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 starteda 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 canclick hereto listen to our version of “We Need A Little Christmas.”
You can click hereto listen to our version of “Winter Wonderland.” You can click here to listen to our version of “The Christmas Song.”
You canclick hereto listen to our version of “Silver Bells” (which was featured in a recent blog post).
And you canclick hereto listen to our version of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”
Thank you to Pixabayand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
This year December arrived in Boston with rain and wind.
I had to lead my final Music Together class of the fall term via Zoom rather than outside in a local park — which is where, wearing masks and sitting in a circle on blankets set 10 feet apart from each other, we have been meeting weekly for the past two and a half months.
We have a two-week session featuring winter holiday songs starting next week, and then a few weeks of downtime.
I never imagined I’d be leading music classes out of doors in December, but if the sun is shining — and we wear enough layers of clothing — most families have been quite enthusiastic about making music outside.
2020 is a year full of surprises, and we are doing our best to remain flexible — and safe!
As regular readers of my blog posts know, during this pandemic I’ve begun distributing songs to digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.
During the month of December I hope to release one winter holiday song per week.
Jay (who wrote the music) and Ray (who wrote the lyrics) were a famous songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”
They were also both Jewish.
Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans the same year in Salamanca (not far from Buffalo) N.Y.
They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.
As I have noted in previous blog posts, many of my most favorite winter holiday songs were written by Jewish songwriters.
This fact is an example (to me, at least) of the pluralism that the USA has occasionally been able to embrace — and model for others — during our ever-evolving history.
I love that “White Christmas,” “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song” (among many others!) were written by Jewish songwriters — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.
I always associate “Silver Bells” with my mother’s mother — a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”
In the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope’s character is involved with gambling and ends up owing $10,000 to a mobster.
His solution is to disguise himself as Santa Claus and raise money from holiday donations.
In some interviews Jay Livingston explained that the inspiration for the song came from the bells rung by Salvation Army volunteers during the holiday season.
However, in an interview on NPR after Livingston had died, Ray Evans said that they were inspired by an actual bell which one of them kept on his desk at Paramount Pictures, where they were under contract at the time.
Probably the song was inspired by both of these things…
Not every song has a great verse — which is often why they are not included in popular recordings.
But “Silver Bells” has a lovely verse:
“Christmas makes you feel emotional…
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional…
Whatever happens and what may be, here is what Christmas-time means to me.”
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I hope we are able to consume fewer things this holiday season.
One of the reasons why I am excited about releasing songs via digital music platforms is that I no longer need to create a CD to share my music.
To manufacture a pound of plastic (30 CDs per pound), it requires 300 cubic feet of natural gas, 2 cups of crude oil and 24 gallons of water.
It is estimated that it will take over 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill.
People throw away millions of music CDs each year!
Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete (outdated, useless, or unwanted).
A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Futuresays, however, that “CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including: automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, and even jewel cases.”
And they offer a free recycling service if one pays to send one’s old CDs, DVDs and hard drives to them:
“CDs and hard drives are made of high value recyclable material – polycarbonate plastic and aluminum respectively. The recycling of CDs and hard drives saves substantial amounts of energy and prevents significant amounts of both air and water pollution attributed to the manufacturing of these items from virgin material.”
Maybe THAT will be one of my holiday projects this year… recycling CDs and DVDs that I will never listen to again.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
The news here in the USA seems to become simultaneously more hopeful (with the Biden-Harris team starting to build their administrative teams) and terrifying (with supporters of our current president calling for violence and even martial law) each day that we move closer to a graceless and belligerent transition of power.
So I will end this blog post with a bunch of lovely images from Pixabay which the song “Silver Bells” reminded me of.
Thank you to Jay and Ray for writing this song.
Thank you to the executives at Paramount who kept renewing Jay and Ray’s songwriting contracts.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for being such a terrific collaborator.
Thank you for the sun continuing to shine on our blue-green planet.
Thank you for the new, more energy efficient windows in our basement — with blown insulation in our walls on the horizon…
Thank you for the natural gas (energy collected by plants long ago from the sun) now fueling our furnace and kitchen stove.
Thank you for vegetables — which capture energy from the sun and convert it into delicious things for us to eat, such as bell peppers.
Thank you for all the families who have chosen to make music together with me during the past few years. I am grateful for our musical sessions, which serve — for me at least — as a much-needed respite from the unsettling news swirling through our lives these days.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!
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!
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.
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.
And, of course, I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.
The holidays are approaching, and I am staying home.
As Covid-19 cases rise exponentially around the USA, we are being advised not to travel.
And to limit all gatherings to as few people as possible.
And to wear masks.
And to socialize outside if possible.
It’s very difficult not to spend time with loved ones, especially during the holiday season.
I’ll participate in a couple of Zoom gatherings on Thanksgiving and probably on Christmas, too.
I recorded this song by Robert Allen and Al Stillman a few years ago with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.
Composer Robert Allen and lyricist Al Stillman wrote several hits for Perry Como (Allen was his accompanist for many years) and also for Johnny Mathis — such as “It’s Not For Me To Say” and “Chances Are.”
Al Stillman also had a decades-long career as a staff writer at Radio City Music Hall.
Both of them were Jewish.
As I have written in past blog posts, a lot of my favorite holiday songs were written or co-written by Jewish songwriters — including “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks.
Most of these composers and lyricists were immigrants or the children of immigrants.
I think of these songs as valuable threads in the social fabric/history of the USA.
However, when I was mixing this particular song with Doug via Zoom earlier this month, one word in the lyrics jumped out at me in a new way.
This year’s activism in the USA has changed the way I hear certain words — such as “Dixie.”
According to an article I found on WRAL.com — a North Carolina TV station’s website — “historians disagree about the origins of the word ‘Dixie.'”
“Some believe it derives from the Mason-Dixon line, between Maryland and Pennsylvania (which) was drawn in 1767 to resolve a border dispute between the colonies but later became the informal border separating the South and North.”
Other historians trace the word “Dixie” back to $10 notes in Louisiana in the 1800s.
On the back of these notes was printed “dix” — which means ten in French — and the Citizens’ Bank of New Orleans issued many of these notes before the Civil War.
They became known as “Dixies.”
The word “Dixie” appears in a LOT of popular songs dating from the middle of the 19th century right through most of the 20th century.
“I Wish I Was In Dixie” a.k.a. “Dixie” was written by Daniel Decatur Emmett and published in 1859 — although some historians believe that Ohio-born Emmett appropriated/stole it from an African-American family (also from Ohio) who performed for many decades as the Snowden Family Band.
“Dixie” originally appeared in minstrel shows — a very popular form of entertainment in which white performers impersonated and made fun of black people using racist stereotypes — which Dan Emmett performed in and produced all around the USA.
Then it became a popular Confederate Army marching song and an unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy.
I was surprised to learn that it was also a favorite song of Abraham Lincoln (who was born in Kentucky) and that many different sets of lyrics for “Dixie” have been written over the years by people living north AND south of the Mason-Dixon line.
You can read a Wikipedia article about the song by clicking here.
After the Civil War, the word “Dixie” continued to turn up in popular songs — often written by northern songwriters who had never even visited the south.
It was usually used to evoke a mythical way of life full of relaxed pleasures while completely ignoring the horrific history of slavery (which happened not just in the southern states but all over the USA, including on an estate in Medford, MA, just a short bike ride away from where I live outside Boston).
This is why the musical group The Dixie Chicks (whose name I did not realize was in part a pun on a beloved album and song, “Dixie Chicken” by the rock band Little Feat) recently decided to rename themselves The Chicks.
This is also why commissioners in Florida’s Miami-Dade county voted unanimously earlier this year to rename sections of the Old Dixie Highway under their jurisdiction as the Harriet Tubman Highway in honor of the abolitionist who led many, many enslaved people to freedom.
So… as soon as Doug is comfortable hosting other human beings in his recording studio again, I am going to re-record the line in “Home For The Holidays” which mentions Dixie — singing “Georgia’s southern shore” instead of “Dixie’s southern shore.”
I will also continue to wear a face mask whenever I go outside.
And I will remain grateful to live in a state led by a governor — and a Republican at that! — who respects science and scientists.
And I will continue to light a candle for all of the folks we have lost to Covid-19 so far.
Deep breath in…
Deep breath out…
Thank you to all of the health care professionals and hospital support staff who take care of folks with Covid-19 — even the people who refuse to wear masks or respect the fact that we are living in a public health emergency.
Thank you to all of the essential workers who staff our food stores and deliver our packages.
Thank you to Al Stillman and Robert Allen for writing “Home For the Holidays.”
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical AND production skills.
Thank you to Pixabay for most of the beautiful images in this blog post.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
May you have safe and loving holidays this year despite our current pandemic.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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…
It is an appropriate choice for today’s blog post because — in addition to learning how to release my original songs — I am learning how to release cover songs.
As you probably already know, a cover song is a new interpretation/recording of someone else’s song.
It was once a much more common phenomenon than it is today, with several versions of a new hit song – recorded by singers such as Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, and Doris Day — climbing the charts at the same time.
Then came singer-songwriters, rock bands who write their own material, and producers who co-write hit songs with/for pop stars… so nowadays it is less common for major recording artists to release cover songs.
Pianist Doug Hammer has a wonderful recording studio in the lower level of his home, and I have been recording all of my rehearsals with him for over twenty years.
If you are curious to learn more about Doug and his studio, you can click here for a lovely interview with him.
Every now and then he and I come up with a particularly fun or moving interpretation of someone else’s song.
In recent years I’ve shared a bunch of these recordings via my blog…
Now, during this period of Covid-19 isolation, we are polishing/tweaking many of them — with me listening at home via Zoom and Doug in his studio — so that I can distribute them to anyone in the world who has access to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and other digital platforms.
In order to distribute a cover song, one needs to pay for a mechanical license to the person who wrote the song.
This income is often split with the songwriter’s publishing company.
Originally a mechanical license allowed someone to reproduce a song in mechanical form — starting with player piano rolls, wax cylinders, and early phonographs.
Nowadays, even though it is still called a mechanical license, there is very little “mechanical” left in the process — since most of the music sold and listened to these days is distributed digitally in streams of zeros and ones.
You can read a terrific historical summary of how recording technology has evolved over the past 100+ years on Wikipedia by clicking here.
Money paid for a mechanical license goes to the songwriter and possibly their publisher.
There are at least three organizations in the USA where one can purchase mechanical licenses — the Harry Fox Agency (which has been around for a long time), Songfile (which I think is affiliated with the Harry Fox Agency) or Easy Song Licensing (which is the one I am using).
The US Government sets the rates for mechanical licenses, which started out in 1909 at two cents — meaning the songwriter and publisher each earned a penny — and remained unchanged for 67 years.
In 1976 Congress created a Copyright Royalty Tribunal, which decided that mechanical rates should be raised to 2.75 cents.
In 1987, the Music Publishers Association, the Songwriters Guild Of America and the Recording Industry Association of America successfully filed a joint proposal with the Copyright Royalty Tribunal to ask that mechanical royalty rates be increased every two years, based on U.S. inflation data.
Currently the statutory mechanical royalty rate is 9.1 cents per song per unit for recordings of compositions up to five minutes (5:00) in length. If your recording is longer than five minutes, you have to pay additional 1.75 cents per minute or fraction thereof.
The next song I am releasing was written by a fellow songwriter named Barbara Baig whom I met twenty years ago at open mics I used to host in Harvard Square.
My recording of her song is 5 minutes and 39 seconds long; so I paid her and her personal publishing company in advance for 100 digital downloads — (100 x 9.1 cents) + (100 x 1.75 cents) = $10.85.
If all goes well, my recording of her song will be available for streaming and downloading next month.
Once it is released, I will need to register my recording with a non-profit organization called SoundExchange — which was first created by the Recording Industry Association of America and then expanded by Congress — to collect and distribute digital performance royalties for sound recordings.
And I think Barbara will need to register her song (and my recording of it) with an even newer nonprofit organization — the Mechanical Licensing Collective which will soon be issuing and administering blanket mechanical licenses for eligible streaming and download services in the United States.
The Mechanical Licensing Collective will also collect royalties due under those licenses and pay them to songwriters, composers, lyricists, and music publishers.
I may write more about both of these organizations in future blog posts.
Basically they are attempts to keep up with the ever-changing technologies of how we purchase and listen to recorded music.
And they are a perfect example of how many important details there are to learn when one is beginning to share one’s music with the world…
Thank you to Bobbi and Doug for their contributions to our recording of “I’ll Cover You” — and to Jonathan Larson for writing it in the first place!
I hope you remain well during this odd and at times terrifying time in our planet’s history.
Today’s song was written by Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith.
After my friends in Toronto exposed me to several of his beautiful, wise creations, I recorded “Gold In Them Hills” with the terrific pianist (and sound engineer) Doug Hammer.
I have ruminated in past blog posts about the value of music in our lives — how sometimes it seems quite disposable and unimportant, yet at other times it can feel quite meaningful and essential.
Here is some recent feedback about the value of music from folks on my e-mail list:
“Music is a great encouragement to people in hard times.”
“A song fixes memories of life events indelibly. “
“Music is a distraction from the troubles of the day.”
“Music is an easily accessible treat at a time when other treats are difficult to come by.”
“We all need it.”
“Music is a touching reminder that life is worth living.”
“Music is a balm during these stormy times.”
“Music is part of what makes the world keep going.”
Every time I read these ideas, I attempt to breathe them deeper into my soul.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Today I share news that my song “Another Good Morning” has finally been distributed to a bunch of digital music platforms — including Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon Music, Deezer, Napster, Tidal, and Google Play.
I found — and played!— it on Spotify, which for better (and mostly for worse) is a key market for musicians these days.
I write “and mostly for worse” because the various streaming platforms pay a tiny fraction of what a performer/songwriter used to earn from the sale of actual records/tapes/CDs.
As you may already know, the pay rate for listening to a song via streaming — which varies over time based on a formula which I can’t even begin to explain involving each company’s most recent amount of earnings and profit — is very low.
Here are some recent rates — ranging from a high of $.019 (almost 2 cents) by Napster to a low of $.00402 (less than half a cent) by Amazon.
AMAZON: $0.00402 per play.
SPOTIFY: $0.00437 per play.
YOUTUBE MUSIC (GPM): $0.00676 per play.
APPLE MUSIC: $0.00783 per play.
TIDAL: $0.0125 per play.
NAPSTER: $0.019 per play.
Using the Spotify numbers for example, at $0.00437 per stream, a song would need to be streamed 22,883 times to earn around $100.
One can still buy a digital download of an individual song at places like iTunes, from which the recording artist earns $.60 – $.70 per purchase.
So it would take 142 (at 60 cents per download) to 166 (at 70 cents per download) purchases to earn around $100 for the folks who recorded it.
But how many of us are still buying digital downloads of specific songs or albums?
The current name of the game appears to be Spotify playlists.
If one can get one’s song onto a popular playlist, one can earn hundreds of thousands of streams — which theoretically translates into a decent amount of money.
So… if you are someone who uses Spotify, please consider listening to “Another Good Morning” by clicking here.
And maybe adding it to one of your playlists.
I found a story on NPR from last year which explores the pros and cons of streaming from the perspective of a recording artist and/or songwriter.
Here is one interesting paragraph:
According to a 2017 study from Digital Media Finland, the current payment model for digital streaming services “tend(s) to benefit the services themselves, who keep about 30% of a subscriber’s fee. The rights holders of the recordings, which include record labels, producers, and performers, split about 55 to 60% of the fee. Meanwhile, the rights holders of the song itself (the composition) — which at once includes composers, arrangers, music publishing companies and lyricists — see about 10 to 15% of that pie.”
If you are someone who still buys digital downloads, please consider buying a copy of “Another Good Morning” from iTunes or Amazon or another digital music marketplace.
But I am certainly aware that lots of us have very little cash flow in our lives nowadays!
Since my gigs with jazz pianist Joe Reid have all dried up (except for one outdoor performance last month) due to prudent concerns about possible COVID transmission, I have been working each week via Zoom with Doug Hammer.
We are re-visiting and polishing strong takes of songs we’ve recorded during the past 20+ years.
And I will be distributing them via CD Baby to all of these far-flung digital platforms in the upcoming weeks and months.
THANK YOU for reading and listening to another blog post!
Thank you to Ron Sexsmith for writing great songs.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his inspired piano playing as well as his superb engineering skills.
Thank you to the photographers at Pixabay for these sublime images.
Let us all keep breathing in and out in the days ahead…
In my last two posts, I have started explaining a little of what I’ve been learning in recent months about the music business.
My musical selection for this post is from a CD I recorded with fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — which was then enhanced by arranger Mike Callahan as well as other local musicians.
“Fevered” might be one way to describe my current mental state as I recover from our recent — deeply disrespectful and dangerous — presidential non-debate and THEN make sense out of the news that our president and his wife and many members of his staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
At the very least, this is a stark reminder of how a virus makes its presence felt in every niche of human society — from the folks with (allegedly) daily testing and access to the best (and in the case of our political ruling class, FREE) health care to the folks who have to go to work with very little (or no) protection and very little health coverage in places like meat packing plants.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Let us all continue — in this time of COVID-19 — to remain aware of our daily temperatures and to continue wearing our blessed face masks!
Now I will attempt to explain a little bit about performance rights organizations.
One thing a songwriter must do is affiliate with a performance rights organization (also known as a PRO).
In the USA, there are two entry-level ones — ASCAP and BMI — as well as two more — SESAC and GMR — which you can be invited to join when you are earning a fair amount of money from your songs and also a (new?) one called Pro Music Rights about which I know almost nothing.
Most other countries around the world only have one PRO.
This is just one example of how things are often done differently in the USA than in the rest of the world…
ASCAP was the first performing rights organization founded in the USA.
A group of composers, lyricists, and publishers (who were selling millions of copies of sheet music on behalf of the songwriters under contract to them) decided it was time for them to get paid for public performances of their songs — which I think was already the norm in many European countries.
The founders included Victor Herbert — who according to an article in Irish America magazine wrote the music for “forty operettas, 23 musicals, two operas, and several Ziegfeld Follies; did musical scores for motion pictures; and composed for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra” from the 1890s through the 1920s.
Herbert was himself a transplant from Europe, having been born (out of wedlock) on Guernsey island in the English Channel and raised in England and Germany.
His mother told, him, however, he had been born in Dublin, and he maintained a strong emotional connection to Ireland for his entire life (perhaps jumpstarted by his mother’s and his grandfather’s strong Irish nationalism).
Herbert was also a cellist, conductor AND long-time advocate for the rights of songwriters.
According to Wikipedia he testified before Congress and influenced the formation of the Copyright Act of 1909, which allowed composers to earn royalties from the sale of new-fangled sound recordings.
And then in 1914 he helped found ASCAP to collect money for public performances of musical works in cafes, hotel ballrooms, live-music clubs, and theaters.
Thank you, Victor Herbert, along with your fellow songwriters and political advocates!
As our technologies continued to evolve, public performances grew to include music broadcasts — live or pre-recorded — on radio and TV as well as in elevators, grocery stores, theme parks, and much more…
In 1940 there was a historical turning point.
During the 1930s ASCAP had been increasing the royalty rates they were charging to radio broadcasters for the use of their members’ songs.
So… for many months the radio broadcasters decided to STOP playing any songs affiliated with ASCAP — a period which is mentioned in the biographies of many famous songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter as a time when many potential hit songs never got airplay and consequently languished…
BMI signed up a very different cohort of songwriters, including people from the R&B, gospel, jazz, country, folk and Latin music communities.
And some degree of competition — and diversity — was introduced into this particular segment/function of the music industry (the collection of money due to songwriters and publishers for the use of their songs…)
These days BMI remains a bit more accessible than ASCAP — because BMI is free to join while ASCAP charges $50 to join as a songwriter and another $50 to join as a publisher.
I went with ASCAP partly because my fellow songwriter Steve Sweeting had already joined BMI, and I thought it might be interesting to compare his experiences with mine over time…
There is also a man who has been at ASCAP for decades named Michael Kerker who loves the Great American Songbook and is an avid supporter of new songwriters.
I met him many years ago when I invited him to a Boston-area songwriter showcase I co-produced at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (where I worked for 16 years).
Then one of my guardian angels, Amanda McBroom — a delightful and generous songwriter whose biggest hit (so far) has been “The Rose” — recommended I reach out to him.
So very shyly, I did.
And he got back to me almost immediately.
We ended up having a long conversation on the phone — and when I had a couple of follow-up questions, he was equally prompt in replying to me.
So I am now an ASCAP member.
And on October 10th, my first recording is scheduled to be released to Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and a bunch of other online musical platforms.
I’ll be blogging more about that soon!
Now that I think about it, songs are kind of like viruses — they are not alive and cannot reproduce themselves without the assistance of a living host.
I’ll also be sharing how people who do NOT write their own music collect money for the use of their unique recordings of other people’s songs.
And I will continue to give tiny amounts of money to as many political candidates who are in close races as I can.
And I will continue wearing a face mask.
And I will continue walking and riding my bike.
And leading my Music Together classes — both outside in a local park and online via Zoom.
And I will continue to be very grateful that I have a roof over my head, and electricity, and a functioning laptop, and food to eat on a daily basis.
Thank you to Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer, Mike Callahan, and the other musicians involved with our recording of “Fever” — as well as the original songwriters Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell AND Peggy Lee, who added several sets of new lyrics when she recorded her classic version in 1958.