Here’s To Life

Here’s To Life

 

“Here’s To Life” is a song I recorded with pianist Doug Hammer many years ago

It was written by Phyllis Molinary and Artie Butler and first recorded by Shirley Horn in 1991.

LakeSkyReflection

Sometimes people say, “They don’t write songs like they used to.”

I respond that many great songs ARE still being written.

But the era of different pop stars each recording their own version of a particular hit — with different versions of the same song riding up and down the charts simultaneously — are long gone.

So a song like “Here’s To Life” is savored by a few rather than beloved by multitudes.

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I had not known anything about Mr. Butler and Ms. Molinary until I started poking around on the internet.

Mr. Butler is a composer, arranger, songwriter, music director, and record producer who has worked on an extraordinary range of songs — including Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”

For a more complete list of songs with accompanying stories, you can visit his web site.

JapaneseCherryBlossoms

He was inspired to write the tune for “Here’s To Life” after watching Johnny Carson interview George Burns on The Tonight Show.

He gave it to a few different lyricists before Phyllis Molinary (about whom I have not been able to learn much of anything…) wrote the set of lyrics which became “Here’s To Life.”

And now we are all blessed with this wise and elegant song…

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It reminds me of a birthday party I recently attended for a vibrant eighty-year-old who has lived much of her life in western Massachusetts.

Before dessert was served, many of her friends shared stories about their relationships with her.

In her understated, thoughtful, generous, organized, humorous, and wide-minded — as one woman from South America described her — way, this woman has touched thousands of her fellow human beings in significant ways.

Echinacea

She taught for many decades at her local college, serving as the head of the psychology department (if I am remembering correctly) and also overseeing the college’s counseling center.

She has advised several generations of students, mentored countless faculty members, led the campus teachers’ union, been very active in town politics, and on and on and on…

I know her mainly as a very faithful cousin-in-law.

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She always visits during the winter holidays, bringing gifts for everyone and sharing stories about a web of family and friends she has accumulated around the planet.

And she shares her perspectives on what is happening locally — what options her town is exploring to mitigate an underground plume of contamination that the water department has recently discovered, for example, or how a new local restaurant (which she, of course, is eager to support) is faring.

She has a gentle finger on the pulse of her town…

Her birthday party was held at a local retreat center which is run by a very ecologically-minded order of nuns.

SpringFlowersTreeSun

As the festivities were winding down, we were invited and encouraged to explore the property.

They have converted a huge carriage house — originally built in the late 1800s by the Crane family, who earned a lot of money making paper (including the paper which is still used to print US currency) — into a function hall.

On the second floor of the carriage house they have created many different areas where guests can make art, meditate, read, pray, explore eco-spirituality, marvel at the miracle of evolution, and rejuvenate their souls.

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Outside the carriage house are fruit trees, free-ranging chickens, a labyrinth, a cathedral of very tall pine trees, a huge community garden, and lots of flowers.

To me it felt a little bit like heaven on earth.

Here’s a link to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center if you are curious to learn more.

Flower&Butterfly

I found these great photographs on Pixabay, and I am grateful to all of the photographers who have shared their images there.

I am also grateful to Doug Hammer, for his exquisite piano playing and terrific engineering skills.

And to the birthday woman whose life is an ongoing inspiration for how to move through the world with empathy and wisdom and generosity and balance.

SunsetRedFlowers

And to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center for inviting us to roam around their property after her birthday gathering.

And to Art and Phyllis for writing such a lovely song.

And to you for reading and listening to another blog post.

A healthy and happy summer to you — full of berries and flowers and friends and family (unless you are reading this from somewhere in the southern hemisphere, in which case I wish you delicious winter adventures instead…)

SummerBerries

May all your storms be weathered, and may all that’s good get better.

Here’s to life…

Here’s to love…

And here’s to you!

hydrangea

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The Wind Beneath My Wings

The Wind Beneath My Wings

 

This afternoon I saw an airplane rising in the sky above Boston.

AirplaneTakeoff

As usual, I was amazed that such a huge and complicated chunk of metal could become airborne.

Apparently it has something to do with the Bernoulli Effect.

In online article by Matthew Reeve I learned that “Daniel Bernoulli was an eighteenth-century Swiss scientist who discovered that as the velocity of a fluid increases its pressure decreases.

This can be demonstrated when a constant flow of fluid or gas is passed through a tube, and a section of the tube is constricted.

At the point of constriction, the flow will speed up and there will be a drop in pressure against the walls of the tube.

This principle has become widely known as the Bernoulli Effect.”

The Bernoulli Effect explains why planes fly AND why we are able to produce sound with our vocal cords.

SingerMoonMic

Matthew Reeve continues,

“The two results of the Bernoulli Effect can be explained with two examples.

Flow increase: When you place your thumb over the end of a running hose, the flow of water speeds up and travels further across the garden. At the point of constriction velocity increases.

Air pressure drop: An airplane’s wing is shaped so that the bottom is flat and the top is curved. When air flows across the top of a plane’s wing, it travels faster and the lower pressure creates lift.”

bernoulli-principle-50719905

This keeps the plane aloft.

Astounding!

I first heard about the Bernoulli Effect in a voice lesson with Professor Eugene Rabine.

He was attempting to explain to me how our vocal cords — which are more accurately called vocal folds — vibrate to produce sound.

When we make a sound using our voice (also know as phonation), our vocal folds are pulled together by a team of small, strong, sophisticated muscles.

During phonation, the stream of air coming up from our lungs through our wind pipe/trachea is momentarily stopped by our vocal folds.

At this point pressure begins to build up below the vocal folds.

Vocal cord vibration Bernoulli effect

Back to Matthew Reeve’s article…

“When the pressure is high enough, the vocal folds are forced to separate and the airstream is allowed to flow through the vocal folds.

The airstream through the vocal folds then accelerates causing a drop in pressure.

This drop in pressure then sucks the vocal folds back together.

Air pressure under our vocal folds then builds up again and the process continues.”

This cycle of our vocal folds opening and closing — hundreds of times per second — creates the waves of air pressure that we recognize as sound.

Reading about the Bernoulli Effect reminded me of a recording of “The Wind Beneath My Wings” that pianist Doug Hammer and I made during a rehearsal for a memorial service a few years ago.

It combines the act of singing with the imagery of flying.

SilverPropClouds

Thank you to Nicki Nichols Gamble for asking me and Bobbi Carrey to sing at her husband’s memorial service — and for requesting this particular song.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his terrific piano playing and for his engineering expertise.

Thank you to David Gay, Eugene Rabine, Roland Seiler, Craig Wich, Mary Klimek, and all of the other human beings who have taught me about healthy vocal function.

Thank you to Pixabay for some lovely photographs and to the internet for some useful graphics

Thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post — and thank you to everyone who continues to offer me positive feedback and enthusiastic support for my music-making.

You are indeed the wind beneath my wings.

And — echoing the final lyrics of the song — I also give thanks for the Bernoulli Effect, which allow planes to fly and human beings to sing!

SingerCrowdCatwalk

At The Movies

At The Movies

 

I was looking through a list of past gigs on my web site recently and was surprised to realize that almost 15 years has passed since I was part of a vocal quartet called At The Movies.

Three of us — Nina Vansuch, Michael Ricca and I — had attended a week-long cabaret symposium at the O’Neill Theater Center on the Connecticut coast of Long Island Sound in the summer of 1999.

Our teachers included musical luminaries such as Margaret Whiting and Julie Wilson along with Broadway actress Sally Mayes and a slew of other generous (and mostly inspiring) experts from the worlds of musical theater, jazz and cabaret.

We came back to Boston fired up and ready to sing.

I don’t remember who had the idea that we three would join forces — maybe Nina and/or Michael and/or Brian will weigh in some day with THEIR memories of how we got started using the comments section at the end of this blog post.

I’m pretty sure, however, that it was Nina who brought another wonderful singer AND pianist AND arranger — Brian Patton — into the mix.

Bay Windows Reel One

For four years we met after work — usually at Nina’s place in Belmont or Brian’s place in Jamaica Plain — to eat dinner and make song choices and work on arrangements and write patter and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

I remember many delicious meals cooked by Nina — and also a lot of patience from Brian as we fine-tuned our harmonies.

I had forgotten, however, how much publicity we got.

Thankfully Nina scanned some of it and included it on her web site.

Herald At The Movies

Gradually we added some outside eyes and ears to our creative process, bouncing rough drafts of performances off local directors and working for a while with a warm and loving choreographer/director named Marla Blakey who lived on Martha’s Vineyard.

At one point in her career Marla had worked in this capacity with Bette Midler and also with the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer.

So we were honored and excited to learn from her AND to hear some of her stories about how show business unfolds behind the scenes…

As you can see from the media clippings and hear from the recordings I have included in this blog post, we had a lot of fun together.

BelmontAtTheMovies

Most — or maybe all — of our great photographs were taken by a very talented friend of Nina’s named David Caras.

You can visit his web site by clicking here if you are curious to see more of his work.

After we had sold out Scullers Jazz Club  (thank you for booking us, Fred Taylor!) a couple of times, we decided to record a CD, which can still be purchased at CD Baby by clicking here.

Improper Bostonian Reel One

 

We recorded it at Doug Hammer’s studio north of Boston along with additional musicians Gene Roma (drums), Chris Rathbun (bass), and Spartaco John “Sparkie” Miele (saxophone).

In addition to the songs I have included in this blog post, you can find other songs from our CD — “Journey To The Past,” “Wives & Lovers,” and “That’ll Do” — in the right hand column of this blog.

My memory is also hazy as to why we decided to focus on songs written for or performed in movies…

GlobeAtTheMovies

There are so many great songs in existence — just waiting to be sung! — that we probably knew that it would be wise to narrow our focus a bit.

It may also have been related to Michael’s somewhat savante-like knowledge of movie history.

We performed at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (where I then worked) and also at the Boston Public Library as part of First Night; participated in John O’Neil’s wonderful CabaretFests in Provincetown, MA, Newburyport, MA, and Newfound Lake, NH (thank you, John!); traveled to perform in Providence, RI at the Hi-Hat Club (thank you, Ida Zecco!) and to NYC at a club called Arci’s Place (thank you, Erv Raible — may you rest in peace!) I think our last gig may have been in Quincy for John McDonald (thank you, John!)

Arci's Place At The Movies

One thing I came to appreciate as a result of being part of  At The Movies is that an audience doesn’t just enjoy the music when they go to a concert.

Most of us also enjoy observing the relationships we see in action on stage — both the planned and the spontaneous interactions that unfold during a performance.

After four years of working and playing — and dining — together, however,  our creative collaboration came to an end.

But thanks to the digital magic of zeros and ones, the songs we recorded at Doug Hammer’s studio for our CD Reel One live on…

And I was able to find these media clippings on Nina’s web site (thank you, Nina!)

Perhaps someday we will dig our harmony practice cassettes out of the basement and do a few more shows together.

Until then it is fun to listen and remember…

This Moment

This Moment

 

I love this song by John Bucchino.

Butterfly8

I thought of it often as I was carrying boxes from my sister’s apartment in Laguna Niguel, CA to a 16′ Penske moving truck parked about 100 feet from her front door.

A monarch butterfly would appear every few hours — flapping from flower to flower before drifting away on a gentle breeze.

Monarch2

And I would find myself singing this song.

I don’t know what inspired John to write it, although I am guessing that he must have some sort of meditation practice.

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I first heard it sung at the Yale Cabaret Conference I participated in many years ago… and immediately wanted to learn it.

I practiced the lyrics over and over again one summer as I walked up and down a sandy path through a scrub pine forest en route to Head of the Meadow beach in North Truro, MA.

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Pianist Doug Hammer and I have performed it several times since then (that’s Doug playing in the recording at the beginning of this blog post), and Mike Callahan did an arrangement which I got to perform with him as part of a Timberlane Pops Orchestra concert in New Hampshire.

It is a perfect example to me of a “wisdom song” — which helps me to re-align with my better, wiser self whenever I sing it.

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Writing this post inspired me to search on Pixabay for some butterfly images, and I was astounded by what I found.

Caterpillar

The idea that earthbound caterpillars can transform themselves into winged butterflies — that they can literally dissolve themselves and re-form their molecules into a new type of being — has fascinated and inspired us human beings for millennia.

Cocoons

I am also inspired by the paths they take — paths which do not travel in a straight line from point A to point B yet manage to cover vast amounts of mileage none-the-less.

Butterflies have a inner sense of where they are headed, but they also follow and respond to whatever flowers and breezes appear along their journey.

This seems to be how I, too, am moving through my musical life here on planet earth.

Monarch1

I looked online to learn more about the current health of our butterfly populations.

First I was directed to a relatively new company called “Butterfly Health” that seems to specialize in adult diapers…

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Then I found a lovely story about vineyards in eastern Washington which “stopped using harmful pesticides and created natural habitats with native shrub-steppe plants around the vineyards to keep out harmful insects (e.g., mealybugs) and attract beneficial insects (e.g., parasitic wasps) that feed on pests.”

These vineyard saw a significant increase in butterflies — from an average of five different species to more like twenty different species!

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The article noted that “butterflies don’t protect the vineyards or provide wine growers with economical benefits, (but) they are pollinators and an important element of the ecosystem. Furthermore, having butterflies flutter around a vineyard increases its aesthetic appeal and provides proof of earth-friendly pest control practices.”

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Amen.

I also found articles that were more discouraging, such as one in the great English newspaper, The Guardian.

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It reports that “more than three-quarters of Britain’s 59 butterfly species have declined over the last 40 years, with particularly dramatic declines for once common farmland species such as the Essex Skipper and Small Heath…

‘This is the final warning bell,’ said Chris Packham, Butterfly Conservation vice-president, calling for urgent research to identify the causes for the disappearance of butterflies from ordinary farmland. ‘If butterflies are going down like this, what’s happening to our grasshoppers, our beetles, our solitary bees? If butterflies are in trouble, rest assured everything else is.'”

Deep breath in.

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Deep breath out.

What, I continue to wonder, will it take for enough of us human beings to wake up and take significant actions so that the extraordinary species extinction we are now experiencing on planet earth can slow down…and maybe even stop?

Why are so many of us seemingly oblivious to what is happening to our ecosystems and unable/unwilling to make wiser choices?

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I recently visited a friend’s house (his/her second home, actually) and saw a small vat of RoundUp that I assume s/he is using to take care (??) of weeds in his/her lovely garden.

It was sitting alongside an aerosol can of pesticide to kill wasps.

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This is an extremely well-educated person who loves the views of nature from his/her home overlooking a beautiful river.

Yet s/he is completely oblivious to the increasingly well-documented scientific research linking herbicides and pesticides to all sorts of profound disruptions in the overall health of a wide variety of ecosystems. And disruptions to our own human metabolisms — since we human beings are deeply rooted in nature from an evolutionary perspective and share many of the same biological pathways/systems as our animal and plant cousins..

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I know that beautifully photographed and persuasively written advertising messages from the makers of herbicides and pesticides contribute to our human ignorance..

And lots of us think, “Oh it’s just a little bit of RoundUp or a little bit of wasp spray…”

But it all adds up and takes a cumulative toll on a wide variety of plants and animals and bacteria and fungae which we dearly need to be functioning in balance with each other.

Another deep breath in.

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And another deep breath out.

Thank you to Pixabay for these wonderful photographs of butterflies.

Thank you to Doug Hammer and John Bucchino for their tremendous musicality and songwriting expertise.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post.

What steps — small and/or not-so-small — have you taken in your life to help keep life in balance here on planet earth?

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 …