The Mystery of Neuronal Connections

 

After I take a shower in the morning, I like to wipe the water off the tile walls with a squeegee.

I had never done this until I visited my friend Michael Ricca’s family home in Quincy, MA.

Their bathroom was spotless, and I learned that Michael’s dad always cleaned the water from the shower walls with a squeegee.

So now I think about Michael and his parents almost every morning as I stand — naked or wearing a towel — and use my shower squeegee.

Michael’s parents used to invite me and him and Nina Vansuch and Brian Patton over for huge Italian feasts when the four of us were singing together in a musical project called At The Movies.

So I also think about Nina and Brian and the music we made together each morning as I wipe water from the shower walls.

I love how “squeegee” and “Michael Ricca’s dad and mom” and “Michael Ricca” and “Nina Vansuch” and “Brian Patton” and “Quincy, MA” are all neuronally linked in my memory banks.

And somehow the act of wiping down the shower walls brings all of them to the surface of my consciousness.

Brian and Nina and Michael and I performed together for a few years, selling out Scullers Jazz Club on a regular basis and recording a CD, Reel One, which still — ten years later — sounds great.

I have included a couple of selections from Reel One in this blog. And a couple more (“Wives & Lovers/Coming Around Again” and “That’ll Do”) are in the player in the right hand side bar of this page.

I especially love Nina’s vocal performance on “Theme from The Valley Of the Dolls” and the vocal harmonies Brian crafted for us to support her.

 

I don’t know if At The Movies will ever perform together or record again, but I am very grateful that we have such lovely audio documentation of our time together.

I was talking with a fellow singer about the fascinating power of neuronal associations the other night as we drove home from an open mic in Natick.

Sometimes what transforms someone’s song interpretation from good to great is simply how many neural associations they have woven into their memorization of the lyrics.

A song may remind them of a loved one who once sang it to them, or an intense crush they once had in high school, or a particularly tumultuous (or poignant or peaceful) period in their life.

Or all of the above.

And those images, those memories, those associations somehow bring the song to life when they perform it.

I try to inoculate songs that I am learning with as many different layers of memory associations as I can muster.

Then when I am performing, I can tap into different constellations of memory associations as the spirit moves me.

One night a song about love might evoke a strong image of my nephews and niece.

On another night I might find myself remembering my former voice teachers — or the first person with whom I fell head over heels in love — or my sweetheart of 22 years — or one of my siblings — or the horse our family owned as a pet for over 30 years — or the corgi we had who once raised a litter of abandoned kittens — or the heron who sleeps at night on an abandoned shopping cart in the middle of a stream which runs along a busy road near my house.

Or huge Italian feasts with Michael and Brian and Nina and Michael’s parents at his childhood home in Quincy.

Or squeegeeing my shower tiles.

Or all of the above.

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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…