Say Moon, Say Stars, Say Love…

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

So far everything has gone well.

For this I am deeply grateful.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new sense of respect…

A new vision for the future…

And new words…

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

Yes.

New words!

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

Fear.

And pain.

Pain from past hurts…

Past losses…

Past disrespects…

Past disappointments…

Past abandonments…

Past abuses of trust…

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

Yes.

Pain.

And fear.

I breathe them in.

And then I breathe them out.

Ahhhhh….

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

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

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

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

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

And comfort.

And acknowledgement.

And justice.

And inspiration.

And healing.

We shall see…

Yet another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I feel hope.

I feel love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet ANOTHER deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh….

This song inspires me to stick with love.

Thank you to Maury Yeston for writing it.

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

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

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

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

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

She wrote:

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

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

One more deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Ahhhhh…

This is why I do what I do.

Just Stay With Me…

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

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

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

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

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

This is sad on so many levels.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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

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

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

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

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

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

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

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

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

Here is Judy in 1963, photographed by Richard Avedon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And loneliness during the holidays can be particularly excruciating.

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

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

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

Hurrah for this one, small, canine happy ending!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let My Heart Be Open…

These are challenging times.

I’ve been reading a lot of posts — as well as the comments they elicit — by my fellow bloggers.

One theme that often emerges is Covid-fatigue.

This is not the fatigue that one experiences when one contracts the Covid-19 virus (although I have been told that fatigue is often a symptom of Covid-19 infection and can last much longer than one would like…)

This is being tired of wearing a mask outside and sometimes even inside if one is quarantining at home with others.

This is being tired of not seeing people’s faces — and smiles — while going to work or buying groceries or walking one’s dog.

This is being tired of feeling scared that one might contract the virus.

This is being tired of feeling upset by the folks who have been listening to a different stream of news — one in which mask-wearing is not necessary and the virus is nothing to fear.

This is — in some very sad cases — being heart-broken that one is unable to visit and comfort a loved one who is fighting for her or his life in a hospital.

This is being tired of not seeing one’s extended web of family and friends at Thanksgiving — and probably not seeing them for the winter holidays either…

This is being tired of not being able to do many of the things that some of us formerly took for granted — like BBQ-ing with friends, or seeing a movie in a theater, or going on a date, or eating in a restaurant, or attending a concert or…. you fill in the blank.

The list goes on and on.

The news of surprisingly robust results from many different vaccine trials gives me a shred of hope — a possible light at the end of a long tunnel.

But this will take time — more time than most of us want to acknowledge.

And we will probably need to wear our masks even AFTER we have been vaccinated because there is very little data — yet — about how infectious those who have been vaccinated may be to others who have not yet been vaccinated.

And not everyone — for a spectrum of reasons both historical and personal and political — may agree to be vaccinated…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Then there is the fatigue — physical, emotional, spiritual — that our nurses and EMTs and doctors and others who help to take care of Covid-19 patients are experiencing.

In many cases it is beyond fatigue.

It is trauma.

We are going to emerge from this health crisis with a significant number of our caregivers having been traumatized and in need of all sorts of healing for THEIR bodies, minds and spirits.

Some of them may decide that they can no longer risk their lives taking care of others — especially others who minimize and/or deny the threat of Covid-19 (and thus help to worsen everyone’s collective health and the horrific burden being placed on our health care workers).

I learned recently that one of my friends — a former housemate with whom I lived after college (along with three other people) in a run-down but functional duplex apartment outside Central Square in Cambridge, MA — just spent five days in a hospital fighting to breathe with a Covid infection.

He posted on Facebook:

“I didn’t get the mild version. It was a grueling, terrifying experience. I would like to make a plea for any of you who doubt the danger of this bug to rethink that. If you are thinking, ‘I probably won’t get it’ or ‘it probably won’t kill me’ you’re in danger — and the people around you are as well. Please don’t let your guard down. You’ll never know what you’re missing.”

In another post he shared more details:

“When my COVID was at its worst I had a temperature of 103, and each breath only gave me a few teaspoons of air. I would get panicked, and I would cough and gasp, but there was no more room in my lungs. A nurse at the ER told me to try not to cough; so I started counting my breaths, trying to make it to 100 without coughing. I’d get to about 37 and involuntarily cough/gasp. And then came one of those moments when you realize you had something and never appreciated it and maybe it’s gone. I wanted a regular breath, nothing fancy, and if I could have it I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore. So today I am deeply thankful for my lungs. I’m sharing this hoping that, if you don’t already appreciate your lungs, you’ll take a nice deep breath and appreciate them right now…”

Deep breath in.

And out.

So how did my friend end up in the hospital?

“I got a flu shot the Wednesday of the week before Thanksgiving. Felt achy the next day. Not sure if it was the shot or COVID. By Saturday my chest was getting tight. On Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to the ER every evening (it gets bad in the evening — no one can tell me how the virus knows what time it is), struggling to breath, doing this sort of gasping/cough thing that just excited my lungs and made them more desperate. Fever kept getting worse — 103 degrees by Wednesday, (when) I went to a new hospital.”

They admitted my friend and started him on a 5 day course of Remdesivir.

At this point I didn’t know where this was going. The thing about the coughing/gasping is that they really didn’t have anything to stop it. I asked a doctor how concerned he was that I might die, and he said, “Not at all.” That was reassuring. Up until then I was worried about A) being on a ventilator and B) dying. They tell me that they don’t put people on ventilators as much now that they know more about treatment. Gradually, my symptoms receded. Very grateful.”

He was treated in the hospital with Remdesivir, oxygen, cough syrup, nebulizer treatments, and tylenol to control his fever.

He’s pretty sure he got Covid from his 18-year-old daughter, who had a fever for a couple of days and then was fine.

His final comment on Facebook was:

“(Covid infection) varies greatly and it can turn on a dime.”

Another deep breath in.

And out.

Paul is the second person I know who has been hospitalized due to Covid.

The other — as regular readers of this blog may remember — is a fellow singer who ended up on a ventilator for many weeks and then spent time in rehab for weeks after that.

Both friends are now at home and gradually recovering their strength.

There but for the grace of g-d — along with a few face masks, a lot of physical/social distancing, and regular handwashing — go I…

And ANOTHER deep breath in.

And out.

Yesterday morning I picked up a bunch of postcards for me and two friends to personalize and then mail to potential voters in Georgia.

I loved riding my bike — and not burning any fossil fuels — while picking up and then delivering postcards to my friends.

Climate change is a WHOLE OTHER CRISIS which many of us — similar to the Covid-downplayers and non-mask-wearers during our current Covid crisis — are in denial about.

But that’s a topic for another blog post…

I definitely experienced — and was grateful for — my lungs as I pedaled up a bridge and over the commuter railroad tracks that separate Cambridge from Somerville.

I was also grateful that yesterday’s rain waited until I was home from my postcard pickup and deliveries to begin its gentle precipitation.

And I am grateful to share that a song I recorded many years ago — “Let Me Be Strong” by Barbara Baig — now has its own mini-website.

You can click here to check it out (and you may recognize the names of a few fellow bloggers on the feedback page, bless them…)

I met Barbara when I was organizing open mics at the Cambridge Center For Adult Education in Harvard Square, where I worked for 16 years,

As you may also remember from a recent blog post about how modestly streaming platforms currently pay recording artists and songwriters, it is unlikely that we will make much money from distributing “Let Me Be Strong.”

But we have gotten such positive feedback that we decided — as a kind of mitzvah — to create this mini-website and devote some energy to sharing her song with the rest of the world (or at least those people who have access to digital music platforms…)

The chorus of her song says:

“Let me be strong and moving through fear.

When the truth is blinding, let me see it clear.

And when love comes, let me not hide.

Let my heart be open, let love inside.”

Easier said (or sung) than done, I know — but potentially helpful words for the days and weeks and months ahead…

We have begun reaching out to radio DJs, nurses, doctors, yoga instructors, hospital chaplains, ministers, rabbis, and anyone else whom we think might appreciate hearing the song — and possibly sharing it with others.

We would be honored if YOU, too, are moved to share “Let Me Be Strong” with anyone in your web of family and friends.

You can use the share option by clicking on the upper right corner of this page of our mini-website if the spirit moves you.

We also welcome any ideas about other people, DJs, yoga instructors, nurses, doctors, rabbis, ministers, chaplains, etc. to whom we might reach out — one heart to another.

Clearly a lot of our hearts in the USA are quite frozen with fear (and rage) these days.

And music is one way that we can thaw out and begin to feel/heal…

Deep breath in.

And out.

Let’s all keep singing and dancing and listening to music whenever we can muster the time and energy and heart in the weeks ahead!

In addition to my lungs, I am grateful for pianist/producer Doug Hammer, with whom I recorded “Let Me Be Strong” along with Gene Roma (drums) and Chris Rathbun (bass).

I am grateful that my two friends are recovering from Covid-19.

I am grateful for Barbara Baig, who wrote this song.

I am grateful to Pixabay for their wonderful images.

And I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

Thank you!

I hope you remain well — and well-masked AND well-rested — as viral and political turmoil continue to swirl through our lives.

May our Covid fatigue diminish…

Let us continue to hope for brighter, wiser, happier days ahead

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

And maybe a refreshing shake!


An Attitude Of Gratitude


Today’s song is actually a two-song medley from the musical Sweet Charity.

I included it because the first song, “I’m A Brass Band,” mentions the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which is coming up soon…

I learned online that this year there will be very little marching.

Most of the performances and activity will unfold where the parade usually ends: Herald Square — which is the intersection of Broadway, Sixth Avenue, and 34th street in Manhattan.

Some segments will be pre-recorded and some will be live.

And there will be performances by the casts of many Broadway shows — all of which have been on hiatus for months due to Covid-19.

John McMartin and Gwen Verdon

Sweet Charity was a big hit on Broadway in 1966 starring Gwen Verdon and John McMartin.

Bob Fosse and his wife/muse Gwen Verdon had seen a Fellini movie, The Nights Of Cabiria, and Fosse soon began writing a treatment about how it could become a musical.

Lyricist Dorothy Fields and composer Cy Coleman joined the creative team — and after they had written a few songs, Bob convinced his old friend Neil Simon to work on the script.

I wrote a blog post about Dorothy Fields three years ago which you can read by clicking here if you are curious.

She had an extraordinary career as a lyricist, co-writing hit songs from the late 1920s through the early 1970s.

I’m not sure why she is not a household name similar to Cole Porter or Irving Berlin — both of whom, incidentally, she worked with as a librettist (script writer).

Maybe because she was a woman?

Maybe because she didn’t hire publicists to keep her name in the papers?

When many of her friends and contemporaries like Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Richard Rodgers had become frustrated by the arrival of rock & roll on the cultural landscape, Fields teamed up with a composer almost half her age — Coleman, who was 37 years old — and experienced one of the biggest hits of her entire career when she was 61!

Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman

Her lyrics for the songs in Sweet Charity are witty and hip in a pre-summer-of-love-kinda-way.

And I love the verse for “I’m A Brass Band.”

“Somebody loves me — my heart is beating so fast. All kinds of music is pouring out of me — somebody loves me at last…”

I feel very loved — or perhaps a more understated word would be appreciated — by the WordPress community.

I am not sure why, but the average number of people visiting my site has doubled in recent weeks.

And so far in November I have already had more people visit the site than in any previous month!

The WordPress community continues to feel like a blessed parallel universe — where respect for others is still a norm.

I love reading other people’s blog posts, and I love reading the comments that each post inspires.

And I love seeing increasingly familiar names turn up in the comments section of an ever-widening variety of blog posts.

I also love when people take the time not only to read and listen to one of my blog posts but also to leave a comment.

Thank you!!!

Last Sunday I was listening to a sermon via Zoom while addressing postcards to potential voters in Georgia — encouraging them to register to vote in the upcoming senate elections.

The theme of the sermon was gratitude — and how powerful a practice it can be in our lives.

As soon as one slows down and starts looking around, most of us can find a seemingly endless stream of things to be grateful for.

And Thanksgiving IS a traditional time to count one’s blessings.

So let’s begin…

I am grateful for music and for great songwriters like Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman.

I am grateful for pianist/engineer Doug Hammer, with whom I have recorded (and mixed and mastered) many fun versions of songs over the past 20+ years — some of which I share on this blog and some of which I am starting to share via Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, etc.

I am grateful for marching bands — who do not need any electricity at all to generate a soul-stirring amount of sound and excitement.

I am grateful for friends and family.

I am grateful for food, clothing and shelter.

I am grateful for photosynthesis — which creates oxygen for all of us animals to breathe and transforms energy from a nearby star (our sun) into something we can eat and use to fuel our own lives.

I am grateful for all the folks who grow and harvest and package and deliver food for us city-dwellers to eat.

I am grateful for the two twenty-somethings who recently gave my bike a complete tune-up at a store they help to run not far from where I live.

I am grateful for electricity, my laptop computer, and the internet — which allow me to write blog posts, record songs, and share them with anyone else in the rest of the world who also has access to electricity, a computer and the internet.

I am grateful for my Music Together families — with whom I hop and clap and kick and spin and dance and sing each week (in a local park wearing lots of masks and also via Zoom).

I am grateful for the men installing new, more efficient windows in our basement today.

I am grateful to my friend, the jazz pianist and composer Steve Sweeting, who gave me the sheet music for “I’m A Brass Band” many years ago because he thought I might like to perform it some day…

I am grateful for all the folks around the world and in the USA who are actively engaged in the challenging, ever-evolving work of living in a democracy.

I am grateful to Pixabay and ye olde internet for the images in this blog post.

A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to you and yours

And, of course, I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

What are YOU feeling grateful for these days?

Happiness…


is a thing called Joe!

This song was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by one of his top-three collaborators, Yip Harburg.

They wrote it for the great Ethel Waters to sing in a 1943 movie version of the musical Cabin In the Sky made by the Freed unit at MGM.

Ethel Waters

The film had a rather extraordinary cast — including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Butterfly McQueen and Duke Ellington.

It was also the first movie directed by Liza Minnelli’s father, Vincente — who before that had been a successful designer and director on Broadway.

Ethel Waters had also starred in the original Broadway version of Cabin in The Sky, which was directed by the famous choreographer George Balanchine with music composed by fellow Russian Vernon Duke and lyrics by John Latouche.

I’m not sure when I first heard this song, but it was a natural to include in the very first program of music — featuring songs composed by Harold Arlen — which I put together with pianist Joe Reid.

Joe Reid

Joe had called me up and asked me if I would like to do an hour of music with him at a retirement community called Brookhaven (where his dad lives).

This was a few months after I had been laid off from a non-profit where I had worked for 16 years, and I said, “Yes, please!”

Joe has proved to be an excellent collaborator.

During the past seven years we have put together one-hour programs of music featuring songs by — and stories about — Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, the Gershwin Brothers, Oscar Hammerstein, Yip Harburg, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Jule Styne, and Harry Warren as well as one-hour programs of songs written for Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and Ethel Merman.

We also have assembled programs featuring Irish-American songs, songs in honor of Father’s Day, songs in honor of Mother’s Day, songs written for Disney movies made while Walt was still alive, and winter holiday songs written by Jewish songwriters.

Joe and Will

In addition to his agile musicality as a jazz pianist, Joe brings a reliable hybrid car and a level temperament to our collaboration.

He always shows up on time, and has only missed one gig in the past eight years due to an unusually bad cold.

He is also passionately involved with politics and recently installed solar panels on the roof of his house.

He is a musical mensch.

In addition to making music together, we have spent hundreds of hours driving to and from gigs in his Prius — discussing the current political climate, his extended family, how he transitioned from corporate lawyer to full-time pianist, and much more…

We were on track to perform over seventy five gigs together in 2020 before Covid-19 stopped us in our tracks.

In the past seven months we’ve performed together once — outside and well-masked — at one of our favorite retirement communities, Springhouse.

We watch the Covid case numbers rising again in Massachusetts and wonder when we will be able to perform together again…

This song also takes on a new resonance following the recent election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead our country for the next four years.

Joe Biden celebrating his 75th birthday

Many of us are very excited by this election.

I am also aware that there are many who are sad and angry that their candidate lost…

Deep breath out.

Deep breath in.

I remain very grateful to live in a country that holds presidential elections every four years.

I also am truly grateful to live in a country with a system of checks and balances between our president, our congress, our judicial system, and our investigative media.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

I am hopeful that our country can re-discover a sense of respect and inclusivity with different leadership in the White House.

In my Music Together classes I see on a weekly basis how strong the “monkey see, monkey do” effect is…

Not just on children, but on everyone!

One of the main ways we learn what is possible — and how to behave — is by seeing other human beings in action.

Joe Biden brings compassion and empathy — which he gained in part due to the heart-breaking losses of his first wife Neilia, baby daughter Amy, and grownup son Beau — to the White House.

He also brings a decades-long history of collaboration in the US Senate, working with Republican peers across the aisle on behalf of the residents of the USA (and also on behalf of many corporate donors and lobbyists…)

We shall see how he governs!

Joe and Jill Biden stepping off an Amtrak train…

I am also very curious to see who Joe and Kamala invite to join them as part of their cabinet and staff…

And as someone who loves to travel via trains, I like that Joe is a long-time commuter — from Washington, DC to Delaware — on Amtrak.

Thank you to Joe Reid for seven years of musical collaboration.

Thank you to all the poll workers who stepped up — some for the first time! — to run our recent national election.

Thank you to Wikimedia Commons and to Stephen Fischer for the photos in this blog post.

Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for recording this song with me at his studio north of Boston (where I record all of my musical programs so that I have piano-only versions with which to practice…)

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

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Dancing In The Dark…

I have long loved the song “Dancing In The Dark.”

It was originally written for a 1931 revue called The Band Wagon — which was notable for being one of the last times that Fred Astaire and his sister Adele performed together on Broadway.

The lyrics feel like an existential poem to me.

Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz

They were written by Howard Dietz — who also co-wrote the script for The Band Wagon with George S. Kaufman — plus music by Arthur Schwartz.

Dietz went on to become the head of public relations at MGM movie studios.

He is reputed to have chosen their lion logo as well as their motto: Ars Gratia Artis (art for art’s sake).

While based in MGM’s New York office, he wrote co-wrote songs for decades with Arthur Schwartz, including “That’s Entertainment” for MGM’s film version of The Band Wagon in 1953 — which again featured Fred Astaire, who performed with Cyd Charisse while…”Dancing In The Dark.”

Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse

The message of the song seems particularly appropriate in the days leading up to a very important national election here in the USA.

I have been limiting my exposure to radio and TV because most of the news is simply very high-octane speculation.

However, I was happy to learn that early voter turnout is very high.

People are engaged with the political process!

But I am also concerned that gun/ammunition sales are very high (although I have been told this often happens when gun-using folks in the USA fear a Democratic victory which might lead to future firearm regulations…)

The state of our democracy can seem very dark these days — with our president repeatedly saying that he may not honor the results of our upcoming election while simultaneously casting seeds of doubt about the voting process itself.

And he continues to hold large public rallies during a health pandemic — after one of which his ally (and former presidential candidate) Herman Cain died from COVID-19.

All the while hospitals in cities around the United States fill up to capacity…

And nurses, EMTs, and doctors — who are working 12 hour shifts day in and day out to save the lives of their fellow citizens — continue to plead with us to wear our face masks, wash our hands, and maintain our social distancing…

I am truly amazed by our health care workers’ dedication, selflessness, and love for their fellow human beings.

I am amazed that they show up for work — day after day and night after night — while putting their own lives AND the lives of their loved ones at risk for catching this virus.

I am amazed that they treat the folks who deny the threat of Covid-19 and refuse to wear a mask with as much compassion as they treat the folks who wore a mask and still got sick.

What they are doing is astounding.

I don’t have adjectives to describe how I feel about the virus-deniers.

Or at least adjectives that I want to put into print.

I do sometimes wonder if the extreme dysfunction unfolding in our country is a symptom of mother nature getting serious about reducing the number of human beings who now live on (and some might say over-run and infest) planet earth…

Denying the science of how a virus spreads and multiplies — exponentially! — is a form of madness which has already killed hundreds of thousands of people here in the USA…

I see it as being very similar to denying the science of climate change.

One can deny it all one wants…

Yet the scientific processes — such as the fact that a virus can spread exponentially if unchecked and will swiftly overwhelm the staff of your local hospital — will continue to unfold whether one denies the scientific realities or not.

The fact that our earth’s atmosphere is changing due to our human (mis)use of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial era is also undeniable.

In fact I recently saw a reprint of an article from the early 20th century in which scientists described and predicted how our increasing use of fossil fuels would alter the earth’s atmosphere.

Some people have been aware of this challenge for generations!

The fact that climate change is increasing the severity of storms, increasing the frequency of forest fires, and changing the patterns of how ecosystems around the planet do (or don’t) stay in balance is undeniable.

It’s all over the news in the USA.

It’s what hundreds if not thousands of scientists have been warning about for decades.

Will we as a species continue to deny it is happening?

Will we continue to live our lives as if nothing huge and profound is changing?

Continue to drive our SUVs and pickup trucks as many miles as we (or our credit cards) can afford?

Continue to travel as much as our budgets (or credit cards) will allow?

Continue to refuse to put solar arrays on our roofs?

Continue to consume more resources than can be sustainably grown/harvested/produced here on planet earth?

Fundamental patterns and cycles here on planet earth will continue to tip out of balance regardless of what our leaders may or may not be saying.

There are scientific processes and realities at work which can’t be denied or spun or ignored until they go away.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It is indeed an extraordinary time to be alive…

I hope and trust that we will persevere.

That enough people will wake up to the realities of science.

That enough people will realize that wearing a mask and continuing to practice social distancing is in fact a very loving and respectful thing to do for one’s self, for one’s family, for one’s co-workers, for one’s neighborhood, and for all the folks who risk their lives working at one’s local hospital.

And that we can continue to dance through this period of darkness, keeping a sense of love and light and fairness and respect burning in our hearts as we cast our ballots.

Thank you to Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz for writing this song during another very challenging era in our country’s history…

Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for making music and recording music with me for the past 20+ years AND then for fixing and mixing songs with me from his home studio via Zoom in recent months.

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

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

I truly treasure our community of WordPress bloggers and readers and commenters…

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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A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

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

And writing songs.

And leading Music Together classes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was it for rehearsing with Joe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

Ode To Water

Ode To Water

 

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

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So far we have experienced as much rain as snow…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And then there are clouds — another form of water…

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

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And water is such an important substance in our bodies…

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

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

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

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

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Ocean waves…

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Cups of tea…

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Whales…

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Rainbows…

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Rivers…

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Splashing hands…

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Waterfalls…

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Water slides…

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Ponds…

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Lakes…

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Glaciers…

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Rotini…

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Thunderstorms…

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Reflections…

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Tears…

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More waterfalls…

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Aquariums…

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Raindrops…

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Leaves…

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Jelly fish…

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More glaciers…

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Mountain tops…

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Impressionistic ripples…

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Otherworldly reflections…

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Libations…

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Waves…

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Hot springs…

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And ice crystals…

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

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

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