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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I Heard The Bells…

I Heard The Bells…

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Jazz pianist Joe Reid (left) and I (right) have put together a bunch of one-hour programs of music during the past six years.

You can click here for a list of our musical programs if you are curious.

We share them at public libraries, retirement communities, memory cafes, and coffee houses.

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Our latest program features songs written for — and/or made famous by — Bing Crosby.

I had known very little about Mr. Crosby before requesting several biographies about him via our local inter-library network (which includes the terrific Robbins library pictured above in a photo by Jinny Sagorin).

Mostly I remembered him for singing an incongruous but lovely duet with David Bowie on a Christmas TV special.

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I also knew that he loved golfing and had sung “White Christmas” — which became one of the highest selling recordings ever made.

And I was aware that at least one of his children had written about how challenging it was to have him as a father.

After reading several books about him, my perspective on Mr. Crosby has become much more complicated and fascinating and human…

To begin with, I hadn’t understood how HUGE a star Bing was.

His weekly radio programs reached millions of listeners for decades.

He was in the top ten of Hollywood box office money-makers for decades.

His recordings regularly topped the charts for decades.

He was definitely one of America’s first “superstars.”

He was also a devoted Catholic, following the spiritual path of his mother (who had requested that Bing’s father convert to Catholicism before they were married).

He sang an extraordinarily wide range of songs — from cowboy to Irish to jazz to pop to show tunes to hymns to Americana.

Although a Republican, he had a huge hit during the early years of the Great Depression with Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s empathetic lament for the common man, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” — which hit the airwaves right before FDR was elected to his first term as president.

And he was one of the first recording artists to release an album of Christmas holiday songs.

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One of the many Christmas songs Bing recorded — “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” — has become a new favorite of mine.

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Bing recorded it on October 3, 1956, and it soon became a holiday classic.

I recorded it earlier this month with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA (and our version is included in the player at the beginning of this blog post).

I discovered on Wikipedia that the lyrics were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1863 while the USA was in the middle of our astoundingly horrible and bloody Civil War.

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He lived in Cambridge, MA — a couple of miles away from where I now live — and one of his sons had left home to fight in the Union Army.

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You can click here to learn more about Longfellow’s poem on Wikipedia if you are curious.

He experienced many deep losses during his lifetime — his first wife died after a miscarriage and his second wife died from burn wounds after her dress accidentally caught on fire — and perhaps as a result, he developed very empathetic heart.

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Many different composers have been moved to set this particular poem to music over the years.

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In 1956 Johnny Marks — a Jewish songwriter whose creative output also includes “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” “Run, Rudolph, Run,” “Silver and Gold,” “A Holly, Jolly Christmas,” and all of the other songs from the Rudolph holiday TV show — devised a lovely tune for a few stanzas from Longfellow’s poem.

I’m not sure why this song touches me so deeply…

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Perhaps it is an echo of Longfellow’s broken-heartedness and faith reverberating from the depths of America’s civil war to our present moment of cultural unrest…

I am grateful to be reminded of the gentle power of words and music during this season of short days and long nights.

I am grateful to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons and Stephen Fischer and Jinny Sagorin for the images in this blog post.

And I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

May we experience more peace and empathy in the new year!

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Let The Day Unfold…

Let The Day Unfold…

 

Although my spirits are flagging due to the shorter days and longer nights of autumn in New England, I want to keep a small flame of optimism alight.

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So this post is dedicated to the political process unfolding here in these currently-not-very-united United States of America.

I have included a song I co-wrote several years ago called “Let The Day Unfold.”

It started life as a verse/chorus sketch which guitarist/songwriter Scott Kowalik shared with pianist/songwriter Javier Pico.

I, Scott, Javier, and two other people — Robert M. Brown and Alan Najarian — collaborated for three years in an original rock band called CUE when we were in our twenties.

CUE Screenshot

Each of us moved on to different undertakings (including lawyer, real estate developer, and non-profit arts administrator) but all of us have kept music in our lives in one way or another.

And our musical paths continue to overlap every now and then — such as when I visited Javier, and he shared with me this song sketch which Scott had shared with him.

If my memory serves me Javier gave me chords + words for the chorus as well as some chords + some lyrics for a verse. I expanded the verse structure and wrote several more verse lyrics. I wish I had a copy of what Javier originally gave to me for comparison with my finished products…

The version at the beginning of this blog post is a GarageBand draft to which a long-time collaborator, Doug Hammer, added some string parts. He also helped me sample a recording of one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most famous speeches which I included during an instrumental break.

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I wrote a blog post which featured Doug — who is a gifted pianist, composer, and engineer/producer — a couple of years ago.

I remain very discouraged that war continues to be such a huge part of life on planet earth.

 

Our country has been at war off and on for generations.

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Many of us — who have not experienced war first-hand — live in a privileged bubble of ignorance and denial.

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Yet every day brave women and men sign up to defend their country’s values, borders, and culture.

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This child, however, did not sign up to be part of an armed conflict…

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Who knows what he will choose to do with his life when he grows up…

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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And so our wars continue here on planet earth…

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I often wonder how making music — which seems very modest and inconsequential compared with the bravery and sacrifice and horror and trauma and chaos of war — fits into the larger equations of life on planet earth.

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In an ideal world, music brings people together.

Yet it can also — such as George M. Cohan’s song “Over There” during WWI and again during WWII — inspire people to enlist in order to wage war.

And I have read about soldiers in Afghanistan playing certain songs to lift their spirits and boost their resolve while they are deployed.

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I know music lifts my spirits on a daily basis.

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But it seems to pale in importance when I reflect upon things like genocide…

Another thing I often ponder is the difference between “either/or” and “both/and.”

Every day I find myself slipping into an either/or mindset — it’s us or them… I’m completely right and someone else is completely wrong… it’s my way or the highway, etc.

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“Either/or” is a mindset which often leads to conflict… or worse.

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“Both/and” is a mindset which can lead to listening.

To pausing.

To honoring the paradoxes and contradictions of life.

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I watched another Democratic presidential debate this week — and attempted to remain open to as many different opinions and perspectives and visions and explanations as I could manage.

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I do feel some optimism when I see the range of candidates.

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I’ve been giving small amounts of money each month to several of them.

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I’m excited that many women are running for president.

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And people of color.

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With some thought-provoking ideas.

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I am also amazed that an un-closeted, married gay man is in the race.

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Some candidates are dreaming bigger than others.

And I am grateful for that.

When our country collapsed into a huge economic depression ninety years ago, we elected a president with big dreams.

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And he managed to convert many of those big dreams into action — despite having significant personal health challenges.

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I love that he — a man living with paralysis due to polio (or perhaps undiagnosed Guillain-Barre syndrome  – an autoimmune neuropathy) uses the word “paralyzes” in his famous speech about fear.

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

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I find solace and take comfort in the conviction in FDR’s voice — ringing across the decades thanks to the magic of digital zeros and ones.

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I also find solace and comfort and inspiration in many of the new voices speaking up here on planet earth.

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I also love finding new voices and kindred spirits among my fellow bloggers on WordPress.

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

Thank you to Scott, Javier, Alan, Robert, and Doug for sharing a love of music over many years.

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And thank YOU for reading and listening to yet another blog post!

The Look of Love!

The Look of Love!

 

My last few posts have been a bit grim.

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s theme is “The Look Of Love…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yum!!!

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

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

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

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A lot of pies…

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

And very delicious.

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

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

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

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

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My niece wore a beautiful and very red dress.

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

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The groomsmen were also full of fun and creativity.

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I love this photo of the groom and his parents.

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

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

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

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

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Everyone cleaned up very nicely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few observations:

The groom is very tall.

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He has a wonderful family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After this was dinner.

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And an extraordinary sunset.

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

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

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

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

Dancing was interspersed with a few wedding games.

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

And the cutting of the cake…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And lots of bittersweet ice cream…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Kind and Steady Heart!

A Kind and Steady Heart!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love the wisdom of this song.

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

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

And perseverance!

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

And steadiness!

And balance…

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

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

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

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

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

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

How might we live more simply?

How might we consume fewer shared resources?

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

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

As is kindness.

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

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

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

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

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

What I have right now is more than enough!

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s To Life

Here’s To Life

 

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

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

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

I respond that many great songs ARE still being written.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father’s Day!

Grandpa Tom

Andrew Thomas McMillan

This Sunday is Father’s Day in the USA.

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

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

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

But he was always willing to talk and listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch Me…

Catch Me…

 

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

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

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

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

pier + smokestacks

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

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

Boy-train-woods

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

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

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

hurricane-irma

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

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

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

Yikes!!!

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

Man-Help

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

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

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

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

north-beach-erosion

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

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

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

And global greenhouse gas levels continue to rise.

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

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

trash-on-beach

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

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

Times-Square

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

Often this is when I catch a cold.

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

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

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

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

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

So I am utterly complicit.

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

Moss+Water Droplets

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

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

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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

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

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Thank you to David Friedman for writing such compelling songs.

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

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

Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.

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

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

Daisy-Pier

 

In Praise of David Friedman

In Praise of David Friedman

Friedman-Songbook

 

David Friedman is a composer, a songwriter, a conductor, an arranger, a producer, a philosopher, a teacher, AND a dedicated advocate for the singer Nancy LaMott, who died much too young in 1995.

I first became aware of him after hearing one of Nancy’s CDs — and eventually buying all of them because I was so touched by the heartfulness in her voice.

Nancy-LaMott

Nancy recorded many of David’s songs, and I fell in love with several of them.

So when David put together a songbook of his original works, I bought it and got to work!

Two of his songs ended up on a CD of songs about love which singer Bobbi Carrey and I recorded with pianist/engineer/producer Doug Hammer, arranger Mike Callahan, and a handful of Boston-area musicians called If I Loved You.

Baby feet + hands

“I’ll Be Here With You” (on the player at the beginning of this blog post) is one of Bobbi’s and my favorite songs with which to end a performance.

And, although I do not know the details of Nancy and David’s musical partnership, I have the sense that this song may have had a strong emotional resonance for them (and might even have been inspired by their friendship…)

David-and-Nancy

Perhaps people who know more about David and Nancy’s history can weigh in using the comments section at the end of this blog post.

I think of David whenever someone says something along the lines of, “They don’t write great standards like they used to…”

There are, in fact, many people who are alive and well on planet earth and who are writing beautiful, wise songs.

But the ways that those songs reach — and touch — the rest of the world have changed significantly since the days of sheet music and singing around pianos in living rooms.

polar-bears

No longer does a new song get recorded by many, many different performers — with different recordings of the same song vying for the top spot on a few national radio networks.

The rise of the singer-songwriter — along with self-contained bands who create their own original material — marked a significant shift in our popular musical culture.

David’s songs have been recorded by pop stars including Diana Ross, Barry Manilow, and Petula Clark — but these days Diana, Barry and Petula are not dominating the charts as they once did…

However, we now have many new ways to share music — such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify… and even personal blogs like mine.

And there are many singers still devoted to both the Great American Songbook of standards from the 1920s-1960s AND to all of the great songs that have been written since then.

So ripples of music continue to wash around our culture and around our planet…

Water-Surface

Thank you to David Friedman for writing songs.

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

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

Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.

Thank you to Pixabay for most of the images in this blog post (and to the world wide web for the ones of David and of Nancy).

And thank YOU for making time so that you could read and listen to another one of my blog posts!

mother-child-sunset

I Carry Your Heart…

I Carry Your Heart…

 

Another Valentine’s Day is here.

BirchHeart

I like the idea of a day to celebrate and honor love.

RaspberryHeart

This blog post features two songs written by Steve Sweeting — a jazz pianist, songwriter, teacher, and composer who currently lives in New York City.

LogsHeart

“I Carry Your Heart” is a song he wrote while living in Shanghai, when he was commissioned by Chinese choral conductor Jie Yi to write a song  — based on an American poem —  for a festival in Ningbo.

HedgeHeart

Steve chose an early poem by ee cummings.

BleedingHearts

A few years later he and I recorded a non-choral version at Doug Hammer’s studio on the north shore of Boston.

CloudHeart

I love the images in ee cummings’ poem, and I love the way that Steve set them to music.

BeachStonesHeartAnd I love Steve.

HandHeartClouds

He and I have been friends since he lived — with a Yamaha grand piano — in a studio apartment above an ice cream store in Brighton, MA.

DaisyStump

He and his wife and two children have lived all around planet earth, but we have remained in contact.

HeartBabyFeetHands

Right now he is working on an original musical with lyricist/librettist Geoffrey Goldberg called Piece of Mind.

AloneParkBench

It is about an 80-year-old former USO dancer named Robert whose mind is failing him.

CatMoonAlone

If you live in the NYC area, Steve and Geoffrey are having two staged readings — on Monday, March 5th at 6pm and on Tuesday, March 6th at 2:00 pm — at the Davenport Theatre (354 W. 45th Street @ 9th Avenue).

HeartCandies

It is by invitation only, but you can click on this Piece of Mind link to find out how to be invited…

 

The second song — “What Am I Doing Alone?” — was inspired by a phone conversation that Steve’s wife once had with a friend.

WomanRedCity

When Steve’s wife told him about this conversation, he took notes and then wrote a song inspired by her conversation.

ManAloneWIndowShades

And it took him about an hour!

NeonOpenSign

These two songs represent a yin and a yang perspective on love.

LonelyManWIndowCIty

Valentine’s Day is much more pleasant to celebrate when one has a beloved person with whom to share the festivities and hoopla.

EmptyPlaceSetting

And Valentine’s Day can feel rather raw and lonely if one does not have a special someone in one’s life…

ReflectionCellPhoneMan

I love the story that unfolds in this song.

PeopleCellPhones

And the sense of longing and hoping that Steve captured in the music…

WomanReflectedInGlass

I also love finding beautiful photos at Pixabay.

WineGlassesRestaurant

Thank you to all of the photographers and models who share their work on this site.

PianoManPark

Thank you, too, to Steve for writing these songs.

ManCityscape

And to ee cummings for his poems.

WomanRoofCity

And to Steve for asking me to sing his songs!

BrickManReflection

And to Doug for helping us record them.

WindowIntoRestaurant

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

HandCoffeeBook

Happy Valentine’s Day… and Week… and Month… and Year!