Today we are experiencing unseasonably cool and windy weather in the Greater Boston area.
I sit on my back porch (wearing a winter coat for warmth) and listen to the cardinals, robins and mockingbirds who are all taking turns singing from the tops of nearby trees, roofs, and utility poles…
I also savor the marigolds, basil, kale, cilantro, and sunflowers sprouting in pots around me.
Sprouting seeds and growing plants fill my heart with hope.
It is such a weird and wonderful thing that a tiny speck of a seed can transform into a seedling!
To me it feels very similar to the mysterious miracle of how a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I am deeply honored to learn that last Friday Michelle at Boomer Eco Crusader published an entire blog post featuring my song “We’re Running A Big Experiment.”
I have been reading her blog for a couple of years.
I always find inspiration about ways to improve my life right now — as well as ways to improve the future lives of our children, grandchildren, and all the other beings who will inherit the fossil-fuel-driven messes that we are leaving as our legacy here on planet earth.
If you are not already following her blog, I heartily recommend you check it out by clicking here.
THANK YOU to Michelle and to everyone else who has been listening to — and sharing! — this song after it was officially distributed to various digital platforms earlier this month.
I am aware that music can at times be considered somewhat trivial/pointless/insignificant.
But at other times, it can be a vital glue that brings us together and inspires us.
Greetings after another long pause between blog posts!
I hope you remain well — fellow blogger or visitor from beyond the world of WordPress — and I am very grateful that you are reading this blog post.
I have continued reading (and commenting on) other blog posts during the past many months, but I didn’t have anything I felt compelled to blog about.
When I logged into my account yesterday, however, and looked at my stats, I was delighted to find that people have continued visiting my blog and listening to music even when I am not actively blogging.
It is truly inspiring to learn that — in the first three weeks of May — folks have visited from the USA, the UK, South Africa, Canada, Poland, Australia, Norway, Germany, India, Italy, China, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the Åland Islands (which I just learned are part of Finland at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea).
I’ll say/write it again.
Today’s blog post features a song called “Simple Rules” written by my friend Molly Ruggles.
Molly is a songwriter, pianist, arranger and singer who recently retired from her day job at MIT.
She created this lovely vocal arrangement for her and me and our friend Carole to sing — and we recorded it during a brief lull in the Covid pandemic last December.
Molly, Carole and I — as well as the recording engineer Peter Kontrimas at whose studio we were fortunate to book a session — were well-vaccinated AND wore masks except for when we were in our separate recording booths (connected via headphones with each other and with Peter).
We then fixed/mixed/tweaked/mastered it via Zoom with another great recording engineer, Doug Hammer — whose name will be familiar to many of my blog readers because he is also an astounding pianist with whom I have recorded many, many songs.
Molly’s song has inspired me to think about other “simple rules” that we human beings would do well to honor.
For example, this morning I read details on a BBC website about how many of the staff members at 10 Downing Street chose to ignore the official guidelines for appropriate behavior during a pandemic. One staffer explains that they felt that they were in a bubble (of privilege? of denial?) and thus ignored what the official guidelines were.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
One of my favorite “simple rules” is the rule/fact that we animals breathe out what plants need to stay alive (CO2) — and plants breathe out what WE need to stay alive (O2).
I often feel as though we have done a very poor job educating each other about this profoundly simple rule.
Healthy oceans (full of plants ranging from single-celled phytoplankton to forests of kelp) and healthy forests (such as the Amazon jungle) and healthy agricultural fields and healthy gardens are not optional.
They are vital to every breath we are blessed to breathe — and which we hope to continue to breathe — here on planet earth!
Another simple rule/guideline which bears repeating again and again and again is the profound power of apology.
We all make mistakes.
In fact, making mistakes is an important way that we learn things — about how stoves can be too hot to touch, about how we need to look both ways before we cross a street, and about how lemon extract tastes more burningly bitter than delightfully sour (a shocking revelation which I learned at an early age when experimenting in the kitchen with my sister and one of her friends).
Apologies exist to repair human relationships when one person makes a mistake and hurts another person. Or another species. Or another community. Or an entire ecosystem.
In fact, I feel that much of the stress which we experience these days — directly in our own lives and indirectly from politicians, business leaders, and other authority figures — is due to past injuries for which no one has ever sincerely, authentically, and heartfully apologized.
Apologizing is not easy — but it is very worthwhile to do.
And if we are able to make amends for our mistake — taking action to make up for what has happened in the past — that is an even more profound act of healing.
Another deep breath in.
And another deep breath out.
I will end with one final simple rule: short blog posts are easier to read than long ones!
I am aware that I have written way-too-many, way-too-long blog posts in the past.
So I will cut this short and end with my customary thank yous… along with a lovely underwater photo of kelp (breathing in C02 and breathing out 02…)
Thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
Thank you to Molly Ruggles and Carole Bundy for their friendship and for our shared love of music.
More than two months has passed since my last blog post.
I started writing several drafts, but none seemed worthy of completion…
This morning, however, I awoke from very sweet dreams — about returning to my elementary school as an adult — and started the day by stretching on our back porch.
A mockingbird was singing a wonderfully idiosyncratic song from a nearby roof, and the sky above me was totally blue.
Many birds passed high in the sky — swallows swooping back and forth (maybe catching bugs?), a pair of ducks en route from one body of water to another, some cooing doves, a bright red cardinal, and a seagull.
It was first recorded by actress and singer Karen Akers in 1994, and since then it has been performed by a bunch of Broadway folks including Ben Platt, Betty Buckley, Brian Lane Green, and Sutton Foster.
When I recorded it with pianist Doug Hammer, I was still working as the assistant director of a non-profit in Harvard Square — the Cambridge Center for Adult Education — and longing to break free from my day job so that I could devote myself to making music.
I had started at the CCAE by volunteering to help with a new musical series that the PR director, a wonderful singer named Tracy Gibbs, was putting together called The Cabaret Connection.
My offer to help transformed into a part-time job overseeing not only The Cabaret Connection but also another series called The Jazz Chair and a few other special events.
Then I began sharing responsibility for publicizing these events, and when Tracy left for a new job, I was offered a full-time position as PR director for the entire CCAE.
This was not my plan.
My plan was to have a part-time day job so that I could continue to do plenty of music on the side.
But now my day job would INCLUDE music — and I would gain new perspectives (such as what it was like to have performers contacting me about the possibility of being booked into one of our musical series…)
So I said, “Yes.”
After a few years, our development director left, and I took over her responsibilities as well.
Eventually I became assistant director and helped to bridge the transition between the retirement of our beloved executive director and the arrival of his successor.
Then I was laid off.
Time for a deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
This was a surprise and a shock — but perhaps also a blessing.
I had been working 40-70 hours per week for many years — and I was grateful to slow down.
I also have a fair amount of “the disease to please” in my emotional constitution as well as a low tolerance for risk.
So even though many of my more psychologically astute (and cherished) co-workers had seen the writing on the wall regarding the pros and cons of our new executive director and had found new employment elsewhere, I had remained loyal (or some might say “stuck”) to the longtime CCAE community of teachers, board members, students and volunteers.
Being laid off might have been the only way to get me to leave.
Now I listen to “Flight” with a very different perspective from when I first learned it — and was feeling such a longing to break free…
Now my time is completely my own — to vision, to plan, to shape, to fill!
I have nothing I want to escape.
My only deadlines are the minor ones I give myself AND the major ones related to climate change which loom ever larger and more terrifying with each passing day of denial and inaction.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I love the imagery in Craig’s lyrics — and the flow of the narrator’s thought processes from one moment to the next…
It reminds me of a sailboat tacking to and fro in response to the ever-changing winds.
However, we human beings were not satisfied with sailboats.
So we created the motorboat, which zooms, noisily and relentlessly — oblivious to what it might run over, hit, injure, or disrupt — in a straight line from point A to point B.
And then the airplane!
Life before fossil fuels seems like it was much less linear.
Paths and roads followed the curves of hills and streams — rather than being bulldozed or dynamited to create the most efficient and convenient line of travel.
I saw this same phenomenon in the sky this morning — with birds swooping in curvy lines while far above them a jet plane left a perfectly straight line of moisture and toxic emissions in the sky…
Yet another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
The desire to fly — and perhaps to fly away — has been with us human beings for thousands of years.
I often think about the myth of Daedalus and his son Icarus — who enthusiastically flew too high and too close to the sun (forgetting or ignoring his father’s warning about how the wax adhering the feathers of his marvelously-constructed wings could melt…) and fell to his death in the Mediterranean sea.
Oftentimes our human culture in the 21st century seems to be soaring ever higher on a frantic, teen-aged exuberance for relentless, profit-driven innovation and stimulation.
We ignore wise warnings about how our fossil-fuel-powered desires (for 24/7 computer functionality, for food at any hour of the day or night (much of it shipped from hundreds or even thousands of miles away), for the ability to travel via motorcycle, car, motorboat, ocean liner, bus, train, or plane wherever we want (and as much as we can afford… or choose to put on a credit card), for alternative currencies, etc. are leading us faster and faster towards global catastrophe.
One would think that any one of the challenges we have experienced in recent years here in the USA — flooding of major cities, changing weather patterns which have led to increased wildfires/hurricanes/tornadoes, as well as a year-long viral pandemic — might lead us to re-think and change our habits of consumption.
And might lead us to listen to scientists with a deepened respect.
But I don’t see much of that happening…
Denial is indeed an extraordinary human phenomenon.
I certainly understand why the likely scenarios — such as famine, wars over water and arable land, vast migrations of desperate refugees, more epidemics of diseases — are too terrifying for most of us to set aside any time to contemplate.
And — getting back to the topic of flight — the creation of rocket ships — which take our human desire for flight to an entirely different level.
I saw a posting on Facebook recently with which I immediately agreed:
“Mars sucks. Its weather sucks. Its distance sucks. Its atmosphere sucks. The little water it has…sucks. It has sucked for billions of years and will suck for billions more…
You know what doesn’t suck?
I have life.
I have vast oceans and lush forests.
I have rivers to swim and air to breath.
But the way I’m being treated — that part sucks.
You use me and pollute me.
You overheat me.
You use every resource I have, and return very little back from where it came.
And then you dream of Mars — a hellhole — a barren, desolate wasteland you can’t set foot on fast enough.
Why not use some of that creative energy and billions of dollars on saving me? You know, the planet that’s giving you what you need to live right now.
Mars can wait.
The only part of this posting with which I don’t agree is the idea that earth needs to be saved.
I am pretty confident that planet earth — having already withstood billions of years of evolutionary changes — will be OK.
We human beings are the ones whose existence is at stake — along with the millions of other forms of life (such as birds and bees and fungi and bacteria and trees and grasses and turtles and whales and algae and shrimp and wolves and bison) which are vital links in the amazing web of life here on planet earth which we are in the process of altering and destroying.
Awake, fellow humans!
Now is the time to make significant changes in how we live here on planet earth…
And I am realizing that it’s been over a month since my last blog post.
Well… I stumbled into an opportunity to be interviewed by an old acquaintance who writes about the arts for a New England-based magazine.
And after I learned that my mini-profile was going to run in their March/April issue, I decided it was time to re-do my website — which had remained functional but increasingly antiquated in recent years.
So February was devoted to researching website design options, choosing a company, and learning how to use this company’s cornucopia of templates and design features.
After all sorts of challenges (which I may share in a future blog post as a case study in hiking up a new learning curve…) I am happy — and relieved — to report that my new site is now up and running at my old website address: willsings.com.
In the process of transferring information from my old site to this new one, I had the opportunity to reflect upon the past twenty years of my musical life — which has been a very sweet and slightly surprising experience.
I had forgotten, for example, exactly how much media coverage I had garnered in past years… and how often certain angels in our local media had written about various musical undertakings, concerts, recordings, collaborations, etc.
I also discovered how much I still like various recordings I helped to make in past years.
And this new website makes it relatively easy to create separate pages for all of them, which I can continue to update and improve as time allows.
Deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Lots of opportunities to practice feeling grateful!
I recorded the musical selection at the top of this blog post with pianist Doug Hammer on his Schimmel grand piano a few years ago when I was putting together an hour-long program of songs created for Disney movies.
These three songs were written by the Sherman Brothers — Robert and Richard — for the magical movie Mary Poppins.
Recent weather — very cold with 30 mph winds! —reminded me of this medley.
As usual I have visited the wonderful photographic website Pixabay as well as a new one called Unsplash (when Pixabay was not functioning well) to find some images to grace this blog post and uplift my spirit.
So far the only sign of spring I have seen is ONE snowdrop which has managed to push up through the earth in our tiny front yard and bloom.
Inside the house, a pot of hyacinth bulbs I bought last winter from Trader Joe’s — and then left in the sun on the back porch all summer — has experienced a glorious re-birth.
They are very fragrant.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Spring may indeed return to New England…
This three-song medley is one of many recordings that Doug and I have been finding in his sonic archives — and have been fixing and mixing every Friday afternoon via Zoom.
There is a tiny lyric bobble in this recording which we will re-record when I am vaccinated and Doug is ready to welcome human beings back into his studio.
Did you hear it?
My favorite song in this medley is the last one — “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.”
I was reminded when looking for images of kites that there are also raptors named kites.
So I am including a photo of this magnificent bird as well.
Even though I live in a suburb of Boston which does not have a lot of green space, I am delighted to see hawks flying overhead on a surprisingly regular basis as I walk around town.
I think this is partly because I do not use a smart phone — so I tend to be looking at what is actually going on around me more than many of my fellow humans — who often seem to be living in a parallel universe defined by their phone.
Last week I may have even seen a bald eagle fly around a cemetery where I like to walk which overlooks a neighboring town’s lake.
As many of my fellow bloggers often remind me, there are few things better than spending time outside in/with the natural world!
Yet another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I released a new recording at the beginning of March — “Plant A Radish” from the musical The Fantasticks by Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (lyrics).
Now I am looking forward to seeing how many of the crocus bulbs I planted last fall have survived the hungry — and deserving — animals who amazingly manage to survive each winter living outdoors.
And I am waiting for another (warmer) windy day to call up my neighbors and go to a local playing field where we can enjoy a well-masked, kite-flying + pizza picnic.
Thank you to all the wonderful photographers at Pixabay and Unsplash whom I decided I needed to respect by taking the time to credit by name (and whose credits I wish I could figure how to center under their photos…)
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his sublime piano playing and archiving and engineering and mixing and mastering.
Thank you to the Sherman Brothers for writing so many great songs during the course of their impressive career.
Thank you to my friends in Toronto who gave me a slightly used but still very functional laptop computer several years ago — which has allowed me to blog, lead music classes via Zoom, create a new website, etc.
Thank you to planet earth for managing to support as much life as she does — even as we human beings continue to rip apart, poison, and contaminate ecosystems right, left and center with our wildly hubristic over-confidence and greed.
Thank you for — and to — the WordPress community.
The illness of a fellow blogger has reminded me in recent days of how oddly intimate — and deeply supportive — the WordPress community can be.
So thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.
I 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.
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…
Pain from past hurts…
Past abuses of trust…
Past unhappiness of all different shapes and sizes and colors and tastes and smells and densities…
I breathe them in.
And then I breathe them out.
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.
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.
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 Pixabayfor these glorious images.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.
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.
“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.
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 visitmy website.
As we in Massachusetts enter the second week of staying at home due to COVID-19, I have been happy to connect with family and friends and acquaintances via their WordPress blog posts and Facebook updates.
THANK YOU to everyone for your words and images and information!
Since it’s been almost a month since my last blog post, I am finally putting my fingers to the laptop keyboard in order to share another great song by composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Yip Harburg (in photo below…)
Yip lived a full and passionate and creative and principled life — and wrote the lyrics for a bunch of great songs, including “Springtime in Paris,” “Old Devil Moon,” “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” “Down With Love,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe,” “Lydia The Tattooed Lady, and “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”
And then there are the songs he and Harold Arlen wrote for a movie inspired by the work of author L. Frank Baum and illustrator William Wallace Denslow.
These include “We’re Off To See The Wizard,” “If I Only Had A Brain,” and “Over The Rainbow” — which won the Academy award for best song in a motion picture in 1939.
I learned from reading a biography about Yip — co-written by his son Ernie Harburg — that in addition to writing the lyrics for the songs in The Wizard Of Oz, Yip also wrote all the dialogue that sets up the songs — and he even wrote the dialogue for one of my favorite scenes near the end, when the Wizard gives medals to the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion in honor of their heart, brains and nerve.
I also learned that, in classic Hollywood fashion, eleven different screenwriters were involved with the script — with Yip serving as the final script editor, pulling the whole thing together and giving it coherence and unity. But he didn’t get any official screen credit for all of that work on the script.
Yip is also the person responsible for including the powerful metaphor of a rainbow in the movie — which was produced partly to showcase MGM’s Technicolor prowess.
In the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, there is no mention of a rainbow.
Yip’s son Ernie describes in an interview I found on YouTube how “Over The Rainbow” came to be written:
Yip and Harold Arlen’s contract at MGM had run out, and they still didn’t have a key song for Dorothy written.
Frank Baum writes in The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz that where Dorothy lived, “not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades.”
Yip and Harold discussed this description, and how Dorothy’s neighbor Miss Gulch had threatened to take away her beloved companion, Toto, and how Dorothy was looking for a way to escape…
At this time in their lives, both Yip and Harold were living in Beverly Hills, with lush green lawns — plus elaborate sprinkler systems to keep them green!
One day when his gardener turned on the sprinklers, Yip was struck by the little rainbows that appeared in the air. When he next saw Harold he said, “Dorothy wants to escape — to be on the other side of the rainbow,” and Harold went away and came back with a beautiful melody which Yip then worked on for three weeks to find words with exactly the right syllables to fit Harold’s melody.
And, thanks to Judy Garland’s beautifully poignant rendition of their song, the rest is cinema history.
“If I Only Had A Brain” (a version of which is included in the player at the beginning of this blog post) is based on a melody for a song called “I’m Hanging On To You” which Yip and Harold had written for — and then cut from — a 1937 anti-war musical called Hooray For What!
Apparently another song that Yip and Harold wrote for Hooray For What! — called “In the Shade of the New Apple Tree” — so impressed the powers-that-be at Metro Goldwyn Mayer in California that they chose Harold and Yip to write the songs for what became The Wizard of Oz.
When they were working on a song to be sung by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion, Yip recalled the melody from “I’m Hanging On To You,” and fashioned an entirely new set of lyrics — including short verses (one of which I have included in my recording with pianist Doug Hammer) which were not used in the final cut of the movie.
Rainbows continued to be an important metaphor for Yip throughout his life — popping up in quite a few of his songs.
Yip once explained, “I belong to a tribe of what used to be called troubadors. Sometimes they were called minstrels. Now we’re called songwriters…we worked for, in our songs, a better world, a rainbow world… Now my generation, unfortunately, never succeeded in creating that rainbow world; so we can’t hand it down to you. But we could hand down our songs, which still hang on to hope and laughter.”
For that I am immensely grateful — to Yip and to Harold and to all of the other hard-working songwriters from the 20th century who have left us such a treasure trove of music.
Yip differed from many of his contemporaries in that he was eager to wrestle with social and political issues in his creative projects.
I already mentioned the anti-war musical Hooray For What! in 1937 (two years before the start of WWII) and the Depression-era classic “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” which Yip wrote with one of his first collaborators, the composer Jay Gorney, for a revue in 1932 called Americana.
With composer Harold Arlen he wrote the songs for 1944’s Bloomer Girl, which was set in upstate NY and explored the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements in the years leading up to the Civil War while featuring an integrated cast on stage.
Three years later Yip helped create another musical classic, Finian’s Rainbow — set in a fictional region of the American South called Missitucky. Yip not only wrote lyrics, he also co-authored the script — and the integrated cast featured characters such as a leader of a union of black and white share-croppers, a leprechaun, two recent Irish immigrants, and a white racist Southern Senator who is transformed into an African-American citizen for several days as an opportunity for growth and education.
Finian’s Rainbow gave us a wide variety of songs, including “When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich, “Old Devil Moon,” “Look To The Rainbow,” and “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?”
It may seem a bit odd that a song like “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” was written by two Jewish songwriters (Burton Lane was the composer of Finian’s Rainbow).
But Yip was himself the child of immigrants — Orthodox Yiddish-speaking Russian Jews — and he grew up very poor on the lower east side of Manhattan.
His official name when he was born in 1896 — the youngest of four surviving children out of ten total — was Isidore Hochberg, and he was nicknamed “Yip” (from Yipsele, a Yiddish term of endearment referring to a squirrel) because he was so active as a child.
Yip was very successful in grammar school — winning prizes for his ability to recite poems and performing in many musical productions. He earned a spot at Townsend Harris — a prestigious public high school associated with City College of New York where you could earn both a high school and bachelor’s degree in seven years.
He found himself seated alphabetically next to a young fellow named Israel Gershovitz — also known as Ira Gershwin. Yip and Ira became life-long friends — sharing a deep admiration for Gilbert & Sullivan and later co-writing a humor column for the newspaper at City College.
I could go on and on about Yip.
Although he was not a Communist, he was blacklisted from working in the movies, TV and radio for 12 years during the 50s and early 60s.
He kept working on Broadway, however, and even co-wrote a song which was recorded by the folk/pop trio Peter, Paul & Mary.
If you are curious to learn more about this creative and inspirational human being, you can click here to read his Wikipedia entry and/or track down the biography co-written by his son, Ernie Harburg.
Perhaps some of his songs like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” will take on a new resonance in the days and weeks ahead…
For the time being, I remain grateful that we in Massachusetts are still allowed to leave our homes and go for walks in our neighborhoods — as long as we maintain a healthy physical distance from other human beings we encounter along the way — so that I can continue to “while away the hours, conferring with the flowers (and) consulting with the rain.”
While COVID-19 buffets our human societies, the natural world continues — blessedly — to create a new buds, new leaves, new flowers!
Part of the reason for the gap between my last blog post and this one is that I have begun leading half-hour singalongs at 8:00 pm each night via Facebook Live.
If you are feeling hungry for some musical camaraderie and fun, please consider joining us any night starting at 8:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time in the USA).
Previous sing-alongs also remain on my Facebook home page in case you are curious to visit at any time of the day or night.
As regular readers of this blog are well aware, I love spending time on Cape Cod.
And I am not alone in this sentiment.
In recent years the population of seals on Cape Cod has risen significantly.
According to the web site of the Center For Coastal Studies in Provincetown, two kinds of seals — harbor and gray — live on the Cape year-round.
Three other species — harp, hooded, and ring seals — can also be spotted on Cape Cod, although they give birth in Canada and Greenland.
I am pretty sure it is gray seals who share the beach in North Truro with us human beings.
Head Of The Meadow beach, near where I camp with family members each summer, is home to hundreds of seals.
You can click here to read a recent story — with great photos — about this particular community of seals.
It confirms what we have noticed — that within the past ten years, the number of seals sharing this beach has increased substantially!
At low tide they gather in large communities on the sandbars and soak up the sun.
Then at high tide everyone is back in the water, swimming up and down the shoreline in search of food.
When I am learning new songs, I usually record them as accurately as possible with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA.
Then I load piano-vocal and just-piano versions onto my iPod — and walk and sing for hours, memorizing lyrics while musing about the story being told in the song…
And beaches are great places to walk and sing.
Seals often will swim along the shore while I am walking — their heads popping up through the surface of the water at regular intervals.
Sometimes a bunch of them will gather and watch/listen if I stop and sing in one place for a while.
They are curious beings.
On clear nights, I sometimes leave the campground and head back to the beach in order to walk and sing and revel in a truly starry sky.
Where I live — just outside of Boston — there’s a lot of light pollution.
But on the outer Cape — away from buildings and streetlights and cars — the skies remain awe-inspiring.
I wrote the song (in the player at the beginning of this blog post) a couple of summer ago… and recorded it with Doug a few weeks ago at his studio north of Boston.
It was an alternative pick for a Valentine’s-themed blog post.
But since February is not quite over, I have decided to share it in this seal-themed blog post instead.
Since I burn easily, I almost never go to the beach during peak sun hours.
My routine is to stay at the campground during the day — when almost all of the humans have gone to the beach — and write songs.
I sit in a very large tent with my ukulele and a rhyming dictionary and a little digital recorder and a laptop computer and bags of song ideas which I have jotted down over the years.
I listen to the birds and the chipmunks and the crickets and the cicadas.
Then in the late afternoon I walk down a long path through a wonderful pine forest to the beach.
In addition to swimming in very shallow water along the shore — because the booming seal population has also encouraged a healthy population of great white sharks to visit the outer Cape — I sometimes stretch and do a little yoga.
As do the seals…
While we human beings dither about climate change — and carry viruses around the world due to our obsession with international travel — and vote for political candidates who may or may not care one iota for their constituents — I am strangely reassured to think about the seals.
And the moon.
And the stars.
And the sea.
Thank you to all of the photographers who share their great photos at Pixabay.
And to the seals and other wildlife who share the Cape with us human beings.
One of my favorite parts of camping there is how everyone gains — or regains — a deep appreciation for the preciousness of water.
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.
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.
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.
We are a short walk away from the Atlantic ocean, which is another mesmerizing manifestation of water on planet earth.
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.
And then there are clouds — another form of water…
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!
And water is such an important substance in our bodies…
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…
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.
And plants, bless them, create delicious fruits — containing lots of water — as part of their reproductive cycles.
The more I explored Pixabay, the more glorious images related to water I found…
Cups of tea…
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!
As our president speaks on the radio about his recent decision to kill an Iranian general (and others) in Iraq, I thought I might share a post about love and melody and music…
John Herndon Mercer was born on November 18, 1909 in Savannah, Georgia.
From the 1930s to the 1960s he co-wrote a slew of hit songs including “Jeepers Creepers,” “Hooray For Hollywood,” “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),” “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” “Moon River,” “On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe,” “Too Marvelous For Words,” “Accentuate The Positive,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Blues In The Night,” “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “Skylark.”
Mercer was nominated for 19 Academy Awards — winning four Oscars for best original song — and had two successful shows on Broadway.
He was also a popular recording artist AND co-founded Capitol Records!
“Skylark” was published in 1941 — when Europe was engulfed in WWII but the USA had not yet entered the fight…
The song had a long creative gestation.
According to Wikipedia, the composer Hoagy Carmichael was inspired to write the melody for what became “Skylark” by an improvisation which his old friend Bix Beiderbecke — a jazz cornet player — had once played.
Bix’s music and too-short life had already inspired a novel called YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN which Hoagy was hoping to adapt into a Broadway show (and which a decade later provided the source material for a movie of the same name starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day and Hoagy Carmichael…)
Apparently the Broadway production never gelled, and after that Hoagy shared the melody with Johnny in hopes that he might write lyrics for it.
Different books report different versions of how long it took Johnny to write the lyrics for “Skylark.”
Most agree, however, that it was a long period of time — several months to a year — and that Hoagy had kind of forgotten that Johnny was working on lyrics for it (or at least Hoagy had stopped checking in with Johnny to ask him if he had made any progress…)
Around this time Johnny had started an on-again, off-again love affair with Judy Garland.
He was 31 years old (and married…and upset because his father had recently died) and she — fresh off her success as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ — was 19 years old.
Many writers have speculated about which of Mercer’s lyrics were inspired by his love for Judy — and “Skylark” is one of the contenders.
Here is Judy in an MGM publicity photo from 1943 — when she was 21 years old.
Beautiful and funny and gifted and smart and hard-working and … inspirational.
Another thing which inspired Johnny was the natural world.
His family had a summer home outside Savannah on a hill overlooking an estuary — and he spent his summers as a child fishing, swimming, sailing, picking berries, and lying very still.
He wrote in an unpublished autobiography, “The roads were still unpaved, made of crushed oyster shell, and…they wound their way under the trees covered with Spanish moss…”
“It was a sweet indolent background for a boy to grow up in…and as we drove out to our place in the country there (were) vistas of marsh grass and long stretches of salt water.”
“It was 12 miles from Savannah, but it might as well have been 100…”
“Out on (our) starlit veranda, I would lie on a hammock and — lulled by the night sounds, the cricket sounds… my eyelids would grow heavy (and I would fall sleep) — safe in the buzz of grown up talk and laughter (and) the sounds of far-off singing…”
I started reading about Johnny Mercer when fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer and I put together a program of his songs that we performed at Scullers Jazz Club here in Boston.
We also were fortunate enough to perform this program of songs on Spring Island — one of the multitude of barrier islands which run along the Georgia and Carolina coast.
Spring Island was once one of the largest cotton plantations in the southern United States.
And echoes of plantation life remain on the island…
Spring Island is now half wildlife sanctuary and half retirement community for folks who are very wealthy — some of whom love music enough that they would fly me and Bobbi and Doug down to perform in their lovely club house.
Although he enjoyed living in New York and California, Johnny returned home to Georgia on a regular basis — usually via a long train trip since he did not like to fly.
He savored the slower pace of life in his hometown as well as the beauty all around.
Having traveled to Spring Island, I have a much more vivid sense of Johnny Mercer’s roots…
A song like “Skylark” or “Moon River” makes sense in a different way now that I have seen and smelled and tasted and heard the environment where he grew up.
Full of streams…
And big old trees…
Thank you to Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer for creating such a lovely song.
And to Doug Hammer for his spectacular piano playing as well as his super-competent engineering skills.
And to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons for most of the images in this post.
And to YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!
I love this song written by Frank Loesser in 1947.
Apparently it was not created for a particular movie or show.
And Mr. Loesser thought that it was fine to sing it any time of the year — because it is about someone who is in the early stages of a romantic relationship who is thinking ahead…
I recorded it with Doug Hammer when I was putting together an hour-long program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricist and/or composers.
Mr. Loesser started off as a lyricist, collaborating with Jule Styne (with whom he co-wrote “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You, Baby”), and Hoagy Carmichael (with whom he co-wrote “Heart and Soul), and other composers in New York and in California.
During WWII he joined the military and helped to create original musical shows which could easily be produced with minimal costumes, props and scenery at military bases and camps all around the globe as a way to boost the morale of the troops at home and abroad.
It was during this time that he became more confident about composing the music to go with his lyrics — and one of first hit songs for which he wrote both music and lyrics was “Praise the Lord and Pass The Ammunition.”
After WWII his career as a songwriter gained momentum.
He wrote songs for the hit musical WHERE’S CHARLEY? — which gave us the standard “Once In Love With Amy” sung by Ray Bolger (who had starred as The Scarecrow in the movie version of THE WIZARD OF OZ many years earlier).
Then he wrote songs for the musical GUYS AND DOLLS, which was a huge hit when it opened on Broadway in 1950 and which — almost seventy years later — continues to be performed all around the USA and beyond…
He expanded from writing lyrics and music to writing the libretto (script) as well for his masterwork THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, which was as much an opera as it was a Broadway show.
His other shows include GREENWILLOW — starring a young Anthony Perkins, which was not a hit — and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT TRYING, which was a hit and won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
He also wrote songs — including “Inchworm” and “Thumbelina” for a successful movie about Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye.
And he won an Academy award in 1949 for his song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which he had originally written as a fun duet for him and his first wife, Lynn to perform at parties.
She was apparently very upset when he sold “their song” to MGM FOR a movie called NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER starring Esther Williams.
In recent years this song has generated some controversy since the lyrics involve a man (called “the wolf” in the original sheet music) seducing a woman (called “the mouse” in the original sheet music) using persistence, charm, and alcohol.
Since relatively few books have been written about Mr. Loesser, his daughter Susan Loesser penned a book called A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life.
It is very candid and informative about Mr. Loesser — who does not sound like he was the easiest or the happiest guy to work with. In fact he infamously slapped one of the original leads in GUYS AND DOLLS, Isabel Bigley, during rehearsals because he did not like the way she was interpreting one of his songs.
However, he was extremely supportive of up-and-coming songwriters and helped nurture the careers of Meredith Willson (THE MUSIC MAN), Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (THE PAJAMA GAME and DAMN YANKEES), and even Stephen Sondheim, who received a very supportive and empathetic letter from Frank after one of Sondheim’s early musicals, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, closed after only nine performances.
Mr. Loesser was also a lifelong three-pack-a-day smoker, and died in 1969 at age 59 from lung cancer.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
As another year — and another decade — draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who has visited my blog during the past six years to read and listen.
And the wonderful photographers whose work has graced my blog posts.
Also all the folks with whom I have made music during this past year!
This next decade is a make-or-break one for human beings here on planet earth.
We have ten years — or less!!! — to change the way we consume resources before climate change will swing more and more out of balance in un-imaginable, catastrophic, and un-fixable ways.
I have no idea what a contemporary human society which consumes only sustainable/renewable amounts of food and water and fuel and natural resources would look like.
But I deeply hope we are all able to WAKE UP and STOP CONSUMING fossil fuels and plastic items and unnecessary consumer goods and air travel and vacations-to-far-away-places, and car travel, and excessive food and water so that future generations of beings — human and otherwise — can exist on this lovely planet.
Many of us have somehow been raised to feel we are entitled to consume/enjoy/waste natural resources simply because we want to consume/enjoy/waste them — with no consideration or reflection about how our choices and actions affect the larger web of sustainable life here on planet earth.
I was slightly ambivalent to buy and give books (made from dead trees, after all…) about how amazing and wise and generous and precious trees are to life here on planet earth.
But I am hoping that sharing these books will help with the process of AWAKENING all of us human beings to the extraordinary web of life — of which we are merely one (albeit an often-times astoundingly ignorant and destructive) strand.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I will be hanging out with family in upstate New York this New Year’s Eve.
I learned yesterday from my older sister that the hens started laying more eggs as soon as the days started getting longer here in the northern hemisphere.
How amazingly calibrated to subtle changes in light they are!
And I bore witness to the sheeps’ concern about getting their fair share of the grain which my sisters feed them each evening.
I learned from a television program earlier this year that a wide variety of animals — not just sheep — are very aware of what IS and is NOT equitable.
Here we are walking the sheep to a temporary pasture area in another field.
The snow has almost all melted due to several days of non-freezing weather including rain…
Here is one of my nephews testing fate by walking on a previously frozen stream…
Tomorrow night after evening chores are done, we will drive to the next town and cook a small feast with cousins.
Then we will play ukuleles, sing, and reflect upon the past year.