Can We Slow It Down?

Can We Slow It Down?

 

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Although spring is just arriving here in the greater Boston area, I am deeply aware of how quickly it will pass.

Yesterday I was celebrating the 22 crocus flowers in my front yard.

And today there are only 9…

Someone nibbled the rest of them down to the ground overnight!

I do not begrudge anyone (rabbit? skunk? possum? squirrel? raccoon? rat?) an early spring feast.

But it was a reminder of how life changes… and sometimes much too quickly.

Stars-Highway

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by the pianist/songwriter Molly Ruggles to share a few songs during a Sunday morning service at the Unitarian Universalist church in Medford, MA.

It’s a beautiful building — with lots of stained glass windows and gently curving pews — and the congregation is very welcoming.

One of the longstanding members of the church is someone I worked with at my very first job after dropping out of college. He and I have reconnected a little bit in recent years due to a shared interest in music and poetry — and it was a pleasure to see him before and after the service.

The minister, Reverend Marta Valentin, was planning a sermon about the value of observing some sort of Sabbath in one’s life.

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I immediately started thinking about standards which might fit this theme, such as “Up A Lazy River” by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin or “Bidin’ My Time” by the Gershwin Brothers.

But it also occurred to me that a couple of my original songs might fit the theme, too.

With some shyness, I sent them — “Can We Slow It Down” and “The Beauty All Around” — to Molly for consideration.

Much to my delight, she liked them and forwarded them to Reverend Marta, who also liked them.

In fact, Reverend Marta visited my blog and found another original song, “May Your Life Be Blessed,” which she asked us to include in the service.

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Needless to say, I found this entire experience to be a much-needed affirmation that my original songs can be meaningful to people other than myself…

It was also exciting because I had been thinking that I could only perform my original songs in public with Doug Hammer (who is playing in the recording at the top of this page) at the piano with me.

I write songs using a ukulele — which I play very rudimentarily — and then flesh them out with Doug at his recording studio north of Boston. And Doug has performed many of them with me in different showcases during the past few years.

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So it was a revelation that another pianist would be able to bring them to life as well as Molly did (with very little rehearsal)!

The service itself was very satisfying, too.

My songs — especially “Can We Slow It Down?” — almost seemed as though they had been written to complement the Reverend Marta’s sermon.

Hurrah!

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As I have probably noted in previous blog posts, there is a thriving ukulele Meetup community in the greater Boston area.

I attend a group which meets the 2nd and 4th Wednesday night of each month and another which meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesday afternoon of each month.

Most ukulele Meetup groups include a humble — and very supportive — open-mic period where attendees can share a song they’ve been working on.

This is the main place I have dared to share my original songs during the past few years.

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After I played “Can We Slow It Down?” two weeks ago, a couple of fellow ukulele attendees asked me if I might post it somewhere.

So this post is created for them!

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Thank you to Molly Ruggles, Reverend Marta, Doug Hammer, and my ukulele-playing peers for their enthusiastic support and encouragement.

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Thank you to Pixabay for some lovely images.

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

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I welcome any thoughts/feelings you might have about the pace of life these days…

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So Many Stars…

https://amusicalifeonplanetearth.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/so-many-stars1.mp3

“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!

The Starry Night

What is it about Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “The Starry Night” that touches so many of our human hearts?

At the end of December I was wandering through the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when I happened upon his masterpiece.

First I noticed the scrum of people who were jockeying for position in front of it.

Then I noticed the guard who had the extraordinary responsibility of making sure that none of the members of the scrum got close enough to damage the painting.

And then I saw it…The Starry Night.

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And tears immediately appeared in my eyes.

Even with a crowd of people taking photos of it, taking photos of themselves in front of it, and tweeting and texting their friends about it, “The Starry Night” was serenely, astoundingly beautiful.

I don’t know if I cried partly because I, too, love to gaze at the night sky — amazed at the beauty of the stars and the vastness of the universe — and Van Gogh captures it so well in this painting?

Or if I was reminded of Don McLean’s song “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” which speaks so poignantly about how little respect or success Van Gogh earned in his lifetime — as well as his eventual suicide?

The juxtaposition of the clamoring crowd of art-lovers in the 21st century and Van Gogh’s downwardly mobile existence in the 19th century was odd.

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And yet we all still share the same huge questions — about how our finite lives relate to the unimaginably vast realms of space, about what happens to us when our bodies die, about how our wonderful blue-green planet fits into the swirling patterns of the universe, about time…and space…and love…and loss.

Ahh, art.

Ahh, music.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

If you are curious to learn more, here is a link to MOMA’s web page for “The Starry Night.”

Special thanks to pianist Doug Hammer, at whose Dream World studio we recorded the version of “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” you can hear by clicking at the top of this blog entry.

Singing Together

I just spent a day rehearsing for a performance in Tiverton, RI.

It’s a new show called “In Perfect Harmony” with fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist/composer Doug Hammer — in which all the songs being sung include at least a partial harmony somewhere.

Since we have been performing together for ten years, and since one of our favorite things to do is sing in harmony, we have a lot of material to choose from.

The show also includes quotations and anecdotes about the process of collaboration — which for us has involved a great arranger, Mike Callahan.

From time to time we send Mike recordings from our rehearsals, along with detailed notes about which harmonic ideas we think show promise and which need help.

Invariably he sends charts back to us that both improve our ideas AND surprise us with some great new musical impulse.

Here is an MP3 of our version of Mercer/Mancini classic “Moon River” if you are curious to hear the fruits of this collaborative process.

There is something very intimate and satisfying about singing with someone else — whether in unison or harmony.

And since electricity entered our daily lives in the last century, our patterns and habits of singing have changed.

Crooning along with the radio or a CD or an MP3 is great — yet it’s different from singing with another real live human being.

I just returned from a week in upstate NY at a wonderful, ramshackle family cottage with no internet access and no TV.

One of my cousins told me about songs she heard as a child from her parents and grandparents — some of which were originally sung by people working outside in gardens and fields as a way (according to my cousin) to pass the time and remain connected with their neighbors.

What a different era of human civilization!

Thanks to my ukulele and the great “Daily Ukulele” songbooks, we sang together most nights on the beach around a camp fire — while the younger members of our family roasted marshmallows and made s’mores for all to eat.

I could do this for hours — and in fact on the last night I did play without a break for over three hours.

Music. Stars above. Friends and family all around. Lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.

Bliss.