 gallons of water.
  • It is estimated that it will take over 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill.
  • People throw away millions of music CDs each year!
  • Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete (outdated, useless, or unwanted).

Yikes!

A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Future says, however, that “CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including: automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, and even jewel cases.”

And they offer a free recycling service if one pays to send one’s old CDs, DVDs and hard drives to them:

“CDs and hard drives are made of high value recyclable material – polycarbonate plastic and aluminum respectively. The recycling of CDs and hard drives saves substantial amounts of energy and prevents significant amounts of both air and water pollution attributed to the manufacturing of these items from virgin material.”

Maybe THAT will be one of my holiday projects this year… recycling CDs and DVDs that I will never listen to again.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

The news here in the USA seems to become simultaneously more hopeful (with the Biden-Harris team starting to build their administrative teams) and terrifying (with supporters of our current president calling for violence and even martial law) each day that we move closer to a graceless and belligerent transition of power.

So I will end this blog post with a bunch of lovely images from Pixabay which the song “Silver Bells” reminded me of.

Thank you to Jay and Ray for writing this song.

Thank you to the executives at Paramount who kept renewing Jay and Ray’s songwriting contracts.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for being such a terrific collaborator.

Thank you for the sun continuing to shine on our blue-green planet.

Thank you for the new, more energy efficient windows in our basement — with blown insulation in our walls on the horizon…

Thank you for the natural gas (energy collected by plants long ago from the sun) now fueling our furnace and kitchen stove.

Thank you for vegetables — which capture energy from the sun and convert it into delicious things for us to eat, such as bell peppers.

Thank you for all the families who have chosen to make music together with me during the past few years. I am grateful for our musical sessions, which serve — for me at least — as a much-needed respite from the unsettling news swirling through our lives these days.

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

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

Questions…

Questions…

“Questions” by Steve Sweeting and Will McMillan

I mentioned in my last blog post that I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching educational videos about how the music industry works.

Today’s song — which I wrote with pianist/composer/songwriter Steve Sweeting many years ago — is perfectly themed for my current state of understanding (and lack thereof…)

In case you are the least bit curious, here’s a little of what I’ve been learning.

As a singer and songwriter, I am supposed to file for two types of copyright: sound recording (also known as the “master recording”) and song composition (of the actual song).

Song compositions generate payments to songwriters and music publishers — and sound recordings generate payments to recording artists and record labels.

So it turns out I need to learn how to wear four business hats: recording artist, record label, songwriter, and publisher.

Actually I also need to learn how to wear a publicist hat, a business manager hat, a booking agent hat, a social media/advertising hat — and the list goes on and on…

I have learned that sound recordings are given a unique ISRC code so that they can be tracked around the planet as they are downloaded, streamed, enjoyed via satellite radio, played in elevators as Muzak, etc.

In theory this tracking leads to various payment streams for the artist who recorded the song, their record company, the person (or team) who wrote the song, and their publishing company.

Also each original song composition is given a unique ISWC code for tracking purposes.

For example, Dolly Parton wrote and recorded “I Will Always Love You” when she made a very difficult decision to leave Porter Wagoner’s TV show.

This song has a unique ISWC code as a composition AND a unique ISRC code as her particular sound recording of it.

I loved reading in a 2012 interview about how Ms. Parton came to write this iconic song.

Porter and Dolly

“I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter’s show for five years. I had been there for seven. And we fought a lot. We were very much alike. We were both stubborn. We both believed that we knew what was best for us. Well, he believed he knew what was best for me, too, and I believed that I knew more what was best for me at that time. So, needless to say, there was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going.”

She continued, “I thought, ’He’s never going to listen. He’s just going to bitch every day that I go in to talk about this.’ So I thought, ’Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’ Because I knew at that time I was going to go, no matter what. So I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, ’I Will Always Love You.'”

“It’s saying, ’Just because I’m going doesn’t mean I won’t love you. I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here. And I took it in the next morning. I said, ’Sit down, Porter. I’ve written this song, and I want you to hear it.’ So I did sing it. And he was crying. He said, ’That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.’ And he did, and the rest is history.”

Since then her song has been recorded by a lot of other singers — most famously by Whitney Houston.

And each recorded version has its own unique ISRC code as part of its metadata (plus Dolly’s ISWC code for writing the song) so that it can be monitored — and monetized — via unimaginably vast banks of computers keeping track of playlists, streams, downloads, broadcasts, Muzak services, etc.

Right now the music industry is in the middle of a paradigm shift which began when digital recording technology and CDs arrived in our lives.

When I was first making music as a young adult — performing with a jazz pianist, in a folk duo, and as part of an original five-person pop/rock band — I earned money from live gigs and from the sale of cassettes and CDs.

That era is over…

Music has gone from being sold on an analog object — such as a piano roll, wax cylinder, record, or cassette tape — to being sold as a long string of zeros and ones.

The zeros and ones which encoded music onto CDs allowed us to make copies of songs using our computers… and then share those copies with the rest of the world.

We could share them with our other devices (such as an iPod), with our friends and family, and eventually — via sites like Napster — with anyone else on the planet who also had a computer.

And no one got paid for any of this free file sharing!

Since then the music industry has continued to evolve — with streaming platforms such as Spotify entering our lives — but revenues for recorded music are still way down.

And now we also have COVID-19 reducing opportunities for musicians to earn money from live performances.

In fact many small music venues in the Boston area have already closed their doors…with more likely to succumb in upcoming months.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It’s hard to know what’s coming next!

My current plan, since the wonderful Doug Hammer is not yet welcoming customers back into his recording studio in person, is to work with him remotely (using Zoom) and polish some songs we’ve recorded in past years.

And write a few more blog posts explaining what I am learning about the music industry.

And continue to wear a face mask when I leave my house.

And ride my bike and walk whenever possible.

And lead Music Together classes — both outside (wearing a new face shield + wireless headset) and inside via Zoom.

And give as much money as I can afford to various political candidates and non-profit organizations who are doing their best to prevent our country from lurching into an autocracy.

Another deep breath in.

And out.

Thank you to Pixabay for their lovely images.

Thank you to Steve Sweeting for writing songs with me and to Doug Hammer for helping us record a bunch of them.

And thank YOU for reading another blog post!

A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

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

And writing songs.

And leading Music Together classes.

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

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

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

Harold Arlen

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

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

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

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

And that was it for rehearsing with Joe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

Ode To Water

Ode To Water

 

We’ve been having an unusually warm January in New England this year…

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So far we have experienced as much rain as snow…

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I prefer rain to snow because I don’t have to shovel outside the karate studio where I lead Music Together classes three mornings each week.

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Most of us burn fewer fossil fuels as a result of warmer winter temperatures — and save a little money on our heating bills.

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One weekend the temperature hit 70 degrees Farenheit (21 degrees Celsius) — an all-time high for Boston in January!

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I don’t know if any of our local turtles dug their way out of the mud thinking it was spring…

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But there was a fair amount of spring-like frolicking in the greater Boston area — although maybe not quite as enthusiastically as these folks…

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I wrote this song several years ago while camping in North Truro on Cape Cod.

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As regular readers of my blog posts already know, I LOVE spending time at the North Of Highland camping area.

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One of my favorite parts of camping there is how everyone gains — or regains — a deep appreciation for the preciousness of water.

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All of the faucets in the bathrooms shut off after a second or two to encourage us not to waste water while brushing our teeth, washing our hands, or shaving.

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And we have to carry water — for drinking and cooking and washing dishes after our meals — in big plastic jugs from centrally located cabins (which have bathrooms, showers, and outdoor spigots) down to our camp sites.

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So we become very aware of how much water we use all day long — such as boiling pasta for dinner or rinsing a soapy pot afterwards.

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We are a short walk away from the Atlantic ocean, which is another mesmerizing manifestation of water on planet earth.

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I tend to go to the beach in the late afternoon, when the sun is less powerful and the beach starts to become less crowded with other human beings.

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And then there are clouds — another form of water…

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How weird and amazing that water molecules are constantly cycling around our planet — from the sky to the earth to plants (and the animals who consume plants) and then back into the sky!

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And water is such an important substance in our bodies…

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Blood is flowing through my arteries and veins as I sit and type this blog post — and through your arteries and veins as you are reading it…

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Water is an important component of all sort of secretions which our bodies produce — and which in some cases allow for the reproduction of our species.

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And plants, bless them, create delicious fruits — containing lots of water — as part of their reproductive cycles.

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The more I explored Pixabay, the more glorious images related to water I found…

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Ocean waves…

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Cups of tea…

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Whales…

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Rainbows…

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Rivers…

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Splashing hands…

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Waterfalls…

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Water slides…

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Ponds…

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Lakes…

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Glaciers…

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Rotini…

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Thunderstorms…

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Reflections…

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Tears…

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More waterfalls…

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Aquariums…

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Raindrops…

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Leaves…

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Jelly fish…

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More glaciers…

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Mountain tops…

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Impressionistic ripples…

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Otherworldly reflections…

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Libations…

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Waves…

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Hot springs…

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And ice crystals…

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing piano and co-producing the version of “Ode To Water” featured at the start of this blog post.

Thank you to the photographers who share their glorious images with Pixabay.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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…

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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

It’s the end of another year.

And the beginning of another winter.

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Although the days are getting longer, many months of cold and icy weather lie ahead…

Today I am visiting my sisters and nephews in upstate NY, where a flow of air from the Arctic has lowered the temperature to the single digits.

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At least once a day we bundle up and tromp with the dogs through fields and woods, observing nature in a somewhat frozen, dormant state.

Ponds are covered with ice and snow.

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Creeks are mostly a cascade of ice, with an occasional hint of water still flowing underneath.

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Crows fly overhead.

We see many animal tracks in the snow — rabbits and deer and something very large (a bear?) which is stepped on by one of the dogs before we can correctly identify it.

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Woodpeckers and blue jays and cardinals and chickadees and sparrows and finches visit the bird feeder.

How any animal manages to stay alive during the long winter months amazes me.

The nights are SO COLD with a breeze to make it feel even colder.

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I made this recording of “Winter Wonderland” with Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA, many summers ago.

It is another great winter holiday song written or co-written by a Jewish lyricist or composer.

In this case the composer, Felix Bernard, was Jewish.

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Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1897, his father was a violinist from Germany while his mother was Russian. His family spoke Yiddish at home.

Felix worked as a pianist on the American vaudeville circuits, and also performed in Europe. Like many other composers (including Jerome Kern and George Gershwin) he worked at one point for a music publishing company, and eventually formed his own dance band.

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According to historian Nate Bloom, he also “wrote special musical programs for leading singers of his day, including Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, and Nora Bayes (all of whom were Jewish).”

Unfortunately he died when he was only 47 years old.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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Wikipedia tells us that Richard Smith — an Episcopalian — was inspired to write the lyrics for “Winter Wonderland” after seeing the Central Park in Honesdale, PA (his hometown) covered in snow.

He contracted tuberculosis in 1931 and died at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC in 1935 — just a year after “Winter Wonderland” was published and recorded.

He was only 34 years old.

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Another deep breath in.

And out.

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I love the melody of “Winter Wonderland” and agree with the lyrics — winter IS a great time for hoping and dreaming about the future.

What will 2018 hold for the astounding and intricate web of life on our planet — of which we humans are only one thread?

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Sometimes it seems like we human beings are an enormously successful invasive species — ignorant of our place in the web of life and daily ignoring the balances which must remain in effect between plants, animals, decomposers, microbes, etc. for all to flourish.

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Why do we human beings devote hours and hours and hours of our lives to watching (or listening to) seemingly endless amounts of news, commentary and speculation — as well as entertainment in the form of sports contests, TV shows, movies, web-videos, etc?

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Why do so many of us choose to live so many hours of our precious lives transfixed by an electricity-powered, screen-delivered deluge of images and words and ideas and stories and opinions and advertisements?

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There are so many more important things we could be doing — or NOT doing — which would actually be helping re-balance some part of life on planet earth which is currently out of balance.

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We could be sitting still and breathing.

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We could be helping someone else learn a new language or a new skill.

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We could be singing or dancing or maybe even making music with friends and family.

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We could be walking outside in a winter wonderland, gazing at trees and sky and earth.

Perhaps in 2018 more of us can choose to put down our phones, ignore our Facebook feeds, turn off our devices, and simply be with ourselves — and with the natural world — on a regular basis.

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As 2017 fades away…

Here’s to a sense of flow!

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Here’s to singing!

Here’s to consuming fewer natural resources!

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Here’s to health!

Here’s to friends!

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Here’s to family — human, animal, plant, fungal, microbial!

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Here’s to hope and faith and patience and perseverance!

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Here’s to life!

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Here’s to love!

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And here’s to you for reading and listening to another blog post!

Thank you for your participation with my blog in 2017.

Thank you, too, to my sister Christianne for letting me use a few of her lovely photographs — taken during current and past winter walks.

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A healthy, happy, well-balanced, low-impact, music-filled, surprisingly-satisfied New Year to you!