If I Only Had A…

If I Only Had A…

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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…)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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You can click here to visit my Facebook home page.

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

Thank you to Giphy.com for all of the GIFs included in this blog post.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his tremendous skills as a pianist AND as an engineer.

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

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The Moon and Sand… and Seals!

The Moon and Sand… and Seals!

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As regular readers of this blog are well aware, I love spending time on Cape Cod.

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And I am not alone in this sentiment.

In recent years the population of seals on Cape Cod has risen significantly.

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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.

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Three other species — harp, hooded, and ring seals — can also be spotted on Cape Cod, although they give birth in Canada and Greenland.

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I am pretty sure it is gray seals who share the beach in North Truro with us human beings.

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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.

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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.

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Then at high tide everyone is back in the water, swimming up and down the shoreline in search of food.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

And song-inspiring!

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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.

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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.

And write.

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Then in the late afternoon I walk down a long path through a wonderful pine forest to the beach.

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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.

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As do the seals…

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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.

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And the moon.

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And the stars.

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And the sea.

Thank you to all of the photographers who share their great photos at Pixabay.

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And to the seals and other wildlife who share the Cape with us human beings.

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And to the North Of Highland Campground for staying in business year after year.

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And to my family who choose to camp together for two weeks each summer.

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And to you for reading and listening to this blog post!

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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!

Skylark…

Skylark…

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…

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John Herndon Mercer was born on November 18, 1909 in Savannah, Georgia.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…”

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“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.”

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“It was 12 miles from Savannah, but it might as well have been 100…”

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“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…”

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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.

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Spring Island was once one of the largest cotton plantations in the southern United States.

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And echoes of plantation life remain on the island…

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Full of streams…

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And birds…

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And mist…

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And blossoms…

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And swamps…

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And big old trees…

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And ocean…

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And flowers…

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And light…

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And sky…

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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!

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What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

 

I love this song written by Frank Loesser in 1947.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

This Christmas I gave copies of several books — The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Hidden Life of Trees, The Inner Life of Animals, and The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohlleben — to various family members.

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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.

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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.

ChristianneChickens

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.

ChristianneSheepRunning

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…

ChristiyOnIceanneBo

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.

What are YOU doing New Year’s Eve?

We Need A Little Christmas!

We Need A Little Christmas!

 

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

SnowonBranchesatFarm

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

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

SnowBranchesBarn

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

StellaWalkingInSnow

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

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

StellaInSnowByFalls

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

He, too, is unfazed by snow…

RyderTassoinSnow1

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

This is Tasso.

RyderandTassoSplitWood

Right now he’s still growing.

But eventually he will help with these woolly beings..

SheepEatingHay

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

Wool8

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

SheepArrivingInTruck

Here is a sampling of their un-dyed wool…

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

SnowFootprints

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

SnowChickens

They have been very healthy and generous egg-producers.

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

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

TwoFreshEggsCloseup

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

ChickenEatingSquash

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

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

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

JasperHoldingTree

The cutting of a tree..

MakingGingerbread

The baking…

And decorating of cookies.

FirewoodatFarm

The chopping of wood…

SIngingwithCandles

The singing of songs…

SolsticeTorches

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

ChristmasOrnamentCloseup

The trimming of the tree…

PieWithLeaves

The baking of pies…

PomegranateSeeds

The eating of pomegranates…

StellaWinterWoods1

And those daily walks around the farm with the dogs…

SnowPondReflection

Past the irrigation pond…

SnowyBlueFieldAt Farm

Along the edge of a field…

BittersweetWithSnow

Admiring the beauty of an invasive species…

MerandTassoShovelingSnowatFarm

Sometimes shoveling a path…

SheepSniffingJasper

Sometimes visiting with a sheep…

SquirrelTobaccoShed2

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

SquirrelTobaccoShed1

Under which Stella is taking a break…

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

AngelaJerryCarol

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

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

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

SheepWhiteCloseUp

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

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

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

WillInSnowyFieldAtFarm

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

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

BarnSnowSkyTrailsatFarm

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

StrawberryRhubarbTapioca

 

 

Time To Pull Our Emergency Brake

Time To Pull Our Emergency Brake

 

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

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

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

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

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

Partly I lost blogging momentum.

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

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

And I have continued to lead Music Together classes.

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

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

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

Protest8

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

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

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

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

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

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

willa

This is what I looked like as a small child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

willc

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

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

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

willd

This is my last professional headshot.

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

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

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

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

Protest6

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

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

Protest5

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

And really, why should I expect anything different?

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

Protest4

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.

Flood1

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

Cyclone

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

CrackedEarthVersusMeadow

Deep sigh.

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

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

And I live quite happily without a cell phone.

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

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

Another deep sigh.

TiredPolarBear

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

Protest1

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

MeltingIceberg

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

But maybe that’s the path we are on…

DeadTreeInDesert

What do you think?

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

Where do you find hope in these challenging times?

Protest2

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

Protest7

A Kind and Steady Heart!

A Kind and Steady Heart!

 

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

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

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

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

BabePiginCity

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

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

RandyNewman

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

PeterGabriel

I love the wisdom of this song.

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

Holiness

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

And perseverance!

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

And steadiness!

And balance…

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

Kayaking

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

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

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

EarthInSpace

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

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

How might we live more simply?

How might we consume fewer shared resources?

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

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

As is kindness.

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

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

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

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

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

What I have right now is more than enough!

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

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

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

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

ThankYouBlocks

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

Heaven… Here on Planet Earth

Heaven… Here on Planet Earth

 

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

Cape_Cod_National_Seashore_Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

For me camping in North Truro is heavenly…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BlueberryCloseup

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

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

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

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

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

There are many, many things I love about camping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like time with family and friends.

And intact ecosystems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every day flowers would unfold new petals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strangely this lifted my spirits…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is your heaven on planet earth?

TruroTrenchSkyClouds

Here’s To Life

Here’s To Life

 

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

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

LakeSkyReflection

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

I respond that many great songs ARE still being written.

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

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

Hummingbird3

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

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

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

JapaneseCherryBlossoms

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

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

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

RainbowFlowerField

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

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

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

Echinacea

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

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

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

DirtRoadTreesMist

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

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

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

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

SpringFlowersTreeSun

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

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

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

TreeLakeStars

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

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

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

Flower&Butterfly

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

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

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

SunsetRedFlowers

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

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

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

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

SummerBerries

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

Here’s to life…

Here’s to love…

And here’s to you!

hydrangea