Overjoyed…

I picked today’s song because WordPress tells me that this is my 100th blog post.

If I had been asked to guess how many blog posts I’ve written since I started in 2013, I would have said 30 – 40.

So I am surprised to discover that this is #100.

As loyal readers from the past years can attest, I do not write on a regular schedule.

If I do the math, however, I find that I have averaged one post per month.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

I am often happy — and sometimes even overjoyed — to be part of our WordPress writing community.

It is thrilling to check my statistics and find that folks have been reading and listening from different countries around the planet.

THANK YOU to everyone who has read and/or listened to one of my blog posts during the past eight years!

And a special thank you to the folks who have taken the time to leave a comment.

Reading and responding to these comments — and also writing comments after reading other people’s blog posts — is how the WordPress community comes to life!

“Overjoyed” was written by Stevland Hardaway Morris a.k.a Stevie Wonder and first appeared in 1985 on his 20th studio album, In Square Circle.

I am not sure when I first heard it — maybe when he performed it on Saturday Night Live or perhaps when a college friend, Rex Dean, sang it?

It became somewhat of an obsession for me and several of my musical friends…

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

I finally performed “Overjoyed” in 2006 as part of a program of songs written by people named Steve — which also featured songs by Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Foster, Stephen Sondheim, Cat Stevens, Stephen Flaherty, Steve Schalchlin, and my friend Steve Sweeting (several of whose songs have been highlighted in previous blog posts).

This recording is from a rehearsal at pianist Doug Hammer‘s studio north of Boston, MA, which was attended by a journalist, Joel Brown, who ended up writing a lovely feature story in the Boston Globe to help spread the word before my performance at Scullers Jazz Club.

If you are curious, you can read it on my website (look for “Interviews — Boston Globe June 4, 2006).

This recording also features a wonderful musician, Mike Callahan, playing clarinet.

Photo from MSU Website

I met Mike when he was an undergraduate at Harvard.

He arranged a bunch of songs for me to sing with the Harvard Pops Orchestra — and then later with the Timberlane Pops. You can click here to see him and me in action if you are curious.

He can play just about any instrument (which is very useful when one is arranging a song for an entire orchestra) and is also a delightful human being.

Mike went from Harvard to the Eastman School Of Music, where he earned an MA and a PhD and is now a professor at Michigan State.

If you click here, you can read his bio to learn more details about his outstanding musical life.

Finding strong takes from previously recorded rehearsals and then polishing them with Doug via Zoom has also been a process which has given me much joy during the past year.

And — well-masked — we’ve even started recording a new batch of my original songs in the past month (I take off my mask when I am in the vocal recording booth…)

Hopefully a few of them will turn out well enough for me to share them in future blog posts.

Watching things grow in the planters on my back porch this past summer has also been a quietly joyful pastime.

Photo by Carole Bundy

I started with kale, basil, tomatoes and marigolds.

The tomatoes yielded a small but sublime harvest of vegetable gems.

Mine were yellow, and I did not document them with a photograph because they were so tasty I had to eat them as soon as they became ripe.

But my friend Carole Bundy sent me this lovely photo of HER first two tomatoes.

I’ve also been eating one brilliant green leaf of kale every week or so…

When the tomatoes were done, I replaced them with cut up chunks of a potato which my mother brought to family gathering earlier this summer.

It was one of a batch which she described as being the most delicious potatoes she had eaten in a long time.

I wasn’t sure if the cut up chunks would grow, but they did have many “eyes” on them…

Now I am overjoyed that one of them has sprouted, grown tall, and even flowered!

I was very surprised by the flowers, which are quite pretty and fragrant.

Photo by me

They have also lasted a long time.

Now the soil under the flowering plant is starting to bulge a bit.

I think I may need to pile more dirt on top of what may be one or more baby potatoes growing down below…

The cat in this photo lives with our neighbors upstairs.

I may write about her in a future blog post.

Trixie did something on 9/11/21 which was heart-wrenching (not to her but to me and maybe also to her owner).

But that is a story for another day and another blog post.

Today’s theme is joy and gratitude.

Thank you to the great photographers who share their photos with the world via Pixabay.

I am overjoyed that I can include your photos in my blog posts.

Thank you to all the great songwriters named Steve.

I am overjoyed to sing your songs.

Thank you to Doug and Mike for your musical gifts — and thank you to Doug for your engineering magic, too.

I am overjoyed to be able to make music with you both.

Image by Mircea Ploscar from Pixabay 

Thank you to the plants which have been so patient and cooperative with my humble attempts at gardening — as well as generous with their fruits and leaves and roots!

I am overjoyed that you breath out what I breath in and vice-versa.

I know I thanked my readers earlier in this blog post, but I will now thank you again!

THANK YOU.

It is a pleasure and an honor to be part of this WordPress community.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

PS: You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find all sorts of songs.

Or you can find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano — on SpotifyPandoraApple Music and other digital music platforms.

And if you are hungry for more music, you are welcome to listen to a sublime version of “In My Life” which I recorded with Doug Hammer.on a bunch of different digital music platforms.

In Praise of Food…and Lillian Rozin!

I am well aware that all sorts of challenging — and often heart-breaking — situations continue to unfold here on planet earth.

However, I have decided in recent blog posts to accentuate the positive.

Part of the fun of re-vamping my website earlier this year was re-visiting my musical past.

When I first started working at the Cambridge Center For Adult Education in Harvard Square, we co-produced a lot of events — open mics, workshops, seminars, performances — with the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA).

BACA is a humble and surprisingly resilient non-profit group which a bunch of us helped to start over 25 years ago.

And it is still going strong — an ongoing labor of love — due to the efforts of a generous and ever-evolving group of singers, musicians, songwriters and music fans who serve on its board, bless them.

I do not remember exactly how I met singer/actor Lillian Rozin, who is now a psychotherapist, yoga instructor and author, too.

Maybe at a BACA open mic?

In any case, we hit it off and Lillian started creating lavish spreads of appetizers and desserts for our open mic nights.

I am not someone who follows recipes or considers himself to be much of a cook.

But Lillian is an inspired and inspiring goddess in the kitchen.

She learned to love food and cooking from — among other people — her mother, the much-published food writer, Elizabeth Rozin.

Eventually we started performing together as “The Will & Lil Show” — co-creating two different shows of music and ideas before she moved from the Boston area back to her homeland of Philadelphia.

Our first show focused on the subject of water — in rivers, clouds, oceans, harbors, showers, wading pools, and even our own metabolisms.

We followed that with a show called We Are What We Eat — A Potluck Cabaret which featured songs about eating, serving and preparing food such as Cole Porter’s “The Tale of the Oyster,” Bernstein, Comden and Green’s “I Can Cook, Too,” Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” the Sherman Brothers’ “Feed The Birds,” and Stephen Schwartz’s “It’s An Art.”

The show began with Lillian and me on stage chopping and slicing and preparing various finger-foods while audience members were finding their seats.

Once everyone had arrived, we began singing a song (in the player at the start of the blog post) from William Finn’s musical “March Of The Falsettos” while serving the audience what we had been preparing onstage.

It was a lot of fun.

The original lyrics for “Making A Home” included some references to food — to which we added a few more.

Recently I was happy to find a computer disk which contained some of our original PR photos as well as a script for our food show.

Here’s a list of food-related items that we used during the show:

Image by Bernadette Wurzinger from Pixabay

Microwave pre-set with popcorn.

Baguette. 

Hardboiled eggs.

Little pots of strawberry jam.

Toast.

English muffin.

Little jar of mustard.

Watercress or heavy duty parsley.

Hamsteak.

Bones/chew toys.

Root vegetables.

Image by Jordan Stimpson from Pixabay 

Brie, cheddar, harvarti dill, goat, and cream cheeses.

Grapes.

Olives.

Cornichon.

Pop tarts.

Pringles potato chips.

Spam.

Count Chocula/Cocoa Puffs/Lucky Charms cereal boxes.

Jello.

Bacon bits.

Strawberry Newtons.

One pound of smoked fish.

Horseradish.

Lots of crackers.

Cider.

Bag of salad.

Packets of Sweet & Lo.

Vinegar cruet.

Celery.

Peanut butter and peanuts.

Bologna.

Non-dairy whipped topping.

Bananas.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Melon.

Bosco.

Two pie plates.

Marischino cherries.

Cutting boards.

And knives.

As you can probably extrapolate from this list of props, we covered a lot of ground in this show — from the processed food industry (for which Lillian’s mother had once consulted) to food norms in different cultures (Lillian has traveled a lot) to my past as a child actor doing commercials for various food products (such as Ring Ding Juniors, Lifesavers, Imperial margarine, and Oreo cookies).

Here’s an excerpt from what we said after we sang “Making A Home” while serving appetizers to the audience.

Lil: “Will and I love to cook.”

Will: “And we love to feed other people what we have cooked.”

Lil: “And we love to eat; so this show was a no-brainer.

Will: “Eating is something that is easy to take for granted. 

Lillian Rozin and Will McMillan standing back to back and smiling...
Photo by Stephen C. Fischer

Lil: “We do it several times a day, often out of habit or while we are focused on something else.”

Will: “But eating is really a magical process.  Think about it… radiation from a nearby star is captured by plants who transform it into something that we can absorb into our bodies, which becomes… us.”

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Over twenty years later I am still amazed by how life works here on planet earth!

Near the end of the show Lillian tied me to a chair while singing “Have An Eggroll Mr. Goldstein” from Gypsy and stuffing all sorts of delicious, cut-up fruit into my mouth.

Then we sang “You’re The Cream In My Coffee” while throwing pie plates full of non-dairy whipped topping in each other’s faces.

Our encore was “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries.”

This delightful anthem was written by Lew Brown (lyrics) and Ray Henderson (music) for Ethel Merman to sing in George White’s Scandals of 1931 after she had rejected another song they had wanted her to perform.

I am very thankful that Ms. Merman knew — when she was still in the early years of her extraordinary career the entertainment industry — what kind of song she could and couldn’t deliver to an audience.

Otherwise Ray and Lew might not have written this musical gem.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Thank you for reading and listening to this somewhat light-hearted blog post.

I will undoubtedly return to more serious topics in the future.

Today I have been inspired by a statement currently circulating (I hope accurately) on FaceBook from a Hopi Indian Chief named White Eagle.

“This moment humanity is experiencing can be seen as a door or a hole. The decision to fall in the hole or walk through the door is up to you.

“If you consume the news 24 hours a day, with negative energy, constantly nervous, with pessimism, you will fall into this hole. But if you take the opportunity to look at yourself, to rethink life and death, to take care of yourself and others, then you will walk through the portal…

“Don’t feel guilty for feeling blessed in these troubled times. Being sad or angry doesn’t help at all…

Lillian with her beloved dog Albee!

“Show resistance through art, joy, trust and love.”

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Thank you to Lillian Rozin for being one of my favorite collaborators… and one of my favorite chefs, too!

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing piano AND recording the rehearsal from which we recently selected and mixed these songs.

Thank you to Ray Brown and Lew Henderson for writing “LIfe Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries” — and to Ethel Merman for inspiring them to do so.

Thank you to William Finn for writing “Making A Home.”

You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find more songs from The Will & Lil Show celebrating food.

Or you can find me singing — with Doug Hammer playing his Schimmel grand piano — on SpotifyPandoraApple Music and other digital music platforms.

And if you are hungry for more music, you are welcome to listen to my latest release, “The Carter Family” by Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman on a bunch of different digital music platforms.

Life Goes On…

Life Goes On…

megaphone

 

Like many people in the United States — and in many other countries around the planet — I have been experiencing a wide variety of feelings since our recent election.

international-flags

And a lot of denial — for which I am both grateful and apprehensive…

One of the things that I have found the oddest is how most of us have continued to do the same things that we did before the election.

I have continued to buy groceries.

I have continued to take books out from the library.

I have continued to do laundry.

I have continued to get up and lead Music Together classes on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings.

I have continued to do gigs at retirement communities with jazz pianist Joe Reid.

I have continued to learn song lyrics.

I have continued to clean the toilet and wash the kitchen floor.

I have continued to draft blog posts.

I have continued to watch TV.

And I have continued to love the song “Life Goes On” written by Stephen Schwartz (a version of which is in the player at the beginning of this post with Doug Hammer on piano and Mike Callahan on clarinet which we recorded during a rehearsal for my show called Will Loves Steve several years ago).

Photo by Ralf Rühmeier

Photo by Ralf Rühmeier

As you probably know, Stephen Schwartz is the composer and lyricist for Godspell, Pippin, The Magic Show, The Baker’s WifeWicked (and more) on Broadway as well as the lyricist for animated movies including Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Enchanted.

“Life Goes On” is not from one of his shows or movies, however.

I found it on Mr. Schwartz’s first solo CD release, Reluctant Pilgrim, and have been gently haunted by it ever since.

According to Mr. Schwartz’s web site, “I originally began to write the songs that make up Reluctant Pilgrim in response to a ‘challenge’ from a songwriter friend, John Bucchino. I had been encouraging John (who had always written individual and highly personal songs) to write for the theatre, and John in turned asked why I never wrote individual songs based on my own life. He said it was time to stop ‘hiding behind Hunchbacks and Indian princesses.’ So I decided to try… The first song I wrote was ‘Life Goes On.’ This was an attempt to deal with my feelings after a close friend of mine died of AIDS. Writing the song turned out to be very therapeutic for me.”

I recently heard a great interview by Terry Gross with Cleve Jones on Fresh Air.

Mr. Jones was involved with the AIDS crisis from the very beginning, and he (although he is beautifully soft-spoken and articulate during the interview) reminded me of how loudly and angrily and stubbornly AIDS activists had to demonstrate and organize in order to make progress on understanding and treating this virus when our president and many of our elected officials just wanted to ignore what was happening.

Have we re-entered a time in US history when we will need to act up — regularly, passionately, strategically — in response to our government’s actions and/or inactions regarding climate change, immigration, civil liberties, the rights of the media to investigate those who hold power in our society, etc. etc. etc.?

 

london-protesters

 

I do believe that grass roots action is a crucial part of how things — laws, attitudes, opinions, political leadership, prejudices — change.

What might be the most important issue(s) to which I might devote myself in upcoming days/weeks/months?

I have a sense that protecting and maintaining the amazing web of interconnections which make up our various ecosystems is a fundamental priority which underlies (and, dare I say, trumps) many of our specifically human challenges.

 

agriculture

 

But maybe election and campaign finance reform are more crucial in the short run, as an antidote to the oligarchic voices which increasingly dominate (and frame) our political and cultural debate?

 

oligarchy-puppet

 

How do we address and respond to and heal the enormous reservoirs of fear and anger and disrespect which seem to be percolating in the hearts of so many fellow human beings on planet earth these days?

 

us-flag

 

How do we plant seeds of hope and trust and respect and love while simultaneously standing up with great power so that we are not run over by ignorance and ego and power and greed and fear?

 

Parched-Earth-Plant

 

How do we nurture kindness and gentleness while also standing up for justice?

I am clueless.

I hope that music can somehow play a part in whatever activism and consciousness-raising and healing are on the horizon.

Until then, life goes on…

Thank you for reading and listening!

And thank you to Pixabay for the images in this blog post.

I welcome any thoughts, feelings, ideas, and recommended actions in the comments section.

forest

Magic To Do…

Magic To Do…

 

I have loved Stephen Schwartz’s music ever since I heard the cast album of Godspell in 1971.

I don’t remember how I came to own it, but I played that record over and over again.

So I was wildly excited and nervous when — at age ten — I auditioned for a new musical being directed by Bob Fosse with songs written by Mr. Schwartz.

I sang Cat Stevens’ song “Father and Son” at the audition. (My aunt had given me and my siblings many of Cat Stevens’ albums, which I also loved.)

I vaguely remember standing on a stage, singing to a few people in a darkened theater.

At one point during the audition — or maybe during a callback? — the pianist played a particular section of “Father and Son” in different keys in order to get a sense of my vocal range.

I gamely sang higher and higher until my voice finally cracked.

I must have also have read from some sort of script, but I don’t remember doing any dancing during the audition.

Much to my delight and terror, I ended up being cast as the standby for the role of Theo. I did not attend the first few weeks of rehearsals, but joined the cast midway through the creative process in NYC.

Members of the original Broadway cast of Pippin

I remember that Ben Vereen was very friendly and welcoming, even though he was one of the stars and was working his butt off during rehearsals.

Mostly I watched from the sidelines and kept a low profile.

I moved with the cast and crew to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, where Pippin previewed.

The Kennedy Center had only recently been built and was enormous. I spent a lot of time exploring the different theaters and backstage areas — as well as the snack room where I often heated up a slice of pizza using an amazing new (to me at least) technology called the microwave oven.

I also spent a lot of time hanging out unobtrusively in the back of the theater, watching rehearsals and mimicking all of the dance routines to the best of my ability (which grew over time…once we were living in NYC year-round I studied tap and jazz at the Phil Black dance studios on the corner of Broadway and 50th street).

The role of Theo — Catherine’s son — was never large and grew smaller as the show was tightened up and re-written out of town.

And then, much to my parents’ surprise — since so many Broadway shows close out of town or last only a few weeks once they open in New York — Pippin proved to be a big hit.

Original Cast Album of Pippin

I had to be backstage for every performance, but I never played the role of Theo on stage.

The various standbys — me, the standby for Irene Ryan, the standby for John Rubinstein, and the standby for Ben Vereen — along with the understudies for the other main roles would rehearse our parts with the stage manager on matinee days between the afternoon and evening performances.

Ben’s standby was a lovely man named Northern Calloway, whose day job was playing the role of “David” on Sesame Street, which was filmed in a converted theater on the upper west side of Manhattan.

Jill Clayburgh’s understudy was Ann Reinking, who was then a member of the chorus (but who may have begun dating Bob Fosse during Pippin and went on to all sorts of success afterwards as a performer and as a choreographer).

A boy named Shane Nickerson played the role of Theo each night.

He and I became friends.

Shane’s sister Denise had played the role of Lolita in an unsuccessful musical version of the Nabokov novel and then was cast as Violet Beauregarde in the original movie of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Except she was not really Shane’s sister. She was actually his aunt. But that is another story — and a fascinating example of how we human beings often play roles in real life as well as on stage.

Other than an ever-present anxiety that I might have to perform the role if Shane were to become ill, I had a lot of fun backstage.

I fetched hot beverages for some of the dancers before the show began at the coffee shop across 46th street (where the stage door was located).

I learned how to play chess with one of the younger stage hands.

I watched endless poker game conducted by dressers, musicians and stage hands at a big table behind the orchestra pit while the show was running.

I became friends with the back stage hair dressers and helped brush out the many different wigs which the chorus members wore during the show.

And I hung out with the wonderful animal handlers, Jack and Mary, who took care of the duck and the sheep who appeared nightly in the show.

Among other duties they had to walk the sheep up and down 46th street and along 8th avenue in order to encourage it poop before it went on stage.

The sheep liked to eat cigarette butts, which was not conducive to its health; so I would keep an eye out for them when we strolled around the theater district, chatting with surprised passersby.

I remained as a standby in the original cast until I grew too large for the role. (Theo enters in the second being carried on the Leading Player’s shoulders, and this was a very direct way to gauge my growth month by month…)

I was not the first to leave the company — that was probably Jill Clayburgh, who was replaced by Betty Buckley early in the run, and also dear Irene Ryan, who died about the same time — but it was a very sad and awkward experience for me.

Irene Ryan and other original cast members of Pippin

Show business can be very confusing regarding matters of the heart.

A cast and crew come together to create a show or film a movie — or even just a TV commercial — and everyone strives (at least while on stage or when the cameras are running…) to be friendly and part of a team/family while they are attempting to make some magic together.

And then, when the shoot of the movie or the run of the play is over, everyone becomes a free agent again.

And one may never see any of them again.

Were any of those people my friends? Did any of them think about me when I was no longer part of the cast? I certainly thought about them for years afterwards.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It is humbling to learn on Wikipedia how the lives of various Pippin cast members unfolded before and after their time on stage at the Imperial Theater in the early 70s.

Some are still involved with show business as performers or choreographers or teachers.

Many are dead.

And composer Stephen Schwartz, bless him, has continued to write wonderful songs for Broadway and Hollywood.

I recorded his song “Magic To Do” (the opening number in Pippin) several years ago during rehearsals for a show I put together called Will Loves Steve, which featured songs written by Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Foster,  Steve Sweeting, Stevie Wonder and Steven Georgiou — a.k.a. Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yousuf Islam.

Doug Hammer played piano — while simultaneously engineering the track — and Mike Callahan played clarinet.

For many years after Pippin I carried within me a sense that success meant starring on Broadway, or in the movies, or on TV.

Yet now I am amazed that anyone is able to perform EIGHT shows each week, month after month, repeating the same songs and dances and lines and emotions with as much authenticity and enthusiasm as they can muster on any given day.

And the life of a star — with folks asking to take selfies with them wherever they go in public, and having to repeat the same stories over and over again during media junkets while maintaining their  youthfulness and beauty and fitness and marketability year after year — seems less and less appealing.

I am slightly surprised to realize that I have learned the same lesson as the title character In Pippin: that a normal life without a lot of fanfare is AOK.

And there is still plenty of humble and unpublicized magic — like what happens in my Music Together classes and during performances at retirement communities and singing along at ukulele meetup groups —  to be done each day if one is so inspired…

Thank you, yet again, for reading and listening!

We Never Know Who Is Listening

One of the truly magical aspects of a musical life on planet earth in the 21st century is how widely one can share one’s songs if one has access to the internet.

After Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer and I — with lots of help from Mike Callahan, Jonathan Wyner, and guest musicians — recorded our CD “If I Loved You,” we heard from family, friends AND folks whom we had never met.

One listener included our version of the David Friedman ballad “I’ll Be Here With You” (which you can hear by clicking on the right hand sidebar of this page) on a CD she sent to her fiance who was serving in the US military overseas.

Another fan — who had been given our CD by a friend — tracked us down and told us that she listened to our music each morning while she worked out. When her husband died, she asked us to sing at his memorial service.

And I recently learned — in a reply to my blog post about music and spontaneity — that a CD of my “Will Loves Steve” show (which features songs written by people named Stephen, Steven or Steve) had traveled from Massachusetts to Argentina, where it helped lift the spirits of someone who was feeling very low.

Here’s a selection from that show — “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster combined with “Overjoyed by Stevie Wonder…

The pianist is Doug Hammer, and the horn player is Mike Callahan.

I am curious to see how my musical endeavors may continue to ripple around the planet thanks to the internet.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Ahh, music!