I just opened up WordPress and was happy to find a post about gratitude from The Snail of Happiness in my daily feed.
There are a seemingly-ever-increasing number of energies and actions on planet earth that we can be aware of — due in large part to the magic of electricity and our wide-ranging embrace of modern media — yet which we can do very little to influence directly.
And I am easily overwhelmed by this onslaught of information.
However, we CAN re-align our own energy/perspective by doing something as simple as writing down three things for which we are grateful.
And then — from a more grateful, grounded emotional space — we can send a card to an elected official, give a little money to a compelling cause, or volunteer our time at a local non-profit.
Or make some art.
Or write a song.
Or simply sit and breath.
Today I am grateful that a friend’s husband is alive in New Orleans.
I don’t see this friend very often (our paths used to cross because of work) and have never met his husband.
I learned about his husband’s recent assault and robbery — while he was attending the Unitarian-Universalist annual general assembly being held at the end of June in New Orleans! — when I checked my Facebook page.
Apparently it is all over the Boston and New Orleans news — since our media have (sadly) functioned for decades with a mindset of “if it bleeds, it leads…”
But I have been out of town and away from the local news.
So today I am grateful that my friend’s husband is finally out of the hospital in New Orleans and back at home in Boston.
And I am grateful that the other person who was (less severely) attacked is also recovering well.
And that two of the four young men who perpetrated this crime (some of whom had been staying at a Covenant House shelter for homeless/troubled youth) have turned themselves in.
I hope they — as well as the two people whom they attacked and robbed — are being treated with compassion and respect by the judicial system so that some unexpected healing might take place as a result of this sad and brutal event.
And I am grateful for the basics: health and patience and delicious food — more and more of it organic — and a roof over my head.
I am grateful for people who visit my blog even though I haven’t posted anything new for four months.
I am grateful for progress (sometimes very sloooow) and persistence (sometimes almost imperceptible) on larger tasks such as letting go of un-needed possessions, processing complicated emotional situations, and crafting a CD of original songs.
Which leads me to the song at the beginning of this post.
I wrote it last summer while I was camping with family in heaven a.k.a. North Truro, MA.
Some of the words came from a little piece of paper I picked up after one of my cousins was married a few summers ago on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake in upstate New York.
The little piece of paper turned out to be a crib sheet that the mother of the bride had used when she spoke during the ceremony.
I expanded her words a bit, consulted my trusty ukulele to find chords and a melody, and eventually brought it to pianist Doug Hammer’s studio on the North Shore of Boston to record.
Thank you to anyone and everyone who reads this blog post.
I am grateful for your interest.
I am also grateful for the beautiful images from Pixabay that I have used in this post.
My cousin who got married loves horses and is an excellent — and very hard-working —equestrian.
She and her husband also just had their first child.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once upon a time I co-starred in a movie called Goldenrodwhich was filmed in and around Calgary, Alberta.
It had a theatrical release in Canada (I think), and was shown in the USA on CBS-TV.
I was 14 years old.
Because of Canadian rules about airing a certain percentage of shows which have been produced in Canada, it still can be seen from time to time on Canadian TV.
One of the producers had a daughter whom I met on the set when she visited from Toronto.
Although it seemed unlikely at the time — since I lived in New York and Connecticut while she lived in Canada — Sarah James and I have remained friends ever since.
She still lives in Toronto, and like her father (and mother) she works in film and TV production.
For the past few years she’s been helping to create Canada’s version of the TV show The Amazing Race.
She and her husband — who among other things is a wonderful musician who has taught himself how to build ukuleles! — and daughter live in a sweet house with a small garden out back which ends at a garage.
Above the garage is an office/guest bedroom where I love to sleep and read and write songs when I visit them.
I started writing “Another Good Morning” a couple of springs ago.
The sun was shining.
Birds were singing.
And Sarah was making breakfast for all of us.
It is what I call a “gets-me-out-of-bed-in-the-morning” song.
I have probably mentioned this type of song before in this blog, because — in the spirit of “teach what you most want to learn” — I end up writing a lot of songs with upbeat messages.
Because I need them….to muster a little bit of optimism before I head out into the day.
As you have probably already guessed, I continue to love the photo site Pixabay.
I send a huge thank you to all the folks who have shared their lovely images there!
I do not own a cell phone or carry a camera…
But I appreciate those who do.
THANK YOU for reading and listening.
PS: The pianist on this song is the multi-gifted Doug Hammer, and we recorded it at his studio in Lynn, MA earlier this year. It is one of many we will be performing on April 30, 2016 at Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA.
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…
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…
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
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
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
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!
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!!!
“So Many Stars” is a song I have heard performed by many different singers, and I have always thought to myself, “I need to learn that song.”
This past summer I visited a pianist/songwriter friend and his family while attending a Music Together training session in Manhattan.
One evening we were brainstorming about possible future collaborations, and I mentioned that I have long wanted to do an evening of songs about stars — both the amazing energetic phenomena that we see at night and the human-created idea of “star” — as in “movie star” or “Broadway star.”
To get us started, he gave me the sheet music for “So Many Stars,” which I promptly began learning.
Pianist Doug Hammer and I recorded the version I have included at the top of this post — and then I went camping for two weeks with family on Cape Cod.
One of the things I love about getting away from the city is gazing at the sky on a cloudless night.
A couple of times I walked down to the beach after dusk and sang “So Many Stars” over and over again while the universe beamed light across unimaginably vast distances to trigger the rhodopsin in my eyeballs — and awaken a sense of wonder in my mind, body, and spirit.
The deceptively simple lyrics of “So Many Stars” were written by the wife-and-husband team of Marilyn and Alan Bergman for a wonderful melody by Sérgio Mendes, a Brazilian pianist and songwriter.
There are so many ironies about the lives that we “modern” human beings have created here at the beginning of the 21st century on planet earth.
One of them is how — in the interest of sense of safety and security and advertising — we have erected vast numbers of exterior lights, which means that we are less and less able to experience the truly amazing sight of a starry, starry night — along with the humility and curiosity and mystery that it can evoke in us.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Hurrah for rhodopsin, and thank you for reading and listening!
Last night I attended a party at a home in Medford, MA.
The host had invited a couple of pianists and a bunch of friends who like to sing to celebrate his birthday.
After some delicious food and inspiring conversation — including how the Boston Beer company decided to withdraw its support of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston — we all moved from the kitchen into the living room.
And then we made music together for three hours.
Sometimes it was one singer accompanied by a pianist.
Sometimes it was the whole room singing together.
Sometimes one of the pianists sang.
At one point each of the pianists even accompanied the other — who was uncharacteristically standing to sing.
The daily news from our mainstream media brings so many unhappy stories into our homes and into our hearts — planes which mysteriously crash; snipers who fire on civilians; species being wiped out by poachers; wars being waged over natural resources and political power and religious beliefs…
I often wonder what we human beings are doing here on planet earth — and how music fits into the larger equations and patterns unfolding on a daily basis.
Are we here, as some teachers suggest, so that our souls can experience fear and love?
If that is the case, we are certainly doing a great job with the fear component of this cosmic experiment!
Maybe music is one of the tools we can use to respond to fear.
I know from my own experience that listening to music — and making it with others — can lift my spirits.
And can reconnect me with my deeper feelings.
And can bring my energy — for lack of a better word — into harmony with others.
Last night someone at the party sang the great Bacharach/David song “Alfie.”
It reminded me of a recording (embedded at the top of this blog post) which Doug and I made a few years ago at his studio in Lynn.
I am reassured that other human beings, such as Burt Bacharach and Hal David, have pondered similar questions, too.
And I am very, very grateful that my life is now focused on making and sharing music with others.
PS: Let me know if you notice which word I sang incorrectly. Maybe someday Doug and I will go back and fix this small error… or maybe we will leave it as I have heard some weavers of rugs do…