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 …

Everything Is Holy Now

Summer lily

I first heard Peter Mayer’s song “Holy Now” on a recording by the delicious trio of Ellen Epstein, Michael Cicone and Cindy Kallet.

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

Inspiring.

Thought-provoking.

The sort of song I love to perform — and aspire to write.

I listened to it over and over again — and then went to Doug Hammer’s recording studio, where we recorded a few takes (the second one of which you can hear in the player at the top of this post…)

Every now and then I remember to bring a camera and take photos while I am traveling. Sometimes I even manage to upload them onto my laptop. And on very rare occasions I find the time to look at some of them.

The images in this post are from the summer of 2011 — and feel like they match the sprit of Peter Mayer’s song.

Chicory

Chicory is a wonderful plant which grows all over the place — from farm fields to urban roadways. I love the flowers’ shade of blue, which reminds me of a clear summer sky.

I am also deeply reassured by the way it is able to take root, survive, and even bloom in what appear to be extremely inhospitable locations — with very little soil or access to water.

Hurrah for the resourcefulness of weeds!

Ryder & Toad

Here is one of my nephews interacting with a toad next to Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. Ryder lives in southern California and will happily sing the entire song “Uptown Funk” (by Mick Ronson featuring Bruno Mars) if you ask him to.

Jasper & Araianna 2011 B

This is my other nephew and my niece with my older sister (their mother) in the background by their garden in upstate New York.

Jasper & Arianna 2011 A

They love each other very much.

Steep Hollow Field

Although originally from Detroit, MI, they have grown up on a farm.

I feel inordinately blessed to be the uncle of three such delightful human beings.

Peaches Lime Rock

These are peaches growing on a little tree my mother and step father planted in Connecticut. I am astounded at how much fruit even a small tree can create — seemingly out of thin air!

Trees amaze me in so many ways.

I was looking at photos of the thousand year-old redwoods in California recently, trying to imagine what their sense of time might feel like…

I am impressed by how much patience and trust a plant has to have — that it will get enough rain, for example — since it cannot get up and move around the way we animals do.

And how generous they are to feed us with their fruit, their nuts, their berries — although it is hard to know whether they are generous because they want to be or because they have no other option…

Asian Pears Lime Rock

Isn’t this Asian pear beautiful? How does the tree grow it?!

And let’s not forget our invaluable allies — the bees, bats and birds who pollinate different plants and — according to recent statistics I read in an article about bee health — are responsible for the cultivation of a third of the food we humans eat…

What an amazing system: beautiful flowers which delight our human eyes and attract (and perhaps also delight) billions of extremely hard-working and diligent pollinators whose diligent work leads to delicious, nutritious food for so many beings — many of them human — to eat.

And it’s powered by photons traveling through space from a nearby star.

And it’s assisted by water which falls from the sky, is sucked up by the plants’ roots, is incorporated into leaves and flowers and fruits and berries, and eventually evaporates back into the sky — only to begin the cycle again.

What a planet!

As Peter writes in his song, “The challenging thing becomes not to look for miracles — but finding where there isn’t one…”

Summer Sky

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

Who Could Ask For Anything More?

 

Today I sit on our back porch, savoring a gentle breeze and warm, spring-like weather.

Ahhh….

A careful reader might notice that I haven’t posted anything since December.

We had a long, snowy winter here in the Boston area — and at the end of February I managed to fracture the bottom surface of my left humerus (upper arm bone) by tripping over a very enthusiastic 18-month-old student who got behind me (without my realizing it) during one of my Music Together classes.

Six titanium screws later, my left elbow is mostly functional — and a few more months of painful therapy may, in frustratingly small increments, restore full functionality.

We shall see…

One of the blessings of my recent encounter with the world of Western medicine is that I found a great surgeon — the head of orthopedic medicine at Tufts Medical Center! — who was willing to screw the various chunks of my humerus back together again. He is also a terrific listener who makes unwavering eye contact during conversation.

And the anesthesiologists who took care of me during my surgery were also willing to listen to my request that they NOT intubate me. Instead they used an alternative device which didn’t poke through my larynx, bless them.

So I experienced no inadvertent bumps or scratches on my vocal cords while I was under anesthesia.

Now a very patient and sweet-tempered occupational therapist is helping me persist in my quest for a fully functional left elbow.

Through this entire process I have been blessed with music — healing tracks by Libana, Bobby McFerrin, Annie Bethancourt, and Bill Glassco (to name a few) — as well as a very soothing guided meditation by Peggy Huddleston to help prepare for and recover from surgery.

Although my left arm aches 24/7 — especially after I have done my stretching exercises — listening to music, practicing music, learning new songs, performing music, jotting down new musical ideas, and leading my Music Together classes all, thankfully, distract me from the sensations in my arm.

I have included a fun version of the Gershwin Brothers’ song “I Got Rhythm” (originally debuted by a very young Ethel Merman in her star-making performance as part of the Gershwin Brothers’ musical Girl Crazy) at the beginning of this blog post.

I recorded it with Doug Hammer on piano at his studio on the North Shore. You can hear him laughing at the end of the take because he didn’t know I was going to hold a particular note as long as I did in a spontaneous homage to Ms. Merman…

It sums up my outlook during this recovery period, and it certainly fits the mood of today, as birds swoop through our back yard and bees of all sizes diligently gather pollen from the flowers blooming around town.

Thank you, as always, for reading my blog entries!

Very gratefully yours,

will

 

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?

Love Is Real

 

Love IS real.

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 seeing Barbra 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.

And his songs live on.

Love IS real.

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.

What Is This Thing Called Love?

This past Sunday pianist Joe Reid and I performed an hour of songs with music by Harold Arlen at an independent living center in Quincy, MA.

The residents who showed up were very friendly — and a few of them knew the words to almost every song!

Even if they weren’t singing, I could see that everyone was moving some part of their body — fingers, toes, head, torso — in rhythm with the music.

It was a delightful way to spend an hour of my life.

Afterwards one woman — whose eyes had been closed for much of the time — explained that when these songs had been popular, she and her husband had not had a lot of money, but that they HAD been able to listen to music on the radio.

So even though it may have appeared she was dozing off,  she had in fact been remembering that time in her life and imagining that her husband was still sitting next to her.

Deep sigh.

What is this thing called love?

What Is This Thing Called Love?

The previous day pianist Doug Hammer and I had performed a 40 minute chunk of my show, “The Kid Inside,” at a benefit for a new organization called OUT MetroWest.

OUT MetroWest has been providing supportive space for LGBTQ teenagers to meet for many years, and this benefit was a big step to expand their services beyond the Unitarian Universalist church in Wellesley where they began.

I originally created “The Kid Inside”  to perform for the 10th grade class at my high school. It’s a recollection, using stories and songs, of my high school years — including how conflicted and confused I felt about my sexuality.

At one point I tell a story about when — lacking a gay-straight alliance on campus or even any “out” faculty members to whom I might speak — I sneaked from my dorm one night and knocked on the front door of an apartment belonging to one of the young, unmarried male teachers who lived on campus,

When he answered the door, I was unable to say anything and just stood there — feeling stuck and ashamed and humiliated.

I follow this story by singing the Cole Porter song “What Is This Thing Called Love?” — which is in the player at the top of this post with Doug Hammer on piano, Mark Carlson on bass, and Kenny Wenzel on trombone.

I am happy to know that there are now safe spaces at many high schools to talk about the amazing and powerful and at times perplexing topics of sexuality and identity and relationships — as well as organizations like OUT Metro West.

And I am amazed at how songs can re-connect us with people and places from our past.

Love is a mystery.

How music taps into our memories and opens our hearts is a mystery.

Today I embrace those mysteries and remain grateful for all the music in my life on a daily basis.

Thank you for reading…and listening.

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.

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…

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…