As regular readers of this blog are well aware, I love spending time on Cape Cod.
And I am not alone in this sentiment.
In recent years the population of seals on Cape Cod has risen significantly.
According to the web site of the Center For Coastal Studies in Provincetown, two kinds of seals — harbor and gray — live on the Cape year-round.
Three other species — harp, hooded, and ring seals — can also be spotted on Cape Cod, although they give birth in Canada and Greenland.
I am pretty sure it is gray seals who share the beach in North Truro with us human beings.
Head Of The Meadow beach, near where I camp with family members each summer, is home to hundreds of seals.
You can click here to read a recent story — with great photos — about this particular community of seals.
It confirms what we have noticed — that within the past ten years, the number of seals sharing this beach has increased substantially!
At low tide they gather in large communities on the sandbars and soak up the sun.
Then at high tide everyone is back in the water, swimming up and down the shoreline in search of food.
When I am learning new songs, I usually record them as accurately as possible with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA.
Then I load piano-vocal and just-piano versions onto my iPod — and walk and sing for hours, memorizing lyrics while musing about the story being told in the song…
And beaches are great places to walk and sing.
Seals often will swim along the shore while I am walking — their heads popping up through the surface of the water at regular intervals.
Sometimes a bunch of them will gather and watch/listen if I stop and sing in one place for a while.
They are curious beings.
On clear nights, I sometimes leave the campground and head back to the beach in order to walk and sing and revel in a truly starry sky.
Where I live — just outside of Boston — there’s a lot of light pollution.
But on the outer Cape — away from buildings and streetlights and cars — the skies remain awe-inspiring.
I wrote the song (in the player at the beginning of this blog post) a couple of summer ago… and recorded it with Doug a few weeks ago at his studio north of Boston.
It was an alternative pick for a Valentine’s-themed blog post.
But since February is not quite over, I have decided to share it in this seal-themed blog post instead.
Since I burn easily, I almost never go to the beach during peak sun hours.
My routine is to stay at the campground during the day — when almost all of the humans have gone to the beach — and write songs.
I sit in a very large tent with my ukulele and a rhyming dictionary and a little digital recorder and a laptop computer and bags of song ideas which I have jotted down over the years.
I listen to the birds and the chipmunks and the crickets and the cicadas.
Then in the late afternoon I walk down a long path through a wonderful pine forest to the beach.
In addition to swimming in very shallow water along the shore — because the booming seal population has also encouraged a healthy population of great white sharks to visit the outer Cape — I sometimes stretch and do a little yoga.
As do the seals…
While we human beings dither about climate change — and carry viruses around the world due to our obsession with international travel — and vote for political candidates who may or may not care one iota for their constituents — I am strangely reassured to think about the seals.
And the moon.
And the stars.
And the sea.
Thank you to all of the photographers who share their great photos at Pixabay.
And to the seals and other wildlife who share the Cape with us human beings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many of us — who have not experienced war first-hand — live in a privileged bubble of ignorance and denial.
Yet every day brave women and men sign up to defend their country’s values, borders, and culture.
This child, however, did not sign up to be part of an armed conflict…
Who knows what he will choose to do with his life when he grows up…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
And so our wars continue here on planet earth…
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.
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.
I know music lifts my spirits on a daily basis.
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.
“Either/or” is a mindset which often leads to conflict… or worse.
“Both/and” is a mindset which can lead to listening.
To honoring the paradoxes and contradictions of life.
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.
I do feel some optimism when I see the range of candidates.
I’ve been giving small amounts of money each month to several of them.
I’m excited that many women are running for president.
And people of color.
With some thought-provoking ideas.
I am also amazed that an un-closeted, married gay man is in the race.
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.
And he managed to convert many of those big dreams into action — despite having significant personal health challenges.
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.”
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.
I also find solace and comfort and inspiration in many of the new voices speaking up here on planet earth.
I also love finding new voices and kindred spirits among my fellow bloggers on WordPress.
Farrow ends the interview by saying how he remains hopeful even though he has born witness to — and experienced himself directly — intense bullying, surveillance, and threats of retribution during the process of researching and writing his book.
I end this blog post, as I ended my “Humpty Dumpty” song, with a hope that many of us will remain engaged with our country’s political process and vote in the upcoming election cycle.
And I remain grateful to the Pixabay website — where I found all of the images used in this blog post.
And to the folks in my ukulele meetup group who liked this song when I played it for them a couple of weeks ago and asked me to make a recording of it.
And to Apple for their wonderful program GarageBand, which is what I used to record it.
And to you for reading and listening to yet another blog post!
Note: I originally wrote this blog post in August 2018. When I recently attempted to update it (in order to put in photo credits and a new postscript), I was given the option to use the new “block editor” to which I have — reluctantly — become accustomed. Except the new “block editor” only pretended to work on the first photo and then didn’t work at all on any succeeding photos. And as I was toggling around to try and make it work, I decided it might be wise to revert to draft mode so that I didn’t keep updating the blog post live. Then I feared that I had removed the blog post entirely from my timeline. However, after re-publishing it, it appears still to be listed in correct chronological order.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
So… this is a slightly updated version of a blog post which you may already have read three summers ago!
Anyone who has spent time on the outer arm of Cape Cod can be deeply grateful to John F. Kennedy due to the creation on August 7, 1961 of the Cape Cod National Seashore during his short presidency.
According to Wikipedia — which is where I borrowed this map — it includes over 68 square miles of “ponds, woods and beachfront (in) the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecoregion.”
It’s also where I and my sweetheart and various family members are fortunate to camp each summer during the last week of July and the first week of August — in North Truro on the Atlantic side of the outer arm (or wrist, really…) of the Cape.
In 2010 the campground where we have stayed for over 25 years — called North of Highland — was protected with a conservation easement thanks to the hard work and generosity of many people and organizations — including JFK’s younger brother, Senator Ted Kennedy.
So hopefully it will remain in operation for generations to come!
For me camping in North Truro is heavenly…
This is a view of our site from a site which some of our family members rent above us.
We are in a bowl which is home to pine trees, grasses, chipmunks, red squirrels, all sorts of birds, lots of ants, a few oak trees, crickets, various fungi, and quite a few blueberry bushes.
There are also visiting dragonflies, bees, mosquitos, horseflies, June bugs — who appear in the evening, attracted by our lights — and on some nights we can hear coyotes howling in the distance.
Although I have never seen a raccoon or opossum or rabbit or turkey or deer at our campsite, on one night someone DID get into our niece’s trash can.
So I am guessing that larger animals are around — just wisely inconspicuous during the day.
I love the way that sunlight dapples the trees and grass — and I love picking a few blueberries each morning.
There weren’t very many this summer, which may be because it has been somewhat dry.
We only experienced rain three times this summer while we were camping — a) on the day we drove down to set up camp, b) once overnight, and c) a substantial storm on the day that we were packing up to return home.
When it rains I imagine how good the moisture must feel on the roots of all of the trees and shrubs and grasses.
Each berry is such a jewel… and hopefully there are plenty more for the folks camping at this site right now as well as for any animals who like to eat them, too.
I spend most of the day in our tent — which is quite spacious — with a ukulele, a little handheld digital recorder, a rhyming dictionary, two lap top computers, and several bags worth of song ideas.
Each morning I stretch and listen to song ideas I’ve accumulated during the previous months — or in some cases years — until something catches my fancy.
Then I focus on that particular idea for the rest of the day — writing lyrics, coming up with chords for a missing bridge, etc.
The song in the player at the beginning of this blog post is one I wrote a few camping sessions ago and later recorded with the pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.
This is a view of our (green) screen house — where we cook and eat — and our (orange) tent.If you look past our tents in the upper left corner of this photo, you can glimpse the tent site from which the first photo in this post was taken…
There are many, many things I love about camping.
For example, when we are camping, we become much more aware of our relationship with water — since we are carrying it in big multi-gallon containers down to our campsite for drinking and cooking and cleaning dishes.
Also all of the sinks in the bathrooms at the campground have faucets that automatically shut off after a couple of seconds.
And hot showers cost 25 cents for three minutes of bathing time.
I also love that there are LOTS of stars visible at night.
I went for several long walks along the beach late at night when the sky was clear — and the moon so bright that I didn’t need to use a flashlight to see where I was going.
Being away from street lights and TV screens and radios — while spending hours and hours surrounded by birds and insects and trees and sky — helps me reconnect with what’s important.
Like time with family and friends.
And intact ecosystems.
Before dinner — which is often something delicious cooked by my brother-in-law who bikes to the local fish store on an almost daily basis, bless him — I usually walk down a pine-needle-covered path to the Atlantic ocean and swim.
In recent years the tide and winter storms have created a gully along the beach which ranges in depth from one to five feet depending upon the time of day.
Since there is now a robust population of seals who swim up and down this section of the Atlantic ocean — as well as great white sharks who come to eat them — my family is much happier if I swim laps in the gully rather than in the ocean.
There were a couple of great white shark sightings during our two weeks at the camp ground, and also one day when a bunch of whales cavorted within sight of the beach.
But I did not see them because I was working on new songs in my tent…
Everyday I checked in with a hydrangea plant which grows near the path to the bathrooms and showers.
There was so much happening on this plant — it was a world unto itself!
Every day flowers would unfold new petals.
And bees and wasps and even flies in many different shapes and sizes would gather pollen.
During the course of our time at the campground, several spiders wove webs — which in due time trapped a quite a few meals.
Here is a close up of one of the spiders against a green hydrangea leaf.
Eventually it was time to pack everything up and return home.
This is always a sad and somewhat stressful process for me.
But my sweetheart and family members are very patient, since they know it happens every summer on the last day of our camping adventure.
What doesn’t usually happen, however, is an hours-long rain storm on the day of our departure.
Strangely this lifted my spirits…
I even got to continue working on a new song after our tent was down — with our brown tarpaulin providing protection during a prolonged period of deluge…
Thank you to all of the folks who keep North Of Highland camping area going year after year. I highly recommend it if you are in need of some rejuvenation!
Thank you to Andrew for letting me use his photo looking down towards our camp site, and for making so many delicious meals.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his wonderful skills as a pianist AND as a recording engineer.
Thank you to the Kennedy family, whose love for — and lobbying on behalf of — Cape Cod has impacted millions of people — and plants and animals — for many, many decades.
Thank you to my sweetheart for all of the beach photos and for letting me use his phone to take photos of the hydrangea and our camp site.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
Where is your heaven on planet earth?
P.S. You are always welcome to visit my website, and you can find me singing (with Doug Hammer playing his glorious Schimmel grand piano) on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Musicand other digital music platforms.
The piles of snow between our sidewalk and the street are getting smaller.
Tiny green fingers are pushing out of the earth…
And today the first crocus bloomed in our front yard!
I planted a bunch of bulbs in November, right before the ground began to freeze.
And it appears that the squirrels did not dig all of them up — because crocus leaves are popping up everywhere.
Several years ago I wrote a very simple song about spring and colored blossoms falling down to the ground.
This was before I started playing the ukulele — so I just sang into my lap top computer using the wonderful Apple program GarageBand.
Then I fooled around with a lot of the sounds and loops that are included with Garageband.
And then I took my laptop to my friend Doug Hammer’s studio, where he added a few more layers of sound — including spring peepers! — and I recorded (I think) a few more vocal tracks.
After Doug mixed it, I spent time at the Apple store on Boylston Street in Boston, getting help in terrific “one to one” training sessions (which Apple used to offer) about how to make a video to accompany my song.
The final product is pasted above.
Here are more crocus photos to savor…
There is a yard at the top of a hill between Harvard Square and Central Square in Cambridge.
I go there every spring because their front yard is PACKED with crocus, snowdrops, and miniature iris.
It is very similar to this photo except much smaller in total square footage.
I wonder how many years of planting bulbs it takes to create a field like this!
I am waiting to see my first pollinator of the season.
It is amazing that bees can survive our New England winters — and then they appear as soon as the first blossoms open their petals to the sun.
There are so many important causes to which one can devote time and care and love and money these days.
I am a fan of environmental advocacy — because without functioning ecosystems, the human species will collapse.
Just like our populations of pollinators (bats, butterflies, bees, etc.) have been collapsing in recent years…
All sorts of factors may be causing this collapse — including our human use of pesticides and herbicides.
So I no longer use any products like RoundUp or wasp spray.
And I pay extra money to buy organic produce and meat — mostly because it is healthier for the people who plant the food, who cultivate the food, who harvest the food, who clean the food, who package the food, who ship the food, and who handle it in our stores.
I also support organic farming because the hedgerows and bacteria and trees and streams and animals who co-exist with — and in the case of pollinators are partially responsible for — our food crops are not being poisoned either!
May all beings bloom and grow and flourish in an ever-changing balance…
Thank you to Mother Nature for inspiration.
Thank you to Apple engineers for creating laptop computers and Garageband.
Thank you to the former “one to one” teaching team at the Apple store in Boston.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical and engineering expertise.
Thank you to Pixabay for beautiful images of crocii.
And thank YOU for reading and watching and listening to another blog post.
Joe Reid fortuitously called me four summers ago — a few months after I had been laid off from my day job of sixteen years at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education — and asked if I might like to do a gig at a local retirement community with him.
This first gig — an hour of songs co-written by Harold Arlen plus a few stories about how they came to be written — has led to over a hundred performances together at public libraries, coffee houses, and retirement/assisted living communities with programs featuring the songs of Dorothy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein II, Larry Hart, Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers, Jule Styne, Jerome Kern, and Hoagy Carmichael as well as a program of songs written (by the Gershwins, Porter, Berlin, Styne/Sondheim, and others) for Ethel Merman to perform and a program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish songwriters.
It has been a fruitful collaboration with no end in sight. Soon we’ll be debuting a one-hour program of songs co-written by Sammy Cahn, and 2018 will bring a program of songs written (by Porter, the Gershwins, Berlin, Kern, Fields and others) for Fred Astaire to perform.
But so far Joe Reid and I have no recorded evidence of our collaboration because we have not gone into a recording studio together…
Tom LaMark, Mark Shilansky, and Joe Mulholland have all been a pleasure to work with as well, but I similarly have no recordings to document our time together.
Mike Callahan is now a professor at Michigan State (and the person conducting and/or playing piano in the Pops concert clips on YouTube — which he also arranged and orchestrated!) I hope to make music with him some day in East Lansing…
Steve Sweeting currently lives in NYC; so I don’t get to make music with him as much as I would like. I have, however, included many recordings that he and I have made together in past blog posts.
Which brings me to Doug Hammer.
Doug in his backyard with trees and water…
I do not remember exactly when I started working/playing with Doug.
It may have been when Steve Sweeting moved from Brighton, MA to the upper west side of Manhattan (in the mid-1990s?)
I was living as an au pair with a wonderful family on Spring Hill in Somerville, and Doug and his wife were living not far away on the Somerville/Cambridge border.
If I am remembering correctly, Doug had a very intimate but functional recording studio near the back of his apartment — as far away from the traffic of Beacon Street as possible.
He’d come from Chicago to Boston to study at Berklee, had played piano in other countries (which is how he met his stupendous wife, who is French), and then moved back to the Boston area to build a life as a pianist, composer, accompanist, engineer, and producer.
I think our paths crossed because he played with other singers I knew from having taken a class with Mike Oster in the South End.
Maybe some day Doug can read this blog post and correct or fill in some of missing details…
In any case, I loved the way he played the piano and accompanied singers and built a life with his wife (who is an artist and graphic designer).
And I loved that I could walk or ride my bike to his home studio.
But as many wise texts remind us, life is full of changes.
Doug and his wife decided they needed more space and moved to a new home on the north shore of Boston — where Doug built a recording studio in the lower level of the house and where he and his wife began raising a family.
Luckily it is accessible by public transportation (a surprisingly scenic bus ride from Haymarket T station), and Doug has also been kind enough to drive me to the nearest T stop, Wonderland, when the weather is horrible or the hour is late.
And his family is willing to be quiet upstairs when someone is recording downstairs with Doug.
There are two isolation booths to the right of the piano (which you can’t see in the photo above) which is where I usually stand when we are rehearsing/recording.
This is what Doug looks like when we are rehearsing/recording.
One of the many great things about working/playing with Doug is that we are able to record all of our rehearsals in high fidelity.
He is not only a terrific, playful pianist, but he is also a super competent sound engineer and producer.
Over time he has invested in high-quality musical tools — a Schimmel grand piano, great microphones, and endlessly upgraded recording software and hardware (including an Apple computer which almost never misbehaves) — and he is able to switch effortlessly from being an engineer/producer to being a collaborative pianist/accompanist/co-creator and back again.
The songs at the beginning of this blog post are from a show we did called Will Loves Steve, which featured all songs written by people named Steve, Stephen or Stevie. “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” is by Stevie Wonder, and “Everybody’s Got the Right” is by Stephen Sondheim from his extraordinary show Assassins.
They demonstrate how imaginative and improvisational Doug’s accompaniment often becomes when we work together.
He and I have been operating on a very simple guideline — familiar to improv comedians among other creative beings — for many years.
We always say “yes” to each other’s ideas.
Sometimes I have a specific set of images I share with Doug: “Let’s imagine that we are next to the Charles River and someone has started a fire in an old oil drum” or “We’re in a piney woods on the Cape, and a downy woodpecker is hopping up and down one of the tree trunks.”
Sometimes Doug starts playing something interesting on the piano while he is familiarizing himself with the sheet music for a particular song, and I encourage him to pause and hit the record button so that we can start with his fresh idea before either of us has had much time to think about it.
After each take we usually offer each other feedback about what we liked, what we might retain, and what we might like to explore further (“Let’s try going into a Latin feel on the bridge…” or “How about we do it twice as long so that you can take a solo and then we’ll end it with a triple tag at the end?”)
By the third or fourth take we often find ourselves in completely new and unexpected musical terrain.
Then we let that particular song rest and move on to the next one…
I don’t remember what ideas led us to this thoughtful version of “In My Life” by John Lennon.
I think we recorded it when we were rehearsing for a benefit concert (or maybe when we were rehearsing for a show I did at my old high school in Connecticut?)
Doug’s solo on this take is one of my favorite things that we have ever recorded together.
In the past decade Doug has been devoting more and more of his time and energy to composing and recording CDs of original piano — and increasingly orchestral —compositions.
It may not always be easy to feel, but it’s always there somewhere — or perhaps everywhere? — waiting to be tapped into.
In the two years since I was laid off from my day job, I have come to understand that music is one of our most accessible — and brilliant — technologies for re-connecting with love.
I experienced another love-filled gig with pianist Joe Reid last Saturday at a retirement community to the south of Boston.
It was the first time we had been there; so I didn’t know what to expect.
I was also feeling a bit concerned that our choice of “Make Someone Happy: The Songs of Jule Styne” — rather than a program of songs by the more familiar Cole Porter or Gershwin Brothers — might have been too risky for a first visit.
But we were warmly welcomed, ushered to a lovely performance space (not too big, not too small — a “just right” Goldilocks fit) with a small grand piano, a good PA system, and an audience of American Popular Songbook aficionados.
The size of the room — and the lighting in the room — made it possible for me to make eye contact with everyone.
Many audience members knew the words to the songs we were performing — and I, inspired by my Music Together classroom experiences, exhorted everyone to hum, tap, snap, or even dance if the spirit moved them.
There is something about the structure of a well-written song that allows — even encourages — one to put one’s heart into the singing of it.
And knowing that a song has a beginning, a middle, and an end somehow makes it safe for me as a singer to experience a wide range of feelings while I am singing it.
I think I have written in previous blog posts about how amazing subtext can be — how simply changing what or whom one is thinking about as one is singing can completely alter one’s interpretation of a particular song.
I have even begun to wonder — as I sing and make eye contact during performances with as many different audience members as are willing to connect in that surprisingly intimate way — whether I start connecting on an unconscious level with some of THEIR subtext, THEIR history, and THEIR associations with a particular song.
Whatever is transpiring energetically, it certainly opens MY heart — and re-connects me to feelings of joy and heart-ache and love and fear and desire and hope and pain.
Afterwards Joe and I listened to the stories that these songs evoked in the residents — tales of huge summer parties near Westport, CT in the 30s and 40s, or of seeingBarbra Streisand in the original production of Funny Girl, or of listening to these songs on the radio with loved ones in the living rooms of their past.
One woman said something like, “We have to have you and Joe back again right away — your singing reached inside and touched my soul.”
This is what I live for.
This is what music can do.
Two strangers can, in a safe and well-boundaried way, touch each other’s souls.
John Lennon knew that.
He wrote the song “Love Is Real” — which I recorded several years ago with Doug Hammer at his Dreamworld Studio. Then I monkeyed with those tracks using Garageband to create the version at the top of this page.
Thirty four years ago John Lennon was killed as he got out of his car and headed into his apartment in NYC.
According to Wikipedia, he had chosen to get out on 72nd Street (rather than the driving into the courtyard of his building) so that he could chat with any fans who might be waiting to say “hi” and ask for an autograph.
In fact, earlier in the day he had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy — the life-affirming album he had recently released with Yoko Ono — for the man who later shot and killed him.
After I heard the horrible news of John’s death, I remember walking along Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square, feeling very sad and upset that this could ever have happened.
One loss often awakens previous losses — like a metal chime rippling and echoing through the layers of one’s emotional body and memory.
So, with hindsight, it is very likely that I was also grieving other deaths, other losses, other assassinations — as I grieve tonight…listening to John’s music and reflecting on his inspiring life.
You can click here for a link to a comforting essay I found online which offers perspective about why so many of us continue to be so deeply moved by John’s murder.
I loved John Lennon.
I continue to love his music — as well as the music of all The Beatles.
Last weekend I saw a dad herding two small boys wearing rubber boots.
They were delightedly stomping their way across a very large puddle.
The sun was shining.
Snow was melting everywhere.
The air almost felt warm on my face.
Ahh, the intoxicating approach of spring!
Robins have landed twice on the bushes outside my bedroom window, eating berries that — miraculously — remain on the branches.
Two male cardinals have been jousting in the airspace around our house — flashes of scarlet fluttering from fence to roof to branch and then back to fence — all the while uttering a passionate selection of hormone-infused songs.
Soon tiny frogs will wake up and start peeping in the wetlands behind my friend Doug Hammer’s studio to the north of Boston.
A few years ago Doug found a great sound sample of spring peepers, and we added it to my Snow Flake Song (playable at the top of this post).
Right now the peep frogs are still hibernating under a log or behind the loose bark of a tree.
When they are full grown, spring peepers are only an inch and a half long.
I started playing the ukulele three years ago after attending a class in Harvard Square led by the marvelous Danno Sullivan.
Since then I have been strumming on an almost daily basis — thanks to Danno’s lyric/chord handouts, the wonderful Daily Ukulele songbook, and the amazing group mind that is the internet (where one can find chords and lyrics for almost every song under the sun…)
Soon after discovering the chords for Coldplay’s song “Viva La Vida” on line, I realized that many of my favorite pop songs have a surprisingly simple structure.
Sometimes three chords!
And thus my humble life as a budding songwriter took root…
I had written lyrics in the past with a friend who is a pianist, and I had collaborated on a couple of songs with another guitarist friend (again as a lyricist).
And many years ago I had co-written a couple of songs with bandmates in a pop/rock band.
But until I picked up a ukulele, my songwriting efforts had been restricted to what I could cobble together using Apple’s blessed GarageBand program — songs consisting of my vocals plus various loops and samples from the Garageband library.
In the past three years I have written a bunch of ukulele-based songs.
And in the past month I have attended three singer-songwriter open mics — daring to perform my original songs while accompanying myself (solidly but not very gracefully) on the ‘uke.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
In addition to helping me tap into a stream of songwriting creativity, the ukulele has also given me a new way to hang out with my mom, with my dad, and with other friends and family members.
I just pick up a ‘uke, open up a songbook, and start strumming.
Almost invariably the mood in the room shifts to something lighter and (literally) more harmonious as everyone starts to hum and sing along.