I am not a big fan of autumn — with ever-lengthening nights and ever-colder temperatures…
But I understand that I can’t experience spring and summer without also experiencing autumn and winter.
So I strive to accept and make peace with the arrival of autumn.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
This week I rode my bike from East Arlington (where I live) to Arlington Heights (where I lead Music Together classes three mornings per week) via a rail-to-trail bike path.
At one point there was a stretch of sugar maple trees with orange, red and yellow leaves silhouetted against a very blue sky.
And I had to acknowledge the beauty of autumn…
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Dedicated readers of this blog may remember a song called “The Beauty All Around” which I wrote not long after taking a class called “Ukulele for the Almost Musical” led by a wonderful teacher, Danno Sullivan.
I recorded it using my ukulele and Apple’s wonderful GarageBand application, and then I recorded a new piano/vocal version a few years later with pianist/engineer Doug Hammerat his terrific home studio.
I am writing this blog post as I watch many inaugural events on TV.
So far everything has gone well.
For this I am deeply grateful.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
The song for this blog post, “New Words,” was written by Maury Yeston — a professor at Yale who also created beautiful songs for the Broadway musicals NINE and TITANIC.
I first heard it sung by a woman named Andrea Marcovicci at Town Hall in New York City.
She also recorded it, along with a bunch of other great songs by contemporary songwriters, on a CD called NEW WORDS.
I performed it as part of an evening of SONGS ABOUT PARENTS AND CHILDREN, and again as part of a cycle of songs I shared at my 25th high school reunion.
Then last year this version gracefully jumped out of my archives of past rehearsals with pianist Doug Hammer— and I decided I would wait until after our new president was inaugurated to release it.
After four years of a certain kind of leadership, I have been hungry for a new tone…
A new sense of respect…
A new vision for the future…
And new words…
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I have been told — and sometimes have experienced with my own eyes and ears — that underneath anger and acting out and conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios and threatening comments and violence and all sorts of drama is simply…
Pain from past hurts…
Past abuses of trust…
Past unhappiness of all different shapes and sizes and colors and tastes and smells and densities…
I breathe them in.
And then I breathe them out.
Like many of us, I’ve experienced new pains and new fears during this past year.
I don’t need to go into any of the details, which I have so far chosen to keep private.
Suffice to say that some of them involve rites of passage related to families and health and time and aging which all of us inevitably experience in one form or another.
And some of them involve things which have happened locally, nationally, and globally.
I have a sense that our new president — who has himself experienced some of the most profound losses a human being can experience — and our new vice-president — who has experienced life as a child of immigrants, as a woman, as a person of color, as an attorney general, and as a US senator — may be able to offer us some new words of consolation.
We shall see…
Yet another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
As regular readers of my blog already know, in addition to writing postcards to potential voters in swing states and going for long walks in local cemeteries full of trees, I find refuge and inspiration in music.
The song “New Words” reminds me of the Music Together classes I lead each week — which give me much-needed infusions of joy and spontaneity and playfulness and creativity and connectedness and love.
We set aside the worries of the world for 45 precious minutes and are present with each other — having fun clapping and snapping and drumming and waving scarves and shaking rhythm eggs and singing and dancing together — even via Zoom.
Some families have stayed with me for many years — so I experience the happiness of bearing witness to their children’s new movements, new vocabulary, new ideas, new competencies, new stuffed animals, new Lego creations, and, yes, even new siblings!
Part of me is amazed that anyone would dare to bring a child into a world teetering on the brink of so many disasters.
Yet part of me also sees how these precious, blessed beings can awaken a profound sense of responsibility and interconnectedness in their parents.
I hear mothers who are breast-feeding begin to re-think what they are themselves eating — and start to become curious about how and where and by whom our food is grown and processed.
I bear enthusiastic witness to families’ participation in social justice marches, in political activism, in fighting for a more respectful and sustainable future here on planet earth.
And I feel hope.
I feel love.
I do not know if love really IS capable of overcoming systemic racism, economic inequality, environmental degradation, accelerating rates of extinction, ignorant non-mask-wearers, brain-washed insurrectionists, and the myriad other challenges facing us here in the USA.
A very brave man who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee over 50 years ago once said:
“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” (1958)
“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” (1963)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (1963)
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” (1963)
And “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” (1967)
Yet ANOTHER deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
This song inspires me to stick with love.
Thank you to Maury Yeston for writing it.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing such beautiful piano and then helping me to mix and master it via Zoom.
Thank you to the generous photographers at Pixabayfor these glorious images.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.
ps: As I was doing my final proof-reading of this blog post, I received an email from one of my favorite former Music Together parents.
“We have been enjoying your music on Spotify! I started following you, and now new songs of yours come up on my new release playlist that Spotify sends out periodically.
Scarlet (her super-sensitive, fairy-like, delightful daughter) especially loves ‘New Words’ — she stopped what she was doing and came over and gave me a hug when it came up on my playlist. She found it so moving, and she didn’t even know it was yours.”
One more deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
This is why I do what I do.
If you are curious to learn more about my musical life here on planet earth, you are welcome to visitmy website.
This year December arrived in Boston with rain and wind.
I had to lead my final Music Together class of the fall term via Zoom rather than outside in a local park — which is where, wearing masks and sitting in a circle on blankets set 10 feet apart from each other, we have been meeting weekly for the past two and a half months.
We have a two-week session featuring winter holiday songs starting next week, and then a few weeks of downtime.
I never imagined I’d be leading music classes out of doors in December, but if the sun is shining — and we wear enough layers of clothing — most families have been quite enthusiastic about making music outside.
2020 is a year full of surprises, and we are doing our best to remain flexible — and safe!
As regular readers of my blog posts know, during this pandemic I’ve begun distributing songs to digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.
During the month of December I hope to release one winter holiday song per week.
Jay (who wrote the music) and Ray (who wrote the lyrics) were a famous songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”
They were also both Jewish.
Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans the same year 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.
As I have noted in previous blog posts, many of my most favorite winter holiday songs were written by Jewish songwriters.
This fact is an example (to me, at least) of the pluralism that the USA has occasionally been able to embrace — and model for others — during our ever-evolving history.
I love that “White Christmas,” “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song” (among many others!) were written by Jewish songwriters — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.
I always associate “Silver Bells” 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.”
In the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope’s character is involved with gambling and ends up owing $10,000 to a mobster.
His solution is to disguise himself as Santa Claus and raise money from holiday donations.
In some interviews Jay Livingston explained that the inspiration for the song came from the bells rung by Salvation Army volunteers during the holiday season.
However, in an interview on NPR after Livingston had died, Ray Evans said that they were inspired by an actual bell which one of them kept on his desk at Paramount Pictures, where they were under contract at the time.
Probably the song was inspired by both of these things…
Not every song has a great verse — which is often why they are not included in popular recordings.
But “Silver Bells” has a lovely verse:
“Christmas makes you feel emotional…
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional…
Whatever happens and what may be, here is what Christmas-time means to me.”
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I hope we are able to consume fewer things this holiday season.
One of the reasons why I am excited about releasing songs via digital music platforms is that I no longer need to create a CD to share my music.
To manufacture a pound of plastic (30 CDs per pound), it requires 300 cubic feet of natural gas, 2 cups of crude oil and 24 gallons of water.
It is estimated that it will take over 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill.
People throw away millions of music CDs each year!
Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete (outdated, useless, or unwanted).
A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Futuresays, however, that “CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including: automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, and even jewel cases.”
And they offer a free recycling service if one pays to send one’s old CDs, DVDs and hard drives to them:
“CDs and hard drives are made of high value recyclable material – polycarbonate plastic and aluminum respectively. The recycling of CDs and hard drives saves substantial amounts of energy and prevents significant amounts of both air and water pollution attributed to the manufacturing of these items from virgin material.”
Maybe THAT will be one of my holiday projects this year… recycling CDs and DVDs that I will never listen to again.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
The news here in the USA seems to become simultaneously more hopeful (with the Biden-Harris team starting to build their administrative teams) and terrifying (with supporters of our current president calling for violence and even martial law) each day that we move closer to a graceless and belligerent transition of power.
So I will end this blog post with a bunch of lovely images from Pixabay which the song “Silver Bells” reminded me of.
Thank you to Jay and Ray for writing this song.
Thank you to the executives at Paramount who kept renewing Jay and Ray’s songwriting contracts.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for being such a terrific collaborator.
Thank you for the sun continuing to shine on our blue-green planet.
Thank you for the new, more energy efficient windows in our basement — with blown insulation in our walls on the horizon…
Thank you for the natural gas (energy collected by plants long ago from the sun) now fueling our furnace and kitchen stove.
Thank you for vegetables — which capture energy from the sun and convert it into delicious things for us to eat, such as bell peppers.
Thank you for all the families who have chosen to make music together with me during the past few years. I am grateful for our musical sessions, which serve — for me at least — as a much-needed respite from the unsettling news swirling through our lives these days.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!
I haven’t written a new blog post for over a year.
And I am amazed to discover — after visiting my stats page — that people have continued to visit my site.
THANK YOU to everyone who nosed around my blog while my creativity was lying fallow for the past thirteen months.
I’m sure exactly how or why I stopped writing new posts.
Partly — because we have created an economy which encourages us to replace and discard things as often as possible — I needed a newer computer, which a friend extraordinarily gave to me at the end of last year!
Partly I lost blogging momentum.
And partly I didn’t feel that I had much to share that would brighten anyone’s day.
But I HAVE continued to write new songs as well as create demos of my songs using Apple’s wonderful GarageBand program.
And I have continued to offer hour-long programs of music at retirement communities, assisted living homes, senior centers, and public libraries accompanied by pianist Joe Reid or pianist Molly Ruggles.
I was inspired to finish working on it by the youth-led climate march earlier this month.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I had a somewhat unusual childhood.
My mom, siblings, and I spent our summers at my grandmother’s home in Queens, NY (where my mom had grown up) while my dad stayed home in Washington, DC.
A few days each week we’d walk to the end of the block, get on a bus to Flushing, and then ride the #7 train into Manhattan so that we could go on interviews for TV commercials, voice-overs, modeling jobs, plays, and movies.
As I look back, I realize that it was rare for us ever to drive anywhere using a car during these summer months. We just used buses or trains.
Maybe this is why I still like to use public transportation.
When we started out, my older sister was five and I was an infant. Eventually my younger brother and sister were born and joined the process.
This is what I looked like as a small child.
My family became very familiar with the lobbies, elevators, and waiting rooms of many advertising agencies (depicted in the TV series Mad Men) such as Young & Rubicam, Doyle, Dane & Bernbach, and Grey Advertising.
The ratio of interviews to actual jobs was very steep — and in my early years we considered ourselves a success if each one of us managed to film one commercial per summer.
However, the summer before fifth grade I was cast as a standby in a musical which was trying out at the newly-built Kennedy Center.
My parents allowed me to do this partly because we could live at home during the out-of-town preview period (although I would miss the start of fifth grade that fall), partly because most Broadway musicals flop, and partly because it would be exciting to watch Bob Fosse and the rest of his creative team build a new show,
The musical — Pippin — proved to be a hit, and we ended up moving to my grandmother’s house in Queens year round.
This is when my and my siblings’ careers gained a lot of momentum — since we were now able to audition for work year-round.
This is what I looked like as my career gained momentum…
During the next three years I ended up doing many commercials, a couple of made-for-TV movies, another play, and a lot of voice-over work.
Then I entered prep school, and my life as a child performer came to an end.
This is my last professional headshot.
With hindsight — and many years of psychotherapy — I have come to see how odd it was to learn to say “yes” to almost anything we were asked in an interview such as “Do you like to eat peanut butter on bananas?” or “Can you roller skate backwards?” or “Would you be comfortable singing and dancing on a tugboat in the harbor?”
People who said “no” (as one of my siblings did when asked if they liked to eat peanut butter on bananas…) didn’t get hired.
We were supposed to say “yes” and then — if we found out we had gotten a callback visit — we quickly learned how to do whatever we had claimed to be able to do during the initial interview.
Even more sobering is to realize that much of the time I was using my g-d given talents to encourage people to buy stuff that they didn’t need (more clothing, for example) or that was unhealthy to ingest (such as Ring Ding Juniors, Lifesavers, Oreos, and Dr. Pepper) as part of an economy built on our ongoing over-consumption of natural resources.
The climate march this week and Greta Thunberg’s speech in Washington, DC a few days before it — in which she explains how necessary it is for all of us human beings to pull the emergency brake NOW on our fossil-fuel-driven lives — gave me a few minutes of much-needed hope.
But I continue to feel deeply discouraged by the stuckness/denial/apathy/fear regarding fossil-fuel consumption and climate change that I see all around me — in the media, in the advertising industry, in my neighborhood, in my friends’ lives.
Almost everyone seems to be continuing to take lots of trips via airplanes and automobiles, continuing to eat lots of meat, continuing to use our air conditioners as much as we want, and continuing to behave as we have been behaving for the past many decades here in these not-so-united states.
And really, why should I expect anything different?
I know from psychotherapy how very difficult it can be to change one’s behavior.
We in the USA have grown up in an era of hopes and dreams and habits and assumptions which are based on using way more than our fair share of fossil fuels.
Of course we can travel anywhere — and as often — as we want.
Of course we can own as large a house as we want.
Of course everyone can own and drive a car, everyone can apply for jobs which require a car to commute, everyone can eat as much as we want in any season of the year — foods which may have traveled thousands of miles before ending up on our plates — and everyone can squander the amazing inheritance of fossil fuels from millions of years of photosynthesis by billions of plants that all of us here on planet earth have inherited.
And if you can’t afford to do these things, you can pay for them using one or more credit cards and become ever more deeply in debt.
As you may know from having read previous blog posts, I am blessed to have cobbled together a very modest living during the past six years (after having been laid off from my day job helping run a non-profit in Harvard Square) which depends largely on bicycling and public transportation.
And I live quite happily without a cell phone.
But my sweetheart of 27 years DOES commute to work using a car.
And I gratefully use his cell phone when we drive to see friends and family around New England and New York.
Another deep sigh.
What will it take for us to pull the emergency brake on our selfish, out of balance, unsustainable, fossil-fuel consuming, all-too-human habits?
I think of the anecdotes I have read about conventional farmers who have converted to more sustainable, organic farming practices — but it’s often (very sadly) because they or someone in their family has developed some sort of disease as a result of exposure to toxic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.
I wish we human beings could choose to make deep changes in our life habits without having to experience health/climate crises in our personal lives.
But maybe that’s the path we are on…
What do you think?
How have you changed your daily habits in response to climate change?
Where do you find hope in these challenging times?
Thank you, as always, to the folks who share their photos and graphics at Pixabay which is a wonderful resource for imagery.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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!
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.
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.
“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?’”
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.
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…
One remaining parent + a wonderful step parent…
Siblings who love and communicate with each other…
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)…
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…
How our bodies can heal themselves…
US citizen privilege….
Once one starts, the list of blessings goes on and on and on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I have loved Stephen Schwartz’s music ever since I heard the cast album of Godspell in 1971.
I don’t remember how I came to own it, but I played that record over and over again.
So I was wildly excited and nervous when — at age ten — I auditioned for a new musical being directed by Bob Fosse with songs written by Mr. Schwartz.
I performed Cat Stevens’ song “Father and Son” at the audition. (My aunt had given me and my siblings many of Cat Stevens’ albums, which I also loved.)
I vaguely remember standing on a stage, singing to a few people in a darkened theater.
At one point during the audition — or maybe during a callback? — the pianist played a particular section of “Father and Son” in different keys in order to get a sense of my vocal range.
I gamely sang higher and higher until my voice finally cracked.
I must also have read from some sort of script, but I don’t remember doing any dancing during the audition.
Much to my delight and terror, I ended up being cast as the standby for the role of Theo. I did not attend the first few weeks of rehearsals, but joined the cast midway through the creative process in NYC.
I remember that Ben Vereen was very friendly and welcoming, even though he was one of the stars.
Mostly I watched from the sidelines and kept a low profile.
I moved with the cast and crew to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, where Pippin previewed.
The Kennedy Center had only recently been built and was enormous. I spent a lot of time exploring the backstage areas — as well as the snack room where I sometimes heated up a slice of pizza using an amazing new (to me at least) technology called the microwave oven.
I also spent a lot of time hanging out unobtrusively in the back of the theater, watching rehearsals and mimicking all of the dance routines to the best of my ability (which grew over time… during my stint in Pippin I studied tap and jazz at the Phil Black dance studios on the corner of Broadway and 50th street).
The role of Theo — Catherine’s son — was never large and grew smaller as the show was tightened up and re-written out of town.
And then, much to my parents’ surprise — since so many Broadway shows close out of town or last only a few weeks once they open in New York — Pippin proved to be a big hit.
I and the standby for Irene Ryan had to be backstage for every performance, but I never played the role of Theo on stage.
If I am remembering correctly, the various standbys — me, the standby for Irene Ryan, the standby for John Rubinstein, and the standby for Ben Vereen — along with the understudies for the other main roles would rehearse our parts with the stage manager on matinee days between the afternoon and evening performances.
Ben’s standby was a lovely man named Northern Calloway, whose day job was playing the role of “David” on Sesame Street, which was filmed in a converted theater on the upper west side of Manhattan (which I visited once or twice).
Jill Clayburgh’s understudy was Ann Reinking, who was a member of the chorus and went on to all sorts of success afterwards as a performer and as a choreographer.
A boy named Shane Nickerson played the role of Theo each night.
He and I became friends.
Shane’s sister Denise had played the role of Lolita in an unsuccessful musical version of the Nabokov novel and then was cast as Violet Beauregarde in the original movie of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.
His family had a Yorkshire terrier named Tiffany, and on matinee days we would sometimes go and eat together at a steakhouse — with Tiffany getting to eat some of the leftovers when we returned to Shane’s dressing room at the Imperial Theatre afterwards.
Other than an ever-present anxiety that I might have to perform the role if Shane were to become ill, I had a lot of fun backstage.
I fetched hot beverages for some of the dancers before the show began at the coffee shop across 46th street (where the stage door was located).
I learned how to play chess with one of the younger stage hands.
I watched endless poker games conducted by dressers, musicians and stage hands at a big table (if I am remembering correctly) behind the orchestra pit while the show was running.
I became friends with one of the hairdressers and helped brush out the different wigs which the chorus members wore during the show.
And I hung out with the wonderful animal handlers, Jack and Mary, who took care of the duck and the sheep who appeared nightly in the show.
Among other duties they had to walk the sheep up and down 46th street and along 8th avenue in order to encourage it to poop before it went on stage.
The sheep liked to eat cigarette butts, which was not conducive to its health; so I would keep an eye out for them when we strolled around the theater district, chatting with surprised passersby.
I remained as a standby in the original cast until I grew too large for the role. (Theo enters in the second being carried on the Leading Player’s shoulders, and this was a very direct way to gauge my growth month by month…)
I was not the first to leave the company — that was probably Jill Clayburgh, who was replaced by Betty Buckley early in the run, and also dear Irene Ryan, who became ill and then passed away in California — but it was a very sad and awkward experience for me.
Show business can be very confusing regarding matters of the heart.
A cast and crew come together to create a show or a movie — or even just a TV commercial — and everyone strives (at least while on stage or when the cameras are rolling…) to be friendly and part of a team/family while they are attempting to make some magic together.
And then, when the shoot of the movie or the run of the play is over, everyone becomes a free agent again.
And one may never see any of them again!
Were any of those people my friends? Did any of them think about me when I was no longer part of the cast?
I certainly thought about them for years afterwards…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
It is humbling to learn on Wikipedia how the lives of various Pippin cast members unfolded before and after their time on stage at the Imperial Theater in the early 70s.
Some are still involved with show business as performers or choreographers or teachers.
Some are dead.
And composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, bless him, has continued to write wonderful songs for Broadway and Hollywood.
I recorded his song “Magic To Do” (the opening number in Pippin) several years ago during rehearsals for a show I put together called Will Loves Steve, which featured songs written by Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Foster, Steve Sweeting, Stevie Wonder and Steven Georgiou — a.k.a. Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yousuf Islam.
For many years after Pippin I carried within me a sense that success meant starring on Broadway, or in the movies, or on TV.
Now, as an adult who makes a living as a musician in the Boston area, I am glad I did not end up starring on Broadway.
The life of a star — with folks asking to take selfies with them wherever they go in public, and having to repeat the same stories over and over again during media junkets while maintaining their youthfulness and beauty and fitness and marketability year after year — seems less and less appealing.
I am also amazed that anyone is able to perform — as a star or as a member of the chorus — eight shows per week, month after month, repeating the same songs and dances and dialogue and emotions with as much authenticity and enthusiasm as they can muster on any given day.
What a life!
I guess I have learned the same lesson as the title character in Pippin does: that a normal life without a lot of fanfare and razzle dazzle is AOK.
Thank you to Doug Hammer and Mike Callahan for their terrific musicianship and camaraderie (as well as Doug’s engineering/mixing/mastering expertise).
Thank you to Stephen Schwartz for writing such splendid songs — decade after decade!
And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
ps: Since I wrote this blog post six years ago, I have been delighted to re-connect via email and Facebook with a few members of the original cast of Pippin.
I have been very touched to learn that, even though I was just ten years old and a standby for the role of Theo, I have been remembered by some of them.
And in honor of the 50th anniversary of Pippin opening on Broadway, the original standby for the role of Pippin, Walter Willison, has organized reunion performances at 54 Below in Manhattan on Monday, February 6, 2023 at 7:00 and 9:30 pm (both of which sold out after only three days!)
If you’d like to listen to my version of “Magic To Do” on a digital musical platform such as Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal, you can click here.
And if you’d like to hear more music, you can find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his marvelous Schimmel grand piano — on Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and other digital music platforms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can click on the links below if you are curious…
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…
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!!!