The World Within

The World Within

 

When I was visiting friends on Toronto a couple of summer ago, I found a great article in Eating Well magazine profiling Jeff Leach, who is one of a growing number of human beings curious about the communities of bacteria which live in our digestive tract.

digestionchart

According to author Gretel H. Schueller, “most of our resident gut bacteria are real workhorses. Some aid in digestion and produce enzymes to break down foods. Others make vitamins, like B12 and K, and other vital compounds, such as the feel-good chemical serotonin. A few help keep the intestinal lining impenetrable. Some gut bacteria help regulate metabolism. And others boost immunity and fight pathogens.”

Yowza!!

bacteria-assortment

You can click here to read Gretel’s summaries of many medical studies exploring the astounding connections between the health of the bacteria in our digestive tract and the health of our other organ systems — including circulation, how we absorb nutrients, and our immune response.

I was amazed to learn that, according to Gretel, “gut bacteria produce HUNDREDS of different neurotransmitters, including up to 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood and sleep regulator.”

In fact many researchers have begun referring to our digestive tract as a ‘second brain’ partly because our “vagus nerve is a major communications highway which stretches from the brain to various points about the intestinal lining, and communication travels in BOTH directions.”

Intestines+bacteria

For example, one species of Lactobacillus bacteria “sends messages from the small intestine to the brain along this nerve. In a study led by John Cryan, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, anxious mice were dosed with a proprietary strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus.”

Gretel further explains that “these rodents then had lower stress hormone levels and an increase in brain receptors for a neurotransmitter that’s vital in curbing worry, anxiety and fear. THE EFFECTS WERE SIMILAR TO A DOSE OF VALIUM. According to a 2011 study, when mice had this bacteria in their gut, they showed less depressive behavior.”

Aside from my discomfort with human beings experimenting on other living beings, I find this an amazing idea.

Jeff Leach does a lot of HIS experimenting on himself — eating different types of foods (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) for a 10-12 day period and then analyzing the proportions of bacteria which are stimulated to grow in his digestive tract as a result of what he has been eating.

leeks

According to him, plant foods with complex chains of carbohydrate molecules  — which include Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, chicory root, beans and asparagus — are particularly healthy for us to eat.

I was so inspired by Jeff’s research and Gretel’s article that I ended up writing a song (and recording it with Doug Hammer on piano at his wonderful studio in Lynn, MA) which you can hear by clicking the play button on the top left of this post.

And I find myself right back at the heart of last month’s post — musing about how interconnected all the different forms of life on planet earth are.

 

Antibiotics can be a blessing which wipe out colonies of life-threatening bacteria in different parts of our body.

For example, we may take some to get rid of a lingering sinus infection.

bacteria-purple

However, we may also be unintentionally upsetting the healthy balance of bacterial colonies in our guts.

This idea reminds me of why I choose to support organic agriculture when I can.

It may be true that the nutritional value of an organically grown leek (not using pesticides and fungicides and petrochemically-derived fertilizers) is similar to a conventionally grown leek (using pesticides and fungicides and petrochemically-derived fertilizers).

However, I am interested NOT ONLY in this leek’s value to my individual health BUT ALSO in the health of the honeybees and hummingbirds and earthworms and opossums and foxes and rabbits and butterflies and bats and insects which live in and/or pass through the fields in which this leek is grown.

beeon leekflower

And I am interested in the health of the fish and frogs and newts which live in the streams and rivers into which the rain (or irrigated water) will flow from these leek fields.

And I am interested in the health and balance of the astoundingly complicated communities of bacteria which live in the soil in which this leek grows.

And some of these soil bacteria will end up in my digestive tract along with the leek if I do not wash off too much of the dirt before I eat it.

leekslices

And that, it turns out, is a good thing.

We are all connected via many different, extraordinary, and still-to-be-discovered strands in the web of life.

And every day we can make choices — about what we buy to eat, about what we choose to wear, about how we move from point A to point B (walk? bike? public transportation? car?) that honor our precious inter-related connections with the rest of life on planet earth.

Thank you for reading, listening, and perhaps even humming along.

ps: I found the lovely photos in this post from a site called Pixabay.

LeekFlowerHands

A Beating Heart

A Beating Heart

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I recently spent an afternoon at Doug Hammer‘s studio, recording songs by Rodgers & Hart and then working on one of my original compositions, called “A Beating Heart,” which you can play by clicking on the left side of the bar above this paragraph.

A careful reader of this blog might recall that I included a Garageband version of this song in a post on April 9, 2014…

Since then Doug and I have begun creating piano/vocal versions of many of my songs so that we can perform them at places like Third Life Studio in Union Square, Somerville.

We got a lot of positive feedback after our debut performance there in December with guest vocalist Jinny Sagorin — and we’ll be returning at the end of April to reprise that show.

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With so many huge and important things happening on planet earth right now — such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity, our human over-consumption of shared resources, and even the astoundingly unlikely presidential campaign here in the US — I often wonder how my original songs fit into the larger equations of life on planet earth.

Is my desire to share them with a wider audience (“Me, me, me, me! Look at me! Listen to me!”) simply another manifestation of the grossly self-oriented human trend in behavior which is currently tipping our larger ecological feedback loops further out of balance?

To re-center myself, I think of a poster in the bathroom where I get acupuncture which features some of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom:

“Ultimately, the decision to save the environment must come from the human heart. The key point is a call for a genuine sense of universal responsibility that is based on love, compassion and clear awareness.”

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He has also written:

“Today more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to all other forms of life.”

However, we human beings still tend to think and plan and speak and act with human ‘tunnel vision.’

I often listen to a radio program on Friday afternoons, and last week the host, Ira Flatow, was discussing asteroids and comets. He mentioned one which flattened 770 square miles of forest in Siberia on June 30, 1908 — adding that luckily no one was hurt.

Wikipedia uses similar language in its description of what is called the Tunguska event, saying that it “caused no known casualties.”

I would modify that to read, “no HUMAN casualties.”

770 square miles is roughly the size of the entire greater Boston area.

All sorts of living beings — trees, eagles, ants, berry bushes, wolves, beetles, moose, falcons, reindeer, elk, plants, bears, storks, robins, bees, nightingales, mushrooms, bacteria, etc. — must have been hurt and/or killed.

Why do we human beings so easily ignore or dismiss non-human death and suffering?

How can we be so deeply ignorant of the profound and crucial ways our human lives are interconnected with the lives of innumerable non-human beings here on planet earth?

The most obvious example of this is the fact that we animals breathe out what plants breathe in. And vice versa. It’s an extraordinary bond between plants (trees, shrubs, phytoplankton, algae, grass, etc.) and animals (dolphins, ants, chickens, worms, orangutans, etc.)

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And us.

We human beings are also animals.

We depend upon the health of the plant world for our human health.

Healthy trees and healthy forests and healthy phytoplankton and healthy oceans are not optional.

They are vital to the health of all of us.

I agree with the Dalai Lama that we human beings need to experience and understand on an open-hearted, emotional level that our daily lives ARE deeply connected to the lives of all other beings on planet earth.

And the health of those other beings IS intricately connected with our own health and survival.

This is where I see music playing a part in the larger equations unfolding on planet earth.

I know that music — both making it and listening to it — helps me re-open my heart and get in touch with my feelings.

And I see each week in my Music Together classes how singing and dancing and playing as a group can create a community of joy and humor and respect in 45 minutes which continues to ripple — gently and positively — throughout the week in the lives of the families who attend class.

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So I will take a deep breath (like a whale!) and dive through my ambivalence about self-promotion into a starboard sea full of hope, love, respect, education, playfulness, creativity, compassion, song, and dance.

And occasional blog posts.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Thank you for reading and listening!!!

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ps: I found the lovely photos in this post from a site called Pixabay.

Musings on Larry Hart

Larry Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Vivienne_Sonia_Segal

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

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

VivienneSegal

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

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

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

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

It was a tight-knit family.

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

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

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

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

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

Deep sigh.

Larry Hart

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

 

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

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

Hart

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

He was also generous with his time and creativity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knows…

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

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

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

Rest in peace, dear Mr. Hart.

.LarryHart

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 …

Love who (and what) you love…

Love who (and what) you love…

I just returned from thirteen days of heaven on earth a.k.a. camping at North of Highland Campground in North Truro, MA (near the tip of Cape Cod).

One of the things I most love about camping is the lack of interruptions and distractions.

Life is distilled down to basics — and things like TV and America’s Got Talent and Netflix and Orange Is the New Black simply disappear from one’s awareness.

I did not speak with anyone via the telephone.

There was no internet tempting me to visit Facebook or Linked In.

I had no emails reminding me each day about a deeply discouraging array of horrible things happening all over planet earth which I could possibly help by signing a petition and/or donating money.

I listened to no radio.

I read very few magazines (mostly back issues of The New Yorker).

I received no snail mail full of solicitations from environmental defense organizations and prograssive lobbying groups and hard-working political candidates.

Instead I savored the rain and the sun.

And birds.

And wind in the pine trees overhead.

And random sounds of fellow campers in the distance — sometimes the beep of a car with keys left in the ignition, sometimes the cry of a small child having an emotional melt down.

And BLUEBERRIES.

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This year we arrived at the peak of blueberry abundance.

Little scrubby bushes which in past summers might have offered a few berries were now covered with them.

Each morning before the sun became too hot, I picked a mug-full to eat — first with oatmeal and then as an anti-oxidant treat throughout the rest of the day.

Some bushes had small berries, and others were loaded with whoppers.

On the morning of our departure, I picked one final mug’s worth to bring home to Arlington, and I am eating the last of them as I type this entry.

Yum for summer!

Blueberries2

At first I was concerned that I might be depriving the local wild life of much-needed sustenance.

One morning I watched a small red squirrel pick blueberries, climb up on a small tree stump to eat them, climb down to pick more, climb back up to eat more until she or he apparently had eaten their fill and frisked off into the trees.

But that was the only animal consumption I witnessed.

And I saw many wrinkled, older berries on the ground under the bushes — so plenty of them were ripening and falling to the ground untouched by anyone.

I decided it was OK to revel in this unexpected, beautiful, delicious gift from mother earth.

And there were many berries I did not manage to pick and eat when we left our camp site…

Maybe the two wild turkeys we saw as we were packing up camp would return to savor them?

This morning I was given a link to a slide show that a father had put together to play at the memorial service for his four-year-old son, who had died as a result of complications after an unsuccessful heart transplant operation. 

This radiant little being was a student of a fellow Music Together (MT) teacher, and she had reached out via Facebook to a bunch of MT teachers when he was about to go into surgery so that we might pray for him and his family and his caregivers.

Despite the massive amounts of time Aiden had spent in hospitals during his short, sweet life, he was able to stomp in rain puddles and play at the beach  and attend Music Together classes with his parents.

Apparently he loved singing and dancing — and his parents included several MT songs as part of his slide show and memorial service.

From the slide show I could see how loved he was by his extended family.

And as a result of watching it, I brought an aching awareness of love and loss with me to my Music Together class this morning — and did my best to welcome and celebrate each being who came though the door.

The song at the beginning of this post was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for a musical called A Man Of No Importance.

I recorded it with Doug Hammer playing piano and Mike Callahan playing horn several years ago as part of my “Will Loves Steve” show — which featured songs written or co-written by people named Steve or Stephen or Stevie.

For me it captures some of the poignance of being a loving human here on planet earth.

Thank you for reading and listening!

Blueberries from Truro

Does July Need A Sky Of Blue?

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Hurrah for summer on planet earth.

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

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

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

Yum.

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

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

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

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

a) Theaters were designed with great sensitivity to acoustics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Could Ask For Anything More?

 

Today I sit on our back porch, savoring a gentle breeze and warm, spring-like weather.

Ahhh….

A careful reader might notice that I haven’t posted anything since December.

We had a long, snowy winter here in the Boston area — and at the end of February I managed to fracture the bottom surface of my left humerus (upper arm bone) by tripping over a very enthusiastic 18-month-old student who got behind me (without my realizing it) during one of my Music Together classes.

Six titanium screws later, my left elbow is mostly functional — and a few more months of painful therapy may, in frustratingly small increments, restore full functionality.

We shall see…

One of the blessings of my recent encounter with the world of Western medicine is that I found a great surgeon — the head of orthopedic medicine at Tufts Medical Center! — who was willing to screw the various chunks of my humerus back together again. He is also a terrific listener who makes unwavering eye contact during conversation.

And the anesthesiologists who took care of me during my surgery were also willing to listen to my request that they NOT intubate me. Instead they used an alternative device which didn’t poke through my larynx, bless them.

So I experienced no inadvertent bumps or scratches on my vocal cords while I was under anesthesia.

Now a very patient and sweet-tempered occupational therapist is helping me persist in my quest for a fully functional left elbow.

Through this entire process I have been blessed with music — healing tracks by Libana, Bobby McFerrin, Annie Bethancourt, and Bill Glassco (to name a few) — as well as a very soothing guided meditation by Peggy Huddleston to help prepare for and recover from surgery.

Although my left arm aches 24/7 — especially after I have done my stretching exercises — listening to music, practicing music, learning new songs, performing music, jotting down new musical ideas, and leading my Music Together classes all, thankfully, distract me from the sensations in my arm.

I have included a fun version of the Gershwin Brothers’ song “I Got Rhythm” (originally debuted by a very young Ethel Merman in her star-making performance as part of the Gershwin Brothers’ musical Girl Crazy) at the beginning of this blog post.

I recorded it with Doug Hammer on piano at his studio on the North Shore. You can hear him laughing at the end of the take because he didn’t know I was going to hold a particular note as long as I did in a spontaneous homage to Ms. Merman…

It sums up my outlook during this recovery period, and it certainly fits the mood of today, as birds swoop through our back yard and bees of all sizes diligently gather pollen from the flowers blooming around town.

Thank you, as always, for reading my blog entries!

Very gratefully yours,

will

 

Let Me Be Strong

 

I was riding my bike home in the rain this week and remembered a song written by a New England author and songwriter named Barbara Baig.

“Rain beats at the window as I stare into the night…”

I recorded it a while ago with Doug Hammer playing piano — and, I think, Chris Rathbun on upright bass and Gene Roma on drums — at Doug’s Dreamworld Studios on the North Shore.

That was when I was hosting a performance series in Harvard Square called “Will & Company.”

Each show featured a local songwriter and a local singer about whom I was excited.

I recently learned that one of the songwriters, Ernie Lijoi, has written lyrics for two songs in a musical called It Shoulda Been You which is opening on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in April of 2015 starring Tyne Daly and directed by David Hyde Pierce.

Go, Ernie!

“Let me be strong and moving through fear….”

One of our friends, Peter Watson, has used “Let Me Be Strong” in the Opening the Heart workshops he co-leads.

Although a lot — a blessed lot — of stuff is going well in my life these days (a devoted life partner, robust Music Together classes, more performances at retirement communities and libraries, basic health, no debt, a functional bike, a wonderful web of family and friends for whom I am very grateful, and the list goes on and on), I also find myself standing from time to time in deep puddles of fear.

And I berate myself for feeling scared — aware that billions of beings on planet earth are not as fortunate as I am.

What do I have to feel scared about?

Yet I am also aware — without reading the paper, listening to the radio, watching the news, or tapping into various social media — that our human population continues to climb, that more and more species of animals and plants are becoming extinct, that our economic models are based on an advertising-created desire to possess more and more things, etc. etc. etc.

Thinking about these global challenges leaves me feeling scared, or sad, or angry — or all of the above.

How do we not become mired in fear?

How do we keep our hearts open?

How do we change our lives to respect and honor and nurture the amazing web of life currently unraveling on planet earth?

And how does music fit into any/all of the above?

Love Is Real

 

Love IS real.

It may not always be easy to feel, but it’s always there somewhere — or perhaps everywhere? — waiting to be tapped into.

In the two years since I was laid off from my day job, I have come to understand that music is one of our most accessible — and brilliant — technologies for re-connecting with love.

I experienced another love-filled gig with pianist Joe Reid last Saturday at a retirement community to the south of Boston.

It was the first time we had been there; so I didn’t know what to expect.

I was also feeling a bit concerned that our choice of “Make Someone Happy: The Songs of Jule Styne” — rather than a program of songs by the more familiar Cole Porter or Gershwin Brothers — might have been too risky for a first visit.

But we were warmly welcomed, ushered to a lovely performance space (not too big, not too small — a “just right” Goldilocks fit) with a small grand piano, a good PA system, and an audience of American Popular Songbook aficionados.

The size of the room — and the lighting in the room — made it possible for me to make eye contact with everyone.

Many audience members knew the words to the songs we were performing — and I, inspired by my Music Together classroom experiences, exhorted everyone to hum, tap, snap, or even dance if the spirit moved them.

There is something about the structure of a well-written song that allows — even encourages — one to put one’s heart into the singing of it.

And knowing that a song has a beginning, a middle, and an end somehow makes it safe for me as a singer to experience a wide range of feelings while I am singing it.

I think I have written in previous blog posts about how amazing subtext can be — how simply changing what or whom one is thinking about as one is singing can completely alter one’s interpretation of a particular song.

I have even begun to wonder — as I sing and make eye contact during performances with as many different audience members as are willing to connect in that surprisingly intimate way — whether I start connecting on an unconscious level with some of THEIR subtext, THEIR history, and THEIR associations with a particular song.

Whatever is transpiring energetically, it certainly opens MY heart — and re-connects me to feelings of joy and heart-ache and love and fear and desire and hope and pain.

Afterwards Joe and I listened to the stories that these songs evoked in the residents — tales of huge summer parties near Westport, CT in the 30s and 40s, or of seeing Barbra Streisand in the original production of Funny Girl, or of listening to these songs on the radio with loved ones in the living rooms of their past.

One woman said something like, “We have to have you and Joe back again right away — your singing reached inside and touched my soul.”

This is what I live for.

This is what music can do.

Two strangers can, in a safe and well-boundaried way, touch each other’s souls.

John Lennon knew that.

He wrote the song “Love Is Real” — which I recorded several years ago with Doug Hammer at his Dreamworld Studio. Then I monkeyed with those tracks using Garageband to create the version at the top of this page.

Thirty four years ago John Lennon was killed as he got out of his car and headed into his apartment in NYC.

According to Wikipedia, he had chosen to get out on 72nd Street (rather than the driving into the courtyard of his building) so that he could chat with any fans who might be waiting to say “hi” and ask for an autograph.

In fact, earlier in the day he had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy — the life-affirming album he had recently released with Yoko Ono — for the man who later shot and killed him.

After I heard the horrible news of John’s death, I remember walking along Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square, feeling very sad and upset that this could ever have happened.

One loss often awakens previous losses — like a metal chime rippling and echoing through the layers of one’s emotional body and memory.

So, with hindsight, it is very likely that I was also grieving other deaths, other losses, other assassinations — as I grieve tonight…listening to John’s music and reflecting on his inspiring life.

You can click here for a link to a comforting essay I found online which offers perspective about why so many of us continue to be so deeply moved by John’s murder.

I loved John Lennon.

I continue to love his music — as well as the music of all The Beatles.

And his songs live on.

Love IS real.

Something Good

 

Skimming over some of my previous posts, I see that I rarely mention anything about feeling frustrated, unhappy, anxious, or any other “negative” emotional state.

I would like to clearly state that I feel disappointed, scared, envious, disheartened, disgusted, vengeful, upset, discouraged, and cranky on a regular basis.

But I strive — when feeling out of sorts — to remind myself of any number of things in my life that I can be grateful for.

A wonderful life partner.  Health.  Plenty of food.  Lots of family.  Lots of friends.  A functional bicycle.  Employment.  A safe place to live.  Clean water.  No tanks patrolling my neighborhood.  Music.  Electricity.  The children and grown-ups in my Music Together classes. Warm clothing.  Two lap top computers.  Access to the internet.  Great collaborators.  Our local network of public libraries.  The retirement communities which invite me and my collaborators back to perform again and again.

Once one gets started, the list can go on and on and on…

The week before Doug Hammer and I performed Songs About Parents & Children at the Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA, I found out that I had been awarded a grant from the newly-created Bob Jolly Charitable Trust to help pay for rehearsals and marketing outreach.

Bob Jolly, who died in 2013, was a beloved actor in the Boston community for 28 years.

The Bob Jolly Charitable Trust — established by his will — supports local actors, performers, composers, and theater companies with modest yet very meaningful financial support.

I am very grateful for this grant as well as Bob’s vision to nurture Boston’s creative community for years to come.

His generosity is indeed something good!

The song in the player at the beginning of this blog post was created by Richard Rodgers for the movie version of The Sound Of Music.

He wrote both the music and the lyrics because his second longtime lyricist/collaborator, Oscar Hammerstein, II, died before the movie was made.

The knowledge that Mr. Hammerstein was dying from stomach cancer while they were bringing the original Broadway musical to life adds — for me — an extra layer of poignance to songs such as “My Favorite Things,” So Long, Farewell,” “Climb Every Mountain,” “Edelwiess,” and “The Sound Of Music.”

And learning more about Mr. Rodgers challenging relationship with alcohol — as well as with various female cast members in his shows —  adds many more layers of complexity to “Something Good,” which Doug and I performed as our final encore at the end of Songs About Parents & Children.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Thank you for reading and listening.