The Holy-day Spirit

The Holy-day Spirit


Another delicious Thanksgiving has come and gone.

Days are short.

Nights are long.

And increasingly cold.

Last week jazz pianist Joe Reid and I shared our program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and composers at a retirement community in Newton.

As I have probably noted in previous blog posts, a significant number of great winter holiday songs were written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and composers.

In 1942 Irving Berlin gave us “White Christmas.”

In 1945 Mel Tormé and Bob Wells gave us “The Christmas Song.”

In 1949 Johnny Marks gave us “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

In 1950 Jay Livingston and Ray Evans gave us “Silver Bells.”

In 1959 Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen gave us “The Secret of Christmas.”

In 1966 Jerry Herman gave us “We Need A Little Christmas.”

In 1995 Jason Robert Brown gave us “Christmas Lullaby,”

And the list goes on and on!

In this political moment here on planet earth — when many are working to arouse a righteous sense of “us” versus ‘them” in their followers — I am grateful to be reminded of the folks who bridge cultures/identities and bring people together.

Mel Tormé’s parents were Jewish immigrants who fled Russia for a new life in the United States. Although he is most famous as a jazz vocalist, he also co-wrote 250+ songs, many of them with Bob Wells (born Robert Levinson), who was also Jewish.

According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer day in an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool.”

mel-torme

As Mel recalled, he “saw a spiral pad on Bob’s piano with four lines written in pencil: Chestnuts roasting… Jack Frost nipping… Yuletide carols… Folks dressed up like Eskimos. Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter, he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.”

The forty minutes that they devoted to creating that song certainly paid off extraordinarily well for Mr. Wells and Mr. Tormé!

Many songwriters aspire to create a holiday standard, which will then be recorded and performed year after year — generating an ongoing stream of revenue.

When I was first putting together a program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish composers and lyricists, I worked with the wonderful pianist Megan Henderson — who is now the musical director for the Revels organization, which creates the beloved Christmas Revels held at Sanders Theatre each December.

As we were musing about the different reasons that these winter holiday songs came to be written, we came up with the term, “Christmas ka-ching!” to describe the economic motivation that no doubt was driving some of the songwriters.

Several winter holiday songs were created to be performed in films.

One of my favorite holiday standards, “Silver Bells,” was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for a 1950 movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, where it was sung by Marilyn Maxwell and Bob Hope.

I always associate it with my mother’s mother, a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”

Jay Livingston, who wrote the music for “Silver Bells,” and Ray Evans, who wrote the lyrics for “Silver Bells,” were a famous Jewish songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”

ray_jay

Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans — also in 1915 — in Salamanca, not far from Buffalo, N.Y.

They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.

I love the verse — not always sung — they wrote for “Silver Bells.”

“Christmas make you feel emotional. It may bring parties or thoughts devotional. Whatever happens or what may be, here is what Christmastime means to me…”

A contemporary Jewish songwriter, Jason Robert Brown, wrote another one of my favorite winter holiday songs — “Christmas Lullaby” — for his first musical revue called Songs for a New World.

 


Mr. Brown is an extremely gifted human being who sometimes works as music director, conductor, orchestrator, and pianist for his own productions — and has won Tony Awards for his work on the Broadway musicals Parade and The Bridges of Madison County.

JasonRBrown

“Christmas Lullaby” honors one of the deepest miracles of all — how a woman (with a little genetic input from a man — or, in the case of Jesus’ mother Mary, with the help of the Holy Spirit) can grow an entirely new human being inside her body.

I think about this miracle in my Music Together classes, because I have been teaching long enough for many mothers — who originally attended with their first child — to become pregnant and return for more music with their second (and even third) child.

Neil Postman wrote at the beginning of his book, The Disappearance of Childhood, that “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

Although this sentence also appears in a book published the following year by John Whitehead called, The Stealing of America, it appears to have been coined by Postman.

And regardless of who gets credit for it, I LOVE this idea.

One of my sisters-in-law — who has parented two children and worked with hundreds of others in the public schools of Western, MA — incorporated this quotation into a work of art which I see hanging on her wall every time I visit.

Sometimes I remember during my Music Together classes that part of my modest legacy here on planet earth may be the spontaneous and affirmative musical fun I shared with these extraordinary little souls — who will grow up to face unimaginable challenges stemming in part from the ignorant (and at times utterly greedy) choices that we grownups have made during the past 100+ years.

Perhaps some seeds of improvisation and collaboration and harmony and community and inter-connectedness and playfulness and creativity and love and respect will have been sown during our musical time together — which will blossom to help solve/resolve future challenges in a time that I will not see.

And perhaps these wonderful holiday songs will also travel into the future, continuing to touch and guide people’s hearts and minds for generations to come…

Let’s keep singing and humming and whistling and playing them!

Thank you to all of the songwriters who have created such a great legacy of music for us to share.

Thank you to Joe Reid for performing 47 shows with me in 2017 at retirement communities, public libraries, community centers, memory cafes, and synagogues around New England.

If you are curious to see what’s on our calendar for 2018 you can click here.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for recording — while playing the roles of both pianist AND engineer — the songs in this blog post with me.

Thank you to Nate Bloom, a writer who has made it a personal quest to track down and figure out which winter holiday songs have been written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and songwriters.

And THANK YOU for reading and listening to another blog post!

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Let Me Be Strong (again)

Let Me Be Strong (again)


I shared this song by Barbara Baig a couple of years ago in a blog post.

Today I found myself thinking about it a lot.

Many people in the USA are very happy today.

I honor their sense of excitement and accomplishment.

Many people in the USA are very surprised and scared and shocked today, too.

I honor these feelings as well.

I don’t know what comes next, but I am pretty sure that the effects of yesterday’s election will ripple for weeks and months and years to come — not just here in the US but all over our planet.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I dearly hope that the horrible coincidence of learning the results of our election with the anniversary of Kristallnacht is just that…a horrible coincidence and not an uncanny foreshadowing of what may lie ahead in our not-very-united-states.

corridor

It is very sobering to read about Kristallnacht in Wikipedia.

As soon as we start viewing — and scapegoating — fellow human beings as “other,” we are heading down a very unhappy and slippery slope…

I was very glad that jazz pianist Joe Reid and I were booked to perform our hour-long program of songs co-written by Harold Arlen this afternoon at a retirement community in Newton.

We all needed to sing together — beautiful, timeless songs which touched our hearts and connected us with each other.

Not surprisingly, one song moved us to tears — “Over the Rainbow,” which Mr. Arlen wrote with Yip Harburg in 1938 for MGM’s masterpiece, The Wizard of Oz.

ladybug

Filming for The Wizard Of Oz began on October 13 1938.

A month later Kristallnacht occurred in Germany, Austria and parts of Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic.

The emotional resonance of “Over The Rainbow” — written by two American-born, fully assimilated Jewish songwriters for a movie produced by a Jewish-owned film company — cannot have gone un-noticed at the time.

No wonder so many of us are still moved to tears by it, almost 80 years after it was written.

I love “Let Me Be Strong,” too.

Barbara Baig wrote it when she lived in Somerville, MA and was an active member of the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA).

I recorded it many years ago with Doug Hammer on piano at his wonderful Dreamworld studio in Lynn, MA, plus Gene Roma on drums and Chris Rathbun on bass.

Thank you, Barbara, for writing this song.

May all of our hearts remain open in the days and weeks to come… as we move through our joys and our fears here on planet earth.

hedgehog

Let us be strong.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Thank you to Pixabay for the photos.

And thank you to anyone who reads and listens to this blog post!

white-flower

Musings on Larry Hart

Larry Hart

Having recently read many biographies about Larry Hart and about Richard Rodgers, I’ve been wondering how Larry would have told his own story if he hadn’t died at age 48…

Richard Rodgers lived for 36 years after Hart’s heartbreakingly early death, and as a result he had many opportunities to share HIS memories of their often-times challenging creative collaboration.

But we have no hindsight from Larry to balance their biographical narrative.

We do, however, have the lyrics he wrote for 26 Broadway shows and several Hollywood movies.

They range from the simple and sincere — “With a Song In My Heart” — to the playfully brutal — “I Wish I Were In Love Again.”

Here’s a version of “I Wish I Were In Love Again” that Bobbi Carrey and I recorded with Doug Hammer at his great studio north of Boston (with extra musical input from Mike Callahan).

 

It is tempting to imagine that some clues to his life experiences are encoded into his lyrics.

For example, Larry writes at the end of “I Could Write a Book” from one of his later musicals, Pal Joey: “and the world discovers as my book ends how to make two lovers of friends.”

Vivienne_Sonia_Segal

This lyric makes me wonder about his relationship with the actress and singer Vivienne Segal, one of the stars of Pal Joey who was also his friend and to whom he apparently proposed marriage more than once…

She respectfully declined each time — saying that she had had enough of marriage (she was divorced from a first husband).  She was also well aware that Hart was an alcoholic and what we would now describe as a closeted gay man.

VivienneSegal

Yet Cole Porter, another closeted gay songwriter of the time, had a long, loving, committed marriage to divorcée and millionairess Linda Lee Thomas — while simultaneously carrying on a life-long stream of romantic and sexual liasons with other men.

Porter, like Hart, was also devoted to his mother — although Porter did not share a home with his family for almost his entire life as did Hart.

Lorenz Milton Hart was born on May 2, 1895 and grew up in a boisterous household in Harlem, NY (then a largely Jewish neighborhood) with a father who was well-connected within the Democratic Tammany Hall political establishment.

His father made a living doing a variety of business deals — for example, he was alleged to be an investor in a very popular brothel — and over the years the Hart’s family finances would ebb, when his mother’s jewelry would go to the local pawn shop, and flow, when her jewelry would come out of hock and Larry might be given a $100 bill so that he could take all of  his friends out for a night on the town.

It was a tight-knit family.

Larry (or Lorry as he was called by his German-Jewish mother) shared a bedroom with his younger brother Teddy until they were both in their forties.

The Harts regularly hosted parties attended by friends, relatives, local politicians, and — as Larry’s fame mounted — an expanding cast of writers, composers, musicians, performers, stars, groupies and hangers-on.

Larry supported his family after his father died — and he was apparently hounded by people to whom his father owed money for many years afterwards.

Hart was acutely aware of his mother’s wish that he would get married like his brother Teddy, who was a performer and who finally got married in 1938.

But none of the women to whom Larry proposed said yes.

Deep sigh.

Larry Hart

I am reminded of Hart’s lyric for the song “Glad To Be Unhappy” (which I once recorded with Doug on piano at his studio during a rehearsal).

 

“Fools rush in… so here I am, very glad to be unhappy. I can’t win… so here I am, more than glad to be unhappy. Unrequited love’s a bore, and I’ve got it pretty bad — but for someone you adore, it’s a pleasure to be sad.”

Hart seems to have buried or hidden much of his sadness behind a playful, generous, talkative, enthusiastic personality — as well as a thick haze of cigar smoke and LOTS of alcohol.

Hart

And Larry carried on his family’s tradition of hospitality and generosity — helping his father pay off debts and loans when he was still alive, lavishing gifts on friends, hosting endless parties, and picking up the tab when out on the town.  

He was also generous with his time and creativity.

His sister-in-law Dorothy Hart claimed, “My brother-in-law wrote more lyrics without getting credit for more friends who were stumped or had songwriters’ block. He was very generous, not only with money, but also with his talents.”

About Larry’s death she says, “He was really, I think, a victim of burnout, and at the age of 48, the theater didn`t offer too much surprise for him, because he had done it all.”

I also wonder what effect the news from Europe during WWII had on his spirit.

Before his death — after Richard Rodgers had begun his new collaboration with their mutual lifelong friend Oscar Hammerstein — Larry had been working on a musical about the underground resistance movement in Paris with a composer who had recently escaped from Germany.

So he must have been very well-informed about recent developments in Germany — from which his parents had emigrated in the late 1800s and to which he had traveled as an adult — and Europe.

How did this excruciating information affect his mood? His spirit? His world view?

One of the last songs he wrote in partnership with Richard Rodgers was a witty tour de force for Vivienne Segal to sing in a 1943 revival — and updated version — of their 1927 hit show A Connecticut Yankee.

It is called “To Keep My Love Alive” and relates how the singer has remained faithful to a long list of husbands (“until death do us part”) by killing each of them in a different way.

One death occurs when the singer pushes her husband off a balcony.

Hart would surely have been aware that Richard Rodgers’ wife’s father had died a few years earlier as a result of a fall from the balcony of their NY penthouse apartment when Rodgers’ father-in-law was being treated for depression.

Might this have been a hidden — and ostensibly humorous — way for him to process some of his feelings about Rodgers having begun a new collaboration with their long-time mutual friend and colleague Oscar Hammerstein, II — the first fruits of which was the musical Oklahoma?

A way to needle Richard and his wife Dorothy under the cloak of music and rhyme?

A way for him to express how he might have felt about Vivienne’s declining to accept his marriage proposals?

Who knows…

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Mr Hart’s life story — and his lyrics — while I put together a program of songs and stories to perform with jazz pianist Joe Reid.

And my freely associative mind can’t help but see — or perhaps more accurately imagine — connections between Hart’s life and his work.

I am wildly grateful that he left such a rich and beautifully-crafted body of work for all of us to savor and sing for many years to come.

Rest in peace, dear Mr. Hart.

.LarryHart

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

Does July Need A Sky Of Blue?

fluffy-white-cloud-on-deep-blue-sky-725x544

Hurrah for summer on planet earth.

1) I can again ride my bike to and from Music Together classes.

2) The mulberry trees in Arlington have been particularly generous with their berries this season, and there are many days that my tongue has been colored purple as a result…

3) My sweetheart and I recently visited family in upstate NY, where we were fed currants and bok choy and eggs — all of which were grown on my sister’s farm.

Yum.

4) And jazz pianist Joe Reid and I continue to perform our hour-long programs of songs written or co-written by Harold Arlen, the Gershwin Brothers, Jule Styne, Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter at retirement communities, coffee houses, and libraries around the greater Boston area.

After a recent show, I was speaking with one of the audience members about how — before the arrival of amplified sound in theaters — a song had to be crafted so that it could be sung by a performer and heard way up in the highest balcony seat.

Vowels and consonants and words and notes and melodies and ideas all had to travel from one person’s vocal tract to another person’s ear without the aid of electricity.

As far as I can tell from reading dozens of biographies about songwriters over the past couple of years, there were many factors which allowed this to happen.

a) Theaters were designed with great sensitivity to acoustics.

b) Songs were orchestrated to leave some sonic space for human voices to cut through the overall blend of musical vibrations and be heard.

c) The audience was accustomed to leaning forward and LISTENING carefully — compared with today, when I take earplugs with me in order comfortably to withstand the blast of amplified sound that is the norm in today’s pop music and even in today’s musical theater.

d) The singers — Ethel Merman being one of the most famous examples — knew how to generate potent streams of sound.

e) The songwriters knew how to craft songs with vowels and consonants and rhymes in all the right places while telling a story and advancing the plot.

One of my favorite examples of this craftsmanship is the song “Do I Love You, Do I?” which was written by Cole Porter for his musical DuBarry Was a Lady.

It is extremely fun to sing — especially near the end when the melody of the final “Do I love you, do I?” rises to a big, high note with total ease due to the extremely functional (from a singing point of view) vowel sequence of the two words “do” and “I.”

You can listen to this — and sing along if the spirit moves you — by clicking the song bar at the top of this blog entry. It is a recording I made a while back with the great pianist and songwriter Steve Sweeting when he lived in Brighton, MA.

Steve and I have recently finished recording a nine-sing CD of HIS extremely well-crafted original songs which I will very likely be writing about in future blog posts.

May there be lots of music in your life today and every day!

And thank you, as always, for reading and listening.

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.

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.

Music and Spontaneity

I am at an open mic run by the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA) in an elegant UU church in Watertown, MA.

Steve Heck, a wonderful local pro, is playing the grand piano, and I am singing “Over the Rainbow.”

It is one of the songs in a new show about Harold Arlen I have recently begun performing with pianist Joe Reid.

After Steve takes a piano solo, I re-enter at the bridge of the song (“some day I’ll wish upon a star…”) and then I hear elevator doors opening behind me.

Three women — friends of Steve Heck, I later learn — appear on stage. They did not realize that the elevator would deposit them there.

I turn and, still singing, welcome them in order to escort them across the stage and down into the audience. But as I do this, I realize that they probably love music and very likely know all the words to “Over the Rainbow;” so I encourage them to stay with me onstage and sing — which they happily do.

One woman in particular catches my attention because she is singing a beautiful harmony line in a great, big, functional belting voice. We make eye contact as the song builds to a dramatic and completely spontaneous harmonic climax of “Why oh why can’t I?” — each of us singing at the top of our vocal range, my microphone completely unnecessary.

The entire series of events has lasted less than a minute, and the entire room is happily caught up in the moment.

Afterwards, during a break period, I am asked how I managed to time their arrival so perfectly. I explain that I had never met them before and that the entire experience was utterly spontaneous — unfolding moment by moment with no guidance other than the lyrics of the song and our shared love of music.

Ahh, music!

Ahh, spontaneity…

I have been experiencing a lot of spontaneous musical moments in the past few months.

Joe Reid and I put together our Harold Arlen show in one rehearsal that lasted about two hours. He is a jazz pianist who is very comfortable in the here and now.

I brought a bunch of sheet music to his house plus a rough idea of a run order. We double checked the keys for all the songs, played each one through once or twice, and Joe was ready to take it public.

So far we have performed at two retirement communities to very enthusiastic audiences (and we did get together for another hour-long rehearsal before our second performance…)

Of course, I spent many additional hours apart from Joe — making sure I know exactly how the song was originally written, reading several books about Arlen I ordered from my local library, memorizing lyrics, and writing the “patter” to lead from one song to the next.

All of which helps me to surrender to the moment when we are performing them.

I have also begun leading Music Together (MT) classes in Arlington and Belmont.

MT is a very-well-researched and very-well-planned program to introduce small children — along with their care-givers — to the joy and fun of music-making.

Although one is expected to learn 30+ new songs (carefully arranged to include a wide variety of keys and rhythms) each semester, one is also encouraged to be spontaneous and improvisatory during each class.

I am sure my training during the past six months to become a MT teacher helped me to go with the flow at the BACA open mic when those three women appeared onstage.

And I have experienced many moments of musical connection with children and parents during my first two weeks of MT classes that have given me a similar jolt of delight.

I think this might be what I am supposed to be doing here on planet earth!

I will end with a version of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic, “Accentuate the Positive” that I recorded with pianist Doug Hammer during a rehearsal for the “Mostly Mercer” show that he and Bobbi Carrey and I created last year.

Thanks for reading — and listening!