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…

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A Beating Heart

A Beating Heart

love-313416_960_720

 

I recently spent an afternoon at Doug Hammer‘s studio, recording songs by Rodgers & Hart and then working on one of my original compositions, called “A Beating Heart,” which you can play by clicking on the left side of the bar above this paragraph.

A careful reader of this blog might recall that I included a Garageband version of this song in a post on April 9, 2014…

Since then Doug and I have begun creating piano/vocal versions of many of my songs so that we can perform them at places like Third Life Studio in Union Square, Somerville.

We got a lot of positive feedback after our debut performance there in December with guest vocalist Jinny Sagorin — and we’ll be returning at the end of April to reprise that show.

robin-818126_960_720

With so many huge and important things happening on planet earth right now — such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity, our human over-consumption of shared resources, and even the astoundingly unlikely presidential campaign here in the US — I often wonder how my original songs fit into the larger equations of life on planet earth.

Is my desire to share them with a wider audience (“Me, me, me, me! Look at me! Listen to me!”) simply another manifestation of the grossly self-oriented human trend in behavior which is currently tipping our larger ecological feedback loops further out of balance?

To re-center myself, I think of a poster in the bathroom where I get acupuncture which features some of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom:

“Ultimately, the decision to save the environment must come from the human heart. The key point is a call for a genuine sense of universal responsibility that is based on love, compassion and clear awareness.”

bleeding-hearts-55120_960_720
He has also written:

“Today more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to all other forms of life.”

However, we human beings still tend to think and plan and speak and act with human ‘tunnel vision.’

I often listen to a radio program on Friday afternoons, and last week the host, Ira Flatow, was discussing asteroids and comets. He mentioned one which flattened 770 square miles of forest in Siberia on June 30, 1908 — adding that luckily no one was hurt.

Wikipedia uses similar language in its description of what is called the Tunguska event, saying that it “caused no known casualties.”

I would modify that to read, “no HUMAN casualties.”

770 square miles is roughly the size of the entire greater Boston area.

All sorts of living beings — trees, eagles, ants, berry bushes, wolves, beetles, moose, falcons, reindeer, elk, plants, bears, storks, robins, bees, nightingales, mushrooms, bacteria, etc. — must have been hurt and/or killed.

Why do we human beings so easily ignore or dismiss non-human death and suffering?

How can we be so deeply ignorant of the profound and crucial ways our human lives are interconnected with the lives of innumerable non-human beings here on planet earth?

The most obvious example of this is the fact that we animals breathe out what plants breathe in. And vice versa. It’s an extraordinary bond between plants (trees, shrubs, phytoplankton, algae, grass, etc.) and animals (dolphins, ants, chickens, worms, orangutans, etc.)

dolphins-1069473_960_720

And us.

We human beings are also animals.

We depend upon the health of the plant world for our human health.

Healthy trees and healthy forests and healthy phytoplankton and healthy oceans are not optional.

They are vital to the health of all of us.

I agree with the Dalai Lama that we human beings need to experience and understand on an open-hearted, emotional level that our daily lives ARE deeply connected to the lives of all other beings on planet earth.

And the health of those other beings IS intricately connected with our own health and survival.

This is where I see music playing a part in the larger equations unfolding on planet earth.

I know that music — both making it and listening to it — helps me re-open my heart and get in touch with my feelings.

And I see each week in my Music Together classes how singing and dancing and playing as a group can create a community of joy and humor and respect in 45 minutes which continues to ripple — gently and positively — throughout the week in the lives of the families who attend class.

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So I will take a deep breath (like a whale!) and dive through my ambivalence about self-promotion into a starboard sea full of hope, love, respect, education, playfulness, creativity, compassion, song, and dance.

And occasional blog posts.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Thank you for reading and listening!!!

swimming-388910_960_720

ps: I found the lovely photos in this post from a site called Pixabay.

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

May I Suggest

Summer thinking...

Summer thinking…

I love this song written by Susan Werner.

It’s a perfect example of the kind of song I aspire to write — heartful and loving and wise and melodic.

In less than five minutes she inspires and comforts and counsels and softens the heart of the listener (and the singer) in a way that leaves me gently astounded.

Mother and son by the lake...

Mother and son by the lake…

I first heard “May I Suggest” when a musical friend dropped off a CD at my house with a note saying that she could imagine me singing it.

I am guessing that was in 2008, because this recording is from a rehearsal with pianist Doug Hammer in September of that year.

I’m pretty sure I sang it as a final song in a concert that year at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, where I used to work.

Mother and son and sky...

Mother and son and sky…

Recently another musical friend mentioned to me that she had fallen in love this song…and then the random function in my iTunes library popped this take into my headphones as I was updating my database and mailing list.

So I am adding it to my list of songs to sing to myself in order to buttress my resolve as I prepare for the first public performance of all songs I have written or co-written (coming up on December 4th…)

Boy and uncle on boathouse

Boy and uncle on boathouse

After I listen to the news on public radio from Syria, from Iraq, from Turkey, from Libya — and from many, many other tragic situations near and far on planet earth — I often wonder why I am bothering to devote hours of my life to an undertaking as utterly self-oriented as a performance of songs I have, for better and for worse, written.

And yet music CAN touch people’s hearts.

Music CAN comfort and inspire.

And music IS an activity which tends to bring people together — sometimes harmoniously!

Salamander on boy's hand

Salamander on boy’s hand

So I count my blessings (another great song…written by Irving Berlin), and send emails to my elected officials, and donate extremely modest amounts of money to hard-working non-profit organizations, and write songs, and snuggle with my sweetheart, and lead my Music Together classes, and ride my bike, and sing!

The photos in this blog post were taken my my sister, Christianne, who blessedly documents our lives together.

Gosling and boy

Gosling and boy

These are all from summer 2015 when we gathered at a cottage which is shared by 50+ cousins (although usually not at the same time…) on Cayuga Lake in upstate NYC.

Our great grandfather bought it and then gave it to his six children and their descendents.

I feel my sister’s images complement the lyrics and tone of Susan Werner’s great song.

Into the lake!

Into the lake!

I almost never remember to take photographs of life as it is happening, but I am very grateful to those who DO take pictures and then share them with the rest of us.

Thank you for reading and listening to another blog post!!!

Sunset ...

Sunset …

Something Good

 

Skimming over some of my previous posts, I see that I rarely mention anything about feeling frustrated, unhappy, anxious, or any other “negative” emotional state.

I would like to clearly state that I feel disappointed, scared, envious, disheartened, disgusted, vengeful, upset, discouraged, and cranky on a regular basis.

But I strive — when feeling out of sorts — to remind myself of any number of things in my life that I can be grateful for.

A wonderful life partner.  Health.  Plenty of food.  Lots of family.  Lots of friends.  A functional bicycle.  Employment.  A safe place to live.  Clean water.  No tanks patrolling my neighborhood.  Music.  Electricity.  The children and grown-ups in my Music Together classes. Warm clothing.  Two lap top computers.  Access to the internet.  Great collaborators.  Our local network of public libraries.  The retirement communities which invite me and my collaborators back to perform again and again.

Once one gets started, the list can go on and on and on…

The week before Doug Hammer and I performed Songs About Parents & Children at the Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA, I found out that I had been awarded a grant from the newly-created Bob Jolly Charitable Trust to help pay for rehearsals and marketing outreach.

Bob Jolly, who died in 2013, was a beloved actor in the Boston community for 28 years.

The Bob Jolly Charitable Trust — established by his will — supports local actors, performers, composers, and theater companies with modest yet very meaningful financial support.

I am very grateful for this grant as well as Bob’s vision to nurture Boston’s creative community for years to come.

His generosity is indeed something good!

The song in the player at the beginning of this blog post was created by Richard Rodgers for the movie version of The Sound Of Music.

He wrote both the music and the lyrics because his second longtime lyricist/collaborator, Oscar Hammerstein, II, died before the movie was made.

The knowledge that Mr. Hammerstein was dying from stomach cancer while they were bringing the original Broadway musical to life adds — for me — an extra layer of poignance to songs such as “My Favorite Things,” So Long, Farewell,” “Climb Every Mountain,” “Edelwiess,” and “The Sound Of Music.”

And learning more about Mr. Rodgers challenging relationship with alcohol — as well as with various female cast members in his shows —  adds many more layers of complexity to “Something Good,” which Doug and I performed as our final encore at the end of Songs About Parents & Children.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Thank you for reading and listening.

Everybody Says Don’t…

One of my favorite Stephen Sondheim songs — “Everybody Says Don’t” (on the player embedded above this paragraph) — is from his first official flop, Anyone Can Whistle, which starred Angela Lansbury, Harry Guardino, and Lee Remick on Broadway in 1964 and ran for nine performances.

Among other topics, the plot explored the classic question of who is saner — the folks in a mental hospital or those who are not.

“Everybody Says Don’t” invites us to consider how we make choices.

Many of us make choices based on what other people say or think.

Sometimes this demonstrates a healthy respect for our shared values as human beings — and helps to keep our societies more, rather than less, civil.

Sometimes it’s a way to avoid saying or doing something important — something which might be utterly, uniquely, and profoundly why we are alive here and now on planet earth.

I might have stayed in my non-musical day job as a PR/development/events professional for another 16 years if I hadn’t been laid off.

The job offered me teamwork, camaraderie, shared purpose, a paycheck, respect from my peers, and daily surprises/challenges.

But it was not tapping very deeply into my musical soul.

Now I am devoted to making music for a living — as a performer, a songwriter, and a Music Together teacher.

The sentiment of “Everybody Says Don’t” reminds me of one of the guiding principles of Music Together — that anything a child chooses to do during class is fine and needs to be respected as part of their learning process/style.

A child’s caregiver may want them to sit still and “play” a drum — or a shaker egg, or a triangle, or a set of wooden sticks — in a particular manner.

But their way of soaking up the music in class may involve moving their bodies around the room, sitting in a corner (seemingly disconnected from everything happening in class), or bouncing up and down in someone’s lap.

As long as the child is not endangering themselves or hurting someone else in class, s/he is free to respond to the music in her/his own fashion — which may change from song to song and class to class.

I sometimes imagine the adult caregivers (moms, dads, nannies, grand mothers, grand fathers, au pairs, uncles, aunts and more) as younger versions of themselves — who may have been told somewhere along the line: “don’t sing so loudly,” or “don’t sing out of tune,” or worst of all, “don’t sing — just move your lips.”

One never knows what musical wounds people may be bringing into our classrooms…

As one teacher remarked at the end of a three day Music Together seminar, “90% of our job is showing up with a compassionate heart.”

“Everybody Says Don’t” also reminds me of a song I started writing a couple of years ago called “A Beating Heart.”

I was inspired by a conversation I heard between a new author, Amber Dermont,  and Terry Gross on NPR radio about Amber’s debut novel, The Starboard Sea.

Two of the characters in her novel invent the term, “the starboard sea” as a possible metaphor for one’s life mission — the direction one sails in order to discover an authentic, respectful, fulfilling life.

Or at least that’s how I have remembered the definition of “the starboard sea” — and incorporated it into my song.

If you have time to listen to either or both of these songs, lemme know what you think!

The Beauty All Around

Today I visited one of my favorite urban yards (near the intersection of Dana and Centre streets in Cambridge, MA) as I was biking home from a visit with my beloved acupuncturist.

The people who live there have planted an astonishing number of bulbs under a huge Beech tree in front of their home.

Right now hundreds of snowdrops and crocii are blooming, as well as one tiny Siberian iris.

And even though the temperature was near 32 degrees Fahrenheit, I saw two little bees diligently visiting each crocus flower to gather tiny bits of pollen.

Amazing!

The crocii have inspired me to share two different versions of a song I wrote a couple of years ago, “The Beauty All Around.”

Here’s a version I recorded last week with pianist/composer Doug Hammer.

I think this song originally sprang out of an excited realization that some of my favorite pop songs — such as “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay — were based on only four chords.

I am not sure when I came up with this particular four-chord progression — but I remember sitting at a picnic table next to a lake near Worcester, MA, when I started recording it.

It was a warm autumn afternoon, and I was attending one of my favorite congregations of human beings on planet earth, the Massachusetts Men’s Gathering.

Although I was not having the best time at my day job (as the lyrics attest…), I was happy and grateful to be sitting by the water, surrounded by trees and birds and sky and clouds.

Here is my original version, recorded using my trusty Apple laptop running GarageBand plus my small, blue ukulele.

If you are able to take the time to listen to both versions, you will notice how the lyrics have evolved a bit.

ps: If you are ever feeling down in the dumps and have access to the internet, just do a search for “crocus images.” So many colors! So much beauty! What a planet…

Hints Of Spring

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.

According to a National Geographic article I found online, they tend to peep in trios….

Who knew?

If you have time, please consider clicking here to watch a video I made a few years ago for the Snow Flake Song.

It features many different kinds of flowers blooming.

Happy (almost) spring!

I’m A Baby Monkey

One of the things I love most about teaching Music Together is the concept that each person absorbs and processes music in their own way.

Some children (and some adults, too) like to sit still while they soak up the sights and sounds swirling around them.

Others like to move their bodies — swaying, clapping, tapping their toes, nodding their heads, or even jumping up to dance in the center of the circle.

Still others prefer to wander around the room, seemingly oblivious to the musical activity unfolding all around them. And yet these same children will often start singing their own versions of the songs as soon as they leave class…

I love the respect for different learning styles that is baked into the Music Together pedagogy.

As long as no one is hurting themselves or distracting the rest of the class, whatever she or he wants to do in class is OK.

At times this can make for a somewhat chaotic classroom experience.

But as long as the teacher and a majority of the adults are able to keep participating — singing, moving, chanting, drumming, dancing, marching, and so forth — the class flows on.

The grown ups copy the teacher.

The children copy their accompanying grown up, the teacher, the other grown ups, and the other children.

And the teacher is always looking for movements and ideas from the children and grownups in the class which s/he can mirror, highlight, and otherwise incorporate into the flow of the lesson plan.

It can become a very rich — and fun — environment of “monkey see, monkey do” feedback loops.

I wrote the song at the top of this page, “I’m A Baby Monkey,” before I became a Music Together teacher.

Serendipitous foreshadowing?

The Subtle Power of the ‘Ukulele

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 and probably a demonstration video for almost every song under the sun!)

Soon after discovering the chords for a Coldplay song on line, I realized that many of my favorite pop songs have a surprisingly simple structure. Four chords! 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 accompanied by 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.

I find this to be amazing.

And I am very grateful.

Hurrah for the subtle power of the ‘ukulele!