In Praise of Doug (and others!)

In Praise of Doug (and others!)

 

I have been blessed to make music with a terrific array of musicians during my musical life here in the Boston area.

In recent years I have worked mostly with pianists, including Doug HammerJoe Reid, Tom LaMark, Mark ShilanskyJoe Mulholland, Mike Callahan, and Steve Sweeting.

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.

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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.

DougStudio

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.

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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.

You can click here for a link to his YouTube channel if you are curious.

Those of us who love to perform with him have been both excited to see his star as a solo artist rise and also sad because it means that he is less available to perform with singers…

Ahh, yes.

Life is full of changes.

Doug4

But so far he is willing to continue to work/play with singers in his recording studio.

Hurrah!

He and I are slowly but surely working on a CD of my original songs — which I write using a ukulele and are then transformed by his inspired piano playing.

I do not know when this project will be finished, but I am enjoying the process — one song, one session at a time.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for being born, pursuing a life in music, and working/playing with me on various undertakings for over two decades.

Thank you to Doug’s web site for the photos (probably taken by his talented wife) I have included in this blog.

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

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May Your Life Be Blessed

May Your Life Be Blessed

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I just opened up WordPress and was happy to find a post about gratitude from The Snail of Happiness in my daily feed.

There are a seemingly-ever-increasing number of energies and actions on planet earth that we can be aware of — due in large part to the magic of electricity and our wide-ranging embrace of modern media — yet which we can do very little to influence directly.

And I am easily overwhelmed by this onslaught of information.

However, we CAN re-align our own energy/perspective by doing something as simple as writing down three things for which we are grateful.

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And then — from a more grateful, grounded emotional space — we can send a card to an elected official, give a little money to a compelling cause, or volunteer our time at a local non-profit.

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Or make some art.

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Or write a song.
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Or simply sit and breath.

horse-winter-sunToday I am grateful that a friend’s husband is alive in New Orleans.

I don’t see this friend very often (our paths used to cross because of work) and have never met his husband.

I learned about his husband’s recent assault and robbery — while he was attending the Unitarian-Universalist annual general assembly being held at the end of June in New Orleans! — when I checked my Facebook page.

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Apparently it is all over the Boston and New Orleans news — since our media have (sadly) functioned for decades with a mindset of “if it bleeds, it leads…”

But I have been out of town and away from the local news.

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So today I am grateful that my friend’s husband is finally out of the hospital in New Orleans and back at home in Boston.

And I am grateful that the other person who was (less severely) attacked is also recovering well.

chestnut-gallopingAnd that two of the four young men who perpetrated this crime (some of whom had been staying at a Covenant House shelter for homeless/troubled youth) have turned themselves in.

horses-clowningI hope they — as well as the two people whom they attacked and robbed — are being treated with compassion and respect by the judicial system so that some unexpected healing might take place as a result of this sad and brutal event.

And I am grateful for the basics: health and patience and delicious food — more and more of it organic — and a roof over my head.

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I am grateful for people who visit my blog even though I haven’t posted anything new for four months.

horse-three-day-eventI am grateful for progress (sometimes very sloooow) and persistence (sometimes almost imperceptible) on larger tasks such as letting go of un-needed possessions, processing complicated emotional situations, and crafting a CD of original songs.

Which leads me to the song at the beginning of this post.

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I wrote it last summer while I was camping with family in heaven a.k.a. North Truro, MA.

horses-in-green-fieldSome of the words came from a little piece of paper I picked up after one of my cousins was married a few summers ago on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake in upstate New York.

The little piece of paper turned out to be a crib sheet that the mother of the bride had used when she spoke during the ceremony.

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I expanded her words a bit, consulted my trusty ukulele to find chords and a melody, and eventually brought it to pianist Doug Hammer’s studio on the North Shore of Boston to record.

Horses-mist-treesThank you to anyone and everyone who reads this blog post.

I am grateful for your interest.

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I am also grateful for the beautiful images from Pixabay that I have used in this post.

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My cousin who got married loves horses and is an excellent — and very hard-working  —equestrian.

horse-kissShe and her husband also just had their first child.

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And I am very grateful for that, too.

Count Our Blessings

Count Our Blessings

 

I am writing this blog post, appropriately enough, in the middle of the night.

I just woke up from a nightmare in which I was attempting to rush a group of children away from a place full of dangerous people who wanted to hurt all of us.

The children — blessedly and also appropriately — did not understand why these people were dangerous, and I did not want to explain.

I just wanted them to keep moving as quickly as possible away from the old warehouse where I knew the dangerous people were hanging out.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I woke up with a burst of adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream and a mixed feeling of panic and relief.

Panic that maybe I hadn’t been able to rescue the children in my dream.

And relief that it was “only” a dream.

Fox Sleeping

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Except — obvious to anyone who reads the news or watches TV or listens to the radio — my blessed nightmare is the horrific reality for hundreds of thousands of human beings on planet earth.

Syria.

Nigeria.

Afghanistan.

Mexico.

Iraq.

Cameroon.

Turkey.

Niger.

Chad.

Somalia.

Pakistan.

Libya.

Yemen.

Sudan.

Egypt.

Ethiopia.

Ukraine.

South Sudan.

Israel.

Palestine.

Myanmar.

Thailand.

Columbia.

The list of countries with ongoing bloody conflicts is long.

And here in the USA we mostly don’t think about them.

And that’s just the human-to-human devastation…

There is also an extraordinary wave of extinction of other forms of life on planet earth unfolding right now… and most humans don’t want to think about that either.

bear-sleeping

We are ignorant — choosing to ignore the complicated and heart-breaking repercussions of our actions because it is too painful.

And because the challenges of how we might change some of these patterns seem too vast.

And because our media tends to give us a very limited glimpse of what is happening here on planet earth.

And because our media — which at its most basic level exists to entice human beings to BUY THINGS — has very little incentive to do anything other than reinforce the allure of fame and wealth and celebrity and insane over-consumption.

Over-consumption of cars and alcohol and clothing and accessories and medication and food products and music and fossil fuels and hair dye and eyeliner and TV shows and lipstick and sunblock and pesticides and movies and plastic bags and electronic devices and travel and “entertainment” and a myriad other things that most of us do not need.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

piglets-sleeping

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep,” the songwriter Irving Berlin once wrote and set to music.

According to Wikipedia (and a book edited by local musical expert Ben Sears called The Irving Berlin Reader) it was based on Berlin’s real life struggle with insomnia.

He wrote in a letter to Joseph Schenck:

“I’m enclosing a lyric of a song I finished here and which I am going to publish immediately… You have always said that I commercial my emotions and many times you were wrong, but this particular song is based on what really happened… The story is in its verse, which I don’t think I’ll publish. As I say in the lyrics, sometime ago, after the worst kind of a sleepless night, my doctor came to see me and after a lot of self-pity, belly-aching and complaining about my insomnia, he looked at me and said ‘speaking of doing something about insomnia, did you ever try counting your blessings?’”

koala-sleeping

Mr. Berlin certainly had experienced many things that might have hung heavily on his heart.

He emigrated to the US when he was a small child to escape the anti-semitic pogroms unfolding in Czarist Russia.

His father died when he was young, which catalyzed Irving (or Izzy as he was called by his family) into leaving school and earning money as a paper boy on the streets of lower Manhattan.

His own son died when he was less than a month old on Christmas Day.

Mr. Berlin served in both the first and second World Wars, producing (and performing in) theatrical revues to raise money, lift the spirits of a country at war, and comfort soldiers fighting all around the planet.

soldiers-and-dog-sleeping

As a Jewish man, he must have been deeply affected by the unimaginable reality of the Holocaust… and atomic weapons… and so many other astoundingly destructive human creations of the 20th century.

Mr. Berlin used the song in the 1954 film White Christmas.

Bing Crosby’s character sings it to Rosemary Clooney’s character to comfort and (it being a Hollywood movie — perhaps to begin a romantic relationship with) her.

I join with millions of people who have sung this song in the past 62 years to restore a sense of peace and gratitude in their lives when they are tossing and turning in the middle of the night.

And as 2016 slouches towards 2017, I also count my blessings:

Clean water at the twist of a faucet…

A functioning furnace…

Fossil fuels to power the furnace and stove and water heater…

My sweetheart of almost 25 years…

flying-foxes-sleeping

One remaining parent + a wonderful step parent…

Siblings who love and communicate with each other…

Friends…

Employment that involves relatively modest consumption/destruction of natural resources (CDs of music to the families in Music Together classes, electricity to play them, fossil fuels to heat and sometimes cool the karate studio where we lead classes, gasoline to power the hybrid car in which jazz pianist Joe Reid and I drive to gigs, electricity to run the PA systems where we perform)…

Music…

The magic of digital recording…

My trusty iPods for learning songs…

My ukuleles and laptop computers for creating new songs…

My rhyming dictionaries for inspiration…

The amazing interlibrary book/CD/DVD loan system for more inspiration…

seal-sleeping

How our bodies can heal themselves…

White privilege…

Male privilege….

US citizen privilege….

Human privilege…

Curiosity….

Once one starts, the list of blessings goes on and on and on.

puppies-sleeping

Thank you yet again to Pixabay photographers for the lovely images in this blog post.

Thank you to Irving Berlin for his musical and poetical genius.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his reliable studio plus his exquisite rapport while playing the piano (and simultaneously engineering our sessions).

And thank you, brave and hardy soul, for reading — and listening to — this blog post.

human-infant-sleeping

Let us all fall asleep counting our blessings…

At The Pound…

 

I recently returned from another Massachusetts Men’s Gathering — otherwise known as MMG.

MMG has been happening — one weekend each spring and one weekend each fall — for 25+ years at various camps around Massachusetts.

When I first started attending it was held in Becket, MA, but now we gather in the woods near Worcester from Friday night until Sunday afternoon.

At the opening circle on Friday night, someone spoke about the recent death of a beloved canine companion.

 

dog-at-peace

 

I was reminded of a wonderful song by a writer named Babbie Green called “At The Pound” (in the player at the start of this post) which I recorded with the gifted pianist Doug Hammer for a CD I did with another singer, Bobbi Carrey, called “If I Loved You.”

 

animal-welfare-sweetie

 

Although I have not had a dog in my daily life since my teenage years — when my family had a very loving and patient Corgi named Bryn — I see how invaluable they can be in the lives of my friends and family.

 

animal-welfare

 

I love “At The Pound” because of the details Babbie includes in the song — such as “now my car’s got a permanent blanket of dog hair.”

I also love how it ends…

 

dogfence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“And they praise me for saving her life, saying, ‘oh what a lucky dog she…’ but when I think of all I have learned about loving, it is Molly in fact who saved me.”

 

dogmischief

 

Bette Midler — you with the wind beneath your wings who sometimes looks at our planet from a distance — you need to record this song!

Thank you for reading and listening to my blog.

And thank you — yet again — to Pixabay for the lovely photographs.

kelpie

Another Good Morning

 

 

Once upon a time I co-starred in a movie called Goldenrod which was filmed in and around Calgary, Alberta.

 

It had a theatrical release in Canada (I think), and was shown in the USA on CBS-TV.

 

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I was 14 years old.

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Because of Canadian rules about airing a certain percentage of  shows which have been produced in Canada, it still can be seen from time to time on Canadian TV.

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One of the producers had a daughter whom I met on the set when she visited from Toronto.

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Although it seemed unlikely at the time — since I lived in New York and Connecticut while she lived in Canada — Sarah James and I have remained friends ever since.

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She still lives in Toronto, and like her father (and mother) she works in film and TV production.

Lever

For the past few years she’s been helping to create Canada’s version of the TV show The Amazing Race.

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She and her husband — who among other things is a wonderful musician who has taught himself how to build ukuleles! — and daughter live in a sweet house with a small garden out back which ends at a garage.

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Above the garage is an office/guest bedroom where I love to sleep and read and write songs when I visit them.

snail-on-hand

I started writing “Another Good Morning” a couple of springs ago.

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The sun was shining.

snail-stretching

Birds were singing.

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And Sarah was making breakfast for all of us.

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It is what I call a “gets-me-out-of-bed-in-the-morning” song.

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I have probably mentioned this type of song before in this blog, because — in the spirit of “teach what you most want to learn” — I end up writing a lot of songs with upbeat messages.

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Because I need them….to muster a little bit of optimism before I head out into the day.

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As you have probably already guessed, I continue to love the photo site Pixabay.

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I send a huge thank you to all the folks who have shared their lovely images there!

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I do not own a cell phone or carry a camera…

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But I appreciate those who do.

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THANK YOU for reading and listening.

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PS: The pianist on this song is the multi-gifted Doug Hammer, and we recorded it at his studio in Lynn, MA earlier this year. It is one of many we will be performing on April 30, 2016 at Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA.

Grateful

As 2015 comes to a close, I find myself singing John Bucchino’s wise song, “Grateful,” a lot.

I love the entire song from start to finish (and you are welcome to listen to a version I recorded during a rehearsal with Doug Hammer a few years ago by activating the player at the beginning of this post).

I think my favorite lyric may be, “It’s not that I don’t want a lot, or hope for more…or dream of more — but giving thanks for what I’ve got, makes me so much happier than keeping score.”

It is very easy to fall into the trap of “keeping score” and comparing one’s accomplishments to one’s peers, to people on TV, to celebrities, etc. etc. etc.

But that path tends to be a dead end — and a recipe for dissatisfaction, unhappiness, depression and discouragement.

So here is a list of things (in no particular order) for which I am grateful.

Health…and health insurance.

A devoted and supportive life partner.

Dr. Charles Cassidy and his surgical team at Tufts Medical Center, who successfully pieced together the shattered bits of bone in my left elbow using several titanium screws of various sizes at the beginning of March.

WillXRaysElbow

Opiate drugs — which were a daily blessing during my elbow recovery.

Jazz pianist and composer Steve Sweeting, who invited me to record a CD of his tremendous original songs with him and then did two performances to celebrate “Blame Those Gershwins” in Manhattan and Somerville.

All of the families who have chosen to make Music Together with me in Belmont and Arlington — as well as my MT bosses.

Doug Hammer — for his engineering wizardry at Dreamworld Studio AND astoundingly collaborative spirit at the piano.

Jinny Sagorin for lending her voice and heart and diplomatic feedback to “The Beauty All Around” performance.

Jazz pianist Joe Reid, with whom I put together programs of music about Jule Styne, Hoagy Carmichael, and Jerome Kern — and with whom I also performed programs of music about Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, and the Gershwin brothers at retirement communities, libraries and synagogues around the greater Boston area.

Exceeding my (modest) financial goals for 2015 — thanks in part to two well-paid musical projects at the beginning of the year.

Kyra and Briony and Jill for a heartful musical adventure in honor of an old friend.

Bobbi Carrey, who is embracing new (although not very musical) challenges in Kuala Lumpur.

A grant from the Bob Jolly Charitable Trust to support my work on “The Beauty All Around.”

An ecstatic first performance of “The Beauty All Around” at Third Life Studio in Union Square.

Very supportive friends and family.

Very devoted and enthusiastic fans.

All the folks who have hired me and Joe to bring music to their retirement community, their library, their condo complex, their synagogue, etc.

Visits to Lime Rock, Connecticut; Ithaca, New York; Toronto, Ontario; and the upper west side of Manhattan.

Susan Robbins, who invited me to perform at Third Life Studio and maintains a very sweet Steinway grand piano there!

Photo by Anton Kuskin

Photo by Anton Kuskin

All the people (most of whom I will never meet) who planted, cultivated, harvested, sorted, packaged, shipped, unpacked, displayed, sold (and sometimes cooked and served) me the food I ate in 2015.

That our planet orbits a modest star at the perfect distance for life to unfold in astounding cycles of expansion and contraction over the course of millions of years.

North of Highland campground.

The Atlantic ocean.

Cayuga lake and the Rice Heritage cottage.

A wonderful web of cousins.

The Boston Association of Cabaret Artists community.

The Ukulele Union of Boston Meetup groups with a welcoming spirit and humble open mic section (during which I dare to share new songs…)

A new ukulele handmade — and given to me! — by Patrick Collins, a gifted musician, inspired woodworker, and dedicated teacher who lives in Toronto.

Megan Henderson, who has become my newest musical ally.

Rain and sun and dirt which create the conditions for plants to grow and flourish here on planet earth.

My trusty, slightly rusty, bicycle.

Electricity.

My two, increasingly aged, lap top computers which continue to function with grace and reliability.

Apple’s Garageband program.

The freshly paved, extremely smooth — with bike lanes! — stretch of Massachusetts Avenue from the Cambridge border to Arlington Center.

And, of course, music, music and more music — new songs or beloved standards, live or pre-recorded, spontaneous or well-rehearsed, solo or ensemble — it’s all a blessing.

Thank you for reading and listening to yet another blog post.

If I have forgotten to mention you in this list, please accept my heartfelt apologies…

A happy, healthy, and musical new year to you and yours!

Photo by Joe Turner

Photo by Joe Turner

Let Me Be Strong

 

I was riding my bike home in the rain this week and remembered a song written by a New England author and songwriter named Barbara Baig.

“Rain beats at the window as I stare into the night…”

I recorded it a while ago with Doug Hammer playing piano — and, I think, Chris Rathbun on upright bass and Gene Roma on drums — at Doug’s Dreamworld Studios on the North Shore.

That was when I was hosting a performance series in Harvard Square called “Will & Company.”

Each show featured a local songwriter and a local singer about whom I was excited.

I recently learned that one of the songwriters, Ernie Lijoi, has written lyrics for two songs in a musical called It Shoulda Been You which is opening on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in April of 2015 starring Tyne Daly and directed by David Hyde Pierce.

Go, Ernie!

“Let me be strong and moving through fear….”

One of our friends, Peter Watson, has used “Let Me Be Strong” in the Opening the Heart workshops he co-leads.

Although a lot — a blessed lot — of stuff is going well in my life these days (a devoted life partner, robust Music Together classes, more performances at retirement communities and libraries, basic health, no debt, a functional bike, a wonderful web of family and friends for whom I am very grateful, and the list goes on and on), I also find myself standing from time to time in deep puddles of fear.

And I berate myself for feeling scared — aware that billions of beings on planet earth are not as fortunate as I am.

What do I have to feel scared about?

Yet I am also aware — without reading the paper, listening to the radio, watching the news, or tapping into various social media — that our human population continues to climb, that more and more species of animals and plants are becoming extinct, that our economic models are based on an advertising-created desire to possess more and more things, etc. etc. etc.

Thinking about these global challenges leaves me feeling scared, or sad, or angry — or all of the above.

How do we not become mired in fear?

How do we keep our hearts open?

How do we change our lives to respect and honor and nurture the amazing web of life currently unraveling on planet earth?

And how does music fit into any/all of the above?

The Ebb and Flow


Autumn is arriving here in Boston, MA.

Summer is ebbing, and cooler air is flowing into our neighborhood.

In the morning I sit on our back porch, wearing a hoodie until the sun warms everything up.

I listen for sounds from the natural world — today a blue jay — competing with the sounds of cars and buses and trucks and motorcycles on nearby streets.

And I happily remember my time last month camping in North Truro on the Cape and next to Cayuga Lake in upstate New York.

I find camping to be a terrific reminder of many important things — how little water one needs to wash dishes, for example. Or wash one’s hands. Or take a shower.

The campground has cabins with sinks and toilets and showers, but the sinks have taps which automatically shut off after about three seconds — a simple and very effective reminder to use water more mindfully — and the showers are activated by quarters (25 cents for three minutes of hot water).

And in upstate New York I simply jumped — except for the times when my feisty nephew Ryder pushed me — into the lake each morning and then scrubbed with Dr. Bronner’s soap and a washcloth.

We had no radio, no TV, and no internet.

We awoke early — due to birds singing their morning songs — and went to bed early, too.

Sometimes we all sang together after dinner — songs written by the Beatles being the most popular selections.

I wrote new songs for most of each day — happily holed up with my ukulele and laptop computers and rhyming dictionary — and then joined other family members for a swim in the late afternoon.

One of the most powerful part of camping for me is being reminded of the ebb and flow of life.

We see it at the beach.

The waves flow in and out at the water’s edge.

The tide rises and falls, sweeping the ocean shore clean of footprints twice a day — while revealing (and then concealing) sand bars, rocks, shells, crabs, sea weed, drift wood, and tiny jumping sand fleas.

Back at camp, we see neighboring tent sites fill with new arrivals and then empty at the end of the week.

What was a colorful array of tents and coolers and towels and bikes becomes a community of pine trees, a picnic table, some squirrels, and lots of open air.

I find it a very poignant reminder of mortality — my own as well as the mortality of all the people and places and animals and plants I love here on planet earth.

This feeling of mortality seeped into the song I wrote, “Under My Umbrella,” which is embedded at the top of the page.

It seems to fit with the days getting shorter as we approach the autumnal equinox.

Deep breath in.

Deep breathe out.

Thanks for reading…and listening.

What’s It All About?

Last night I attended a party at a home in Medford, MA.

The host had invited a couple of pianists and a bunch of friends who like to sing to celebrate his birthday.

After some delicious food and inspiring conversation — including how the Boston Beer company decided to withdraw its support of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston — we all moved from the kitchen into the living room.

And then we made music together for three hours.

Sometimes it was one singer accompanied by a pianist.

Sometimes it was the whole room singing together.

Sometimes one of the pianists sang.

At one point each of the pianists even accompanied the other — who was uncharacteristically standing to sing.

The daily news from our mainstream media brings so many unhappy stories into our homes and into our hearts — planes which mysteriously crash; snipers who fire on civilians; species being wiped out by poachers; wars being waged over natural resources and political power and religious beliefs…

I often wonder what we human beings are doing here on planet earth — and how music fits into the larger equations and patterns unfolding on a daily basis.

Are we here, as some teachers suggest, so that our souls can experience fear and love?

If that is the case, we are certainly doing a great job with the fear component of this cosmic experiment!

Maybe music is one of the tools we can use to respond to fear.

I know from my own experience that listening to music — and making it with others — can lift my spirits.

And can reconnect me with my deeper feelings.

And can bring my energy — for lack of a better word — into harmony with others.

Last night someone at the party sang the great Bacharach/David song “Alfie.”

It reminded me of a recording (embedded at the top of this blog post) which Doug and I made a few years ago at his studio in Lynn.

I am reassured that other human beings, such as Burt Bacharach and Hal David, have pondered similar questions, too.

And I am very, very grateful that my life is now focused on making and sharing music with others.

PS: Let me know if you notice which word I sang incorrectly. Maybe someday Doug and I will go back and fix this small error… or maybe we will leave it as I have heard some weavers of rugs do…

We Never Know Who Is Listening

One of the truly magical aspects of a musical life on planet earth in the 21st century is how widely one can share one’s songs if one has access to the internet.

After Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer and I — with lots of help from Mike Callahan, Jonathan Wyner, and guest musicians — recorded our CD “If I Loved You,” we heard from family, friends AND folks whom we had never met.

One listener included our version of the David Friedman ballad “I’ll Be Here With You” (which you can hear by clicking on the right hand sidebar of this page) on a CD she sent to her fiance who was serving in the US military overseas.

Another fan — who had been given our CD by a friend — tracked us down and told us that she listened to our music each morning while she worked out. When her husband died, she asked us to sing at his memorial service.

And I recently learned — in a reply to my blog post about music and spontaneity — that a CD of my “Will Loves Steve” show (which features songs written by people named Stephen, Steven or Steve) had traveled from Massachusetts to Argentina, where it helped lift the spirits of someone who was feeling very low.

Here’s a selection from that show — “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster combined with “Overjoyed by Stevie Wonder…

The pianist is Doug Hammer, and the horn player is Mike Callahan.

I am curious to see how my musical endeavors may continue to ripple around the planet thanks to the internet.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Ahh, music!