Stuff (and Amanda McBroom’s Blessing)

Stuff (and Amanda McBroom’s Blessing)

 

Recently we experienced the warmest February day ever recorded in Boston according to a radio announcer on WBUR.

Hmm.

In the short run, I am very grateful for this lovely respite from wintry weather.

In the long run, however, I wonder what’s going on with the larger weather patterns and ocean temperatures on planet earth?

Our opposable thumbs — and seemingly insatiable desire for novelty and innovation — have helped us to create all sorts of stuff.

And much of what we have created needs power from fossil fuels (in the form of electricity, for example) to function or is actually made from fossil fuels outright in the case of plastic.

Plastic wrap. Plastic toothbrushes. Plastic containers to store leftovers. Plastic bags. Plastic bumpers on cars (one of which my sister’s dog was able to chew into pieces when he thought a small animal was hiding under it!)

Plastic plates. Plastic silverware. Plastic cups. Plastic shower curtains. Plastic bowls. Plastic bottles filled with water and laundry detergent and shampoo and apple cider.

Plastic dispensers for easy-gliding floss (which is itself made out of plastic). Plastic souvenir tchotchkes. Plastic electronic devices. Plastic credit cards.

The list goes on and on.

Today I listened to a news story about an area in Texas where we human beings have been extracting oil and gas for the past hundred years.

We’ve been blessed with an inheritance of solar energy accumulated by plants growing on planet earth for millions of years — and we are withdrawing it — and spending it — in the blink of a cosmic eye.

What an amazing inheritance!

Why are we squandering it to manufacture and then purchase stuff that doesn’t usually make us feel any better after the initial thrill of acquisition subsides?

Stuff that won’t decompose for hundreds of years — thus contaminating and altering all sorts of natural processes and feedback loops on land and in our lakes and rivers and streams and oceans.

Why have we not been taught to weigh the long-term consequences of our manufacturing and consumer choices?

I sometimes wonder what an economy would look and feel like which actually honored the long-term costs and consequences of fossil fuel-driven lives on the larger ecosystems which sustain the amazing, interconnected web of life on planet earth…

I am guessing it would be simpler and slower.

It was a growing awareness of all the stuff in my life which inspired me to write lyrics for a melody by Steve Sweeting many years ago which became the song “Stuff.”

I was visiting dear friends who had moved into a large new home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle — and reflecting upon the pros and cons of our very blessed — and privileged — lives.

Two years ago Steve and I recorded “Stuff” for a CD of his songs called Blame Those Gershwins.

I recently sent a copy of it to Amanda McBroom.

She is a songwriter and singer and teacher whom I met when I participated in a week-long cabaret conference at Yale.

I  — and many of my singing peers — love to perform her songs, the most famous of which is probably “The Rose,” which she wrote for the movie starring Bette Midler.

She has recently finished a new CD of her latest batch of songs called Voices.

I guessed that she might be sick of listening to herself (which one ends up doing over and over and over again when one is recording and mixing and mastering a CD) and open to the possibility of hearing something new.

And, bless her, I was right.

Here’s what she wrote back after listening to Steve’s CD:

“Thank you so much for sending the lovely CD!  It was such joy to hear your voice again. AND to listen to something that wasn’t ME for a change!

The songs are terrific. Your performances are nuanced and touching and lovely.

My very favorite is STUFF.

I think I have to have it.

Feels like it would something perfect for me to put in my repertoire if your friend is willing to share.”

Needless to say I was astounded and excited and humbled that she had made time to listen to the CD, that she liked Steve’s songs, and that she liked one of the songs to which I had contributed lyrics well enough that she might end up adding it to her repertoire!

Deep breath in…

Deep breath out…

It’s funny how something as simple as someone asking for the sheet music for a song I have co-written gives me a renewed sense of validation and encouragement to continue on my (still extremely humble) path as a songwriter.

Maybe it’s another example of the power of feedback loops — in this case feedback that Amanda found the melody and chords and ideas and arrangement of “Stuff” compelling enough that she might want to learn it and then share it with others.

Another deep breath in…

And another deep breath out…

Despite all of the larger patterns of disrespect and dishonesty and disbelief which are rippling around our country and around the planet these days, I will continue to count my blessings, continue to reduce my ecological footprint, and continue to sing — and sometimes write — songs.

Thank you, as usual, to Pixabay for the lovely images in this post.

Thank you to Steve Sweeting for entrusting his melodies to me.

Thank you to Amanda McBroom, for making time in her complicated life to listen to Steve’s CD AND then to send such uplifting feedback to us.

And thank you to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

PS: I hope you noticed the irony of me ranting about all the plastic junk we human beings create and buy and sell on planet earth and then agreeing to make a CD recording of Steve’s songs — thus creating 250 shiny, round, flat pieces of plastic which will be obsolete junk within another decade or so…

Yet another deep breath in…

And deep breath out…

Count Our Blessings

Count Our Blessings

 

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

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

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

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

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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

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

And relief that it was “only” a dream.

Fox Sleeping

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

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

Syria.

Nigeria.

Afghanistan.

Mexico.

Iraq.

Cameroon.

Turkey.

Niger.

Chad.

Somalia.

Pakistan.

Libya.

Yemen.

Sudan.

Egypt.

Ethiopia.

Ukraine.

South Sudan.

Israel.

Palestine.

Myanmar.

Thailand.

Columbia.

The list of countries with ongoing bloody conflicts is long.

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

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

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

bear-sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

piglets-sleeping

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

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

He wrote in a letter to Joseph Schenck:

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

koala-sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

soldiers-and-dog-sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

Clean water at the twist of a faucet…

A functioning furnace…

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

My sweetheart of almost 25 years…

flying-foxes-sleeping

One remaining parent + a wonderful step parent…

Siblings who love and communicate with each other…

Friends…

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

Music…

The magic of digital recording…

My trusty iPods for learning songs…

My ukuleles and laptop computers for creating new songs…

My rhyming dictionaries for inspiration…

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

seal-sleeping

How our bodies can heal themselves…

White privilege…

Male privilege….

US citizen privilege….

Human privilege…

Curiosity….

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

puppies-sleeping

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

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

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

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

human-infant-sleeping

Let us all fall asleep counting our blessings…

At The Pound…

 

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

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

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

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

 

dog-at-peace

 

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

 

animal-welfare-sweetie

 

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

 

animal-welfare

 

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

I also love how it ends…

 

dogfence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

dogmischief

 

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

Thank you for reading and listening to my blog.

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

kelpie

Hurrah for Jerome Kern

 

I love Jerome Kern’s melodies.

I love his chord changes.

I am not sure if I would have loved him had I had the opportunity to meet him, but I am very grateful he co-wrote so many wonderful songs.

Kern1

Jerome David Kern was short and a very snappy dresser.

He loved the color green — including wearing bright green, custom-tailored trousers.

He could be quite critical and bossy — and he did not suffer fools gladly.

He was also very funny with friends.

And he knew bird calls well — and was sometimes melodically inspired by them.

Kern was the composer whom George Gershwin and Harold Arlen  — and many other composers of what we now call the Great American Songbook — looked up to and strived to emulate.

He was older than they were, having been born in New York City on January 27, 1885 — the youngest of seven children (four of whom died before the age of six…)

His family moved from apartment to apartment around Manhattan before settling into a house across the river in Newark, New Jersey, which is where Jerry went to high school and where he began writing songs for musical events.

His nickname in high school was “Romie.”

Kern’s first job in the music business was doing accounts payable and accounts receivable for a music publishing company run by the uncle of a friend.

He rose to become a song plugger, eventually earning a shift at Wanamaker’s, which was one of the first — and very grandest — department stores in New York City.

He proved to be a savvy businessman, investing money he received as an inheritance in his early 20s to become a shareholder in the second music publishing company he worked for, TB Harms.

Harms started getting Jerry’s songs interpolated into musical productions.

I learned from reading various Kern biographies that in the early days of musical theater, it was very common for individual songs to be added to a show by another composer.

These interpolated songs could freshen up a show during a long run — and also provided great opportunities for unknown and up-and-coming songwriters.

Harms let him work as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway reviews and shows, which he did on and off for ten years.

Being a rehearsal pianist meant that Kern became well-acquainted with the movers and shakers in the New York theater world — and it also meant he could be on hand to help create a new number if needed.

He also was allowed to accompany singers on short tours, which provided more opportunities to incorporate Harms and/or Kern tunes into their performances as needed.

I was surprised to learn that Kern was very well acquainted with the theater world in London.

Part of the reason Jerry went to London so many times as a young man was to check on TB Harms’ publishing partners in England.

He saw all of the latest shows and schmoozed as many London theater people as possible, pitching his songs for interpolation into London shows as well.

This is when he first met the author, humorist and lyricist P. G. “Plum” Wodehouse, with whom he began collaborating on songs in 1906.

Nine years later — when Wodehouse was living in New York — Kern introduced him to librettist Guy Bolton, who became one of Kern and Wodehouse’s lifelong friends.

Kern and Bolton had worked together on a musical called Nobody Home which was presented at the intimate, 300-seat Princess Theatre. Wodehouse contributed some lyrics to their next Princess musical, Very Good Eddie, and officially joined their creative team for Oh, Boy! — which ran for 463 performances (and according to Wikipedia was one of the first American musicals to have a successful London run).

The three men collaborated upon what became a very successful series of musical comedies — most of them presented at the Princess Theatre — during and after the First World War.

These shows were inspirational to many songwriters and librettists, partly because the songs and dances and script were well integrated to advance the storyline of the show.

And no songs by other writers were arbitrarily interpolated into the plot!

In an interview following the success of Oh, Boy, Kern explained, “It is my opinion that the musical numbers should carry on the action of the play, and should be representative of the personalities of the characters who sing them….Songs must be suited to the action and mood of the play.”

Kern collaborated with a wide variety of lyricists during his long career on Broadway and in Hollywood.

One of my favorite songs, “I’m Old Fashioned” was written with lyricist Johnny Mercer for a 1942 film called You Were Never Lovelier, which paired Fred Astaire with Rita Hayworth.

Partly as a result of a dear friend’s uncle giving me a Kern songbook when I left college, I became aware of Kern’s body of work early in my singing life.

KernSongbook

I recorded three Kern songs with jazz pianist and composer Steve Sweeting when Steve lived above an ice cream store in Brighton, MA — “I’m Old Fashioned,” The Way You Look Tonight,” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” — which I have included in this blog post.

 

Jerome Kern was very successful during the 1910’s and 20’s on Broadway and in London.

In fact one newspaper at the time estimated that he was earning as much as $5000 (which would be the equivalent of $63,000 in 2016) each WEEK from sheet music and ticket sales.

He created what is considered to be his masterwork, Show Boat, in 1927 in collaboration with lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and producer Florenz Ziegfeld.

Ziegfeld had made his reputation with huge revues on Broadway filled with beautiful chorus girls, extravagant costumes, and colossal sets.

Thus many people were surprised that he agreed to produce Show Boat — which featured an integrated cast of black and white performers and dove deeply into painful human phenomena including prejudice, gambling and alcoholism (which were not the usual topics for a night’s entertainment on Broadway).

Ziegfeld, in fact, remained very doubtful about the success of Show Boat — postponing the start of production several times.

Hammerstein and Kern

Although this was very frustrating to Jerry and Oscar, it also gave them extra time to fine-tune their songs and script before casting and rehearsals finally began.

Many of Kern’s Broadway musicals were adapted into movies, including Show Boat — which was filmed three different times — and his 1933 hit Roberta, with a book and lyrics by Otto Harbach.

The Broadway cast included many performers who went on to become stars including Fred MacMurray and Bob Hope — and Roberta also introduced the musical gem “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”

Along with many other Broadway songwriters, Kern moved with his family to California during the 1930s.

Although the Great Depression was in full swing, the movie industry was making lots of money.

Mr. Kern wrote “The Way You Look Tonight” with another favorite collaborator — lyricist/librettist Dorothy Fields — for the film Swing Time, where it was introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, who in this movie was cast as a dance instructor.

“The Way You Look Tonight” won Best Song in a Motion Picture in 1936.

Dorothy Fields later remarked, “The first time Jerry played the melody for me I went out and started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.”

 

In addition to being a composer, Kern was also a collector.

He started collecting books when he first visited London in his early 20s, and ten years later had amassed a collection which — when he auctioned it off in 1929 — earned him almost two million dollars (which would be worth more than $27 million dollars in 2016).

He also collected real estate, antique silver and furniture.

The home he built in Bronxville, NY (north of New York City) was decorated with beautiful paintings, Colonial, Jacobean and Italian furniture, rare vases, lamps with Buddha bases, and books which he had bought during his travels to Europe and around the USA.

And whatever he became curious about, he would soon become an expert in.

As a small example of this, when they were living in Bronxville, Kern and his wife Eva took a trip with their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Newman, to Canada to visit an asbestos plant that Mr. Newman owned.

Jerry asked lots of questions and was particularly concerned about the large amounts of asbestos waste.

After they got home, he did some independent research and wrote a 40-page report — detailing several possible uses for the wasted asbestos — which he gave to his neighbor.

After the huge success of Show Boat in 1927, Kern developed the habit of playing “Old Man River” the last thing before he left his house on a trip and the first thing upon arriving back home.

In fact, during his final trip to New York City from California in 1945  — when he was overseeing yet another revival of Show Boat with Hammerstein and beginning work on a new show with lyricist/librettist Dorothy Fields (produced by Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers) about a sharp-shooting phenomenon named Annie Oakley — he was apparently worried because he had forgotten to play this song before he left his home in California.

Much to everyone’s shock — since he was only 60 years old — Jerome Kern collapsed from a stroke while browsing on the east side of Manhattan.

He died a few days later with his wife and Hammerstein at his hospital bedside.

I would like to end this post with something president Harry Truman said upon hearing Kern had died:

“I am among the grateful millions who have played and listened to the music of Jerome Kern. His melodies will live in our voices and warm our hearts for many years to come.”

Thank you, Jerome Kern, for your wonderful songs — and thank YOU for reading and listening to yet another blog post.

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 …

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

Exuberance.

Joy.

Playfulness.

Improvisation.

Not having to sit still.

Clapping.

Snapping.

Tapping.

Dancing.

Bouncing up and down.

Singing.

Laughing.

Doing whatever one wants to do as long as one is not hurting oneself or anyone else.

These are all daily occurrences in my Music Together classes.

They contrast vividly with my work as a child and teenager in NYC — modeling for catalogs, doing TV commercials and voice-overs, working in a dinner theater production of The King and I, and even co-starring in a few made-for-TV movies.

Here is what I looked like as a child.

willb

As one of my childhood role models, Jack Wild, explained in an interview I found on Youtube, children who work in show business are not treated like children.

They are treated like small adults and are expected to behave as well as — and often better than — the grownups on the job.

Here is another shot where I am behaving more like a small adult.

willc

Jack Wild was The Artful Dodger in the movie version of the musical Oliver and also starred in an odd TV show which aired on Saturday mornings called H. R. Pufnstuf.

I realize now (after watching an old episode via Youtube) that it was very loosely inspired by the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” and that it was a pretty horrible show — relying all-too-heavily on a laugh track to seduce us into thinking that what we were watching was actually funny.

But each episode usually provided Jack with an opportunity to sing and dance, which is what I particularly admired.

One song —”I’m a mechanical boy” — had enough resonance to me as a child that I remember it with bittersweet fondness to this day.

You can watch it if you are curious by clicking here.

Jack may have also been aware of the painful ironies of this song…

From Wikipedia, I learned to my sadness that Jack died ten years ago from mouth cancer.

He had apparently been smoking ever since he was 12 years old and drank very heavily starting in his 20s when work in the entertainment industry dried up for him.

He was 53 years old — my current age.

Deep sigh.

There but for the grace of g-d…

My career as a child and teen actor happened before the era of VHS recording devices — so I have very few watchable artifacts from that period of my life.

I have a few head shot photos (which I have sprinkled into this entry), a resume which I think might have been typed using what was then a new technology (an IBM selectric machine owned by good friends), and a VHS copy of one of my last films, Goldenrod, which was made in Canada and was eventually purchasable in VHS format.

Every few years, however, I spend an hour searching on Youtube for possible remnants of my childhood career.

Recently I got lucky!

I found an audio file for a voiceover I made when I was 11 or 12 — promoting Oreo cookies —  as well as a Dr. Pepper commercial I made as a teenager in which I sing in the background on a fishing boat.

At least I think it’s me…. I know I made a Dr. Pepper commercial which was filmed on a fishing boat, but I don’t remember much from the shoot except that I was grateful not to feel too nauseous while we did take after take in what must have been the Long Island Sound.

Here’s my teen-era head shot.

willd

You can click on the links below if you are curious…

Dr, Pepper Commercial.

I am pretty sure I am the teenager wearing a baseball hat who dances behind David Naughton on the THIRD boat (a fishing boat) in the sequence and leaps onto a railing when everyone sings,”Only Dr. Pepper tastes that way.” If you look at the timing bar, I appear about 29 seconds into the clip…

Oreo Cookie Commercial.

I am the voice saying, “Then you get two crunchy chocolate outsides to eat last!” and also one of the voices singing, “‘Cause there’s not a better middle you can fiddle with” at the end of the spot.

I titled this post “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” because I recently found a lovely take from a rehearsal (with Doug Hammer on piano and Mike Callahan on shaker) I did several years ago at Doug’s studio in Lynn when putting together a show called “Will Loves Steve” which featured all songs written by people named Steve or Stephen or Stevie.

Not only am I uplifted and reassured by Stevie’s melody and words, the rhythm instrument that Mike is playing reminds me of the plastic eggs which we use — with great delight — in my Music Together classes.

Right now I am putting together a show of all songs I have written or co-written called “The Beauty All Around.”

And I am discovering that it is a much more intimate and doubt-filled process than a show which features songs written by other people.

So Stevie Wonder’s great song is going to be my mantra for the next six weeks…

Thank you, yet again, for reading and listening to another blog post!!!

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…

Subversive Lyrics

As some of you may know, I recently returned from a sweet trip to visit friends in Shanghai.

Lots of late night biking around the section of Shanghai formerly known as the French Concession, fresh fruits and vegetables on sale everywhere (as well as turtles, frogs, fish, and much, much more…) and music.

One of my friends is a wonderful composer, jazz pianist, and teacher. He and his family have been living in Shanghai for seven years, and a couple of years ago he started teaching music in the school his younger child attends.

I was able to visit some of his classes and was happy to see — and hear — how much his students love to sing.

We even taught them a song that my friend and I had written together (back when he lived with his grand piano above an ice cream shop in Allston, MA) called “Let’s Go To The River.”

They learned it immediately, and sang it with great gusto.

I was delighted.

A few days after I returned home to Boston, when it looked like my friend’s primary vocal ensemble might be participating in a VIP concert for the mayor of Shanghai, two of China’s top conductors came to hear his choir sing.

They listened to three pop/rock/show tunes, responded warmly, and asked, “what else do you have?”

My friend projected the lyrics for “Let’s Go to The River” up on a screen at the front of his classroom, and his choir performed a rousing version for them.

After class, the conductors stayed to talk about having his choir participate in the upcoming concert. One of the maestros tactfully talked about the importance of choosing songs with lyrics that would be totally apolitical. He suggested “What a Wonderful World,” my friend suggested “Singing in the Rain,” and they decided that a song in Chinese would be great, too.

The maestro again reinforced the necessity of choosing lyrics with an eye to political sensitivity.

My friend didn’t think too much about the maestro’s remarks until they left — and he went back into his classroom and saw my lyrics still up on the screen.

The two conductors had had a lot of time to study the message of “Let’s Go to the River,” and my friend realized that it may have made them nervous that he was teaching such ‘subversive’ messages to primary school students AND might try to go public with such a message.

I have typed the lyrics below.

Perhaps they are a bit subversive for our ever-more-wired-and-plugged-in-and-distracted culture in the United Stated of America, too!

Let’s Go To The River

What a day! Let’s go to the river — do something we never have the time to do.

We could say today’s a vacation — a small invitation to wander away.

Leave your phone, your fax, and your datebook…

Yeah, even that great book you never seem to read.

Spread your wings and slide out a window — wherever the wind blows, catch a ride.

Can we be without an agenda? Nothing to remember, deliver, or to do.

It’s okay!

The pavement is humming, and there’s different drumming all along the way.

Right away our energy’s rising; no analyzing what we need to do.

We’re on our way to whatever may happen — a tisket, a tasket — and it doesn’t have to rhyme.

Pick up a papaya, instead of a sixpack.

Dance among the plants.

Just decide; today’s an adventure — zip zap bodilee doh doo day.

Break a routine,

Go fly a kite,

Take a deep breath,

And jump in a lake!