Another Good Morning

 

 

Once upon a time I co-starred in a movie called Goldenrod which 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.

 

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I was 14 years old.

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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.

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One of the producers had a daughter whom I met on the set when she visited from Toronto.

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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.

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She still lives in Toronto, and like her father (and mother) she works in film and TV production.

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For the past few years she’s been helping to create Canada’s version of the TV show The Amazing Race.

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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.

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Above the garage is an office/guest bedroom where I love to sleep and read and write songs when I visit them.

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I started writing “Another Good Morning” a couple of springs ago.

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The sun was shining.

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Birds were singing.

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And Sarah was making breakfast for all of us.

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It is what I call a “gets-me-out-of-bed-in-the-morning” song.

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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.

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Because I need them….to muster a little bit of optimism before I head out into the day.

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As you have probably already guessed, I continue to love the photo site Pixabay.

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I send a huge thank you to all the folks who have shared their lovely images there!

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I do not own a cell phone or carry a camera…

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But I appreciate those who do.

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THANK YOU for reading and listening.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 …

Everything Is Holy Now

Summer lily

I first heard Peter Mayer’s song “Holy Now” on a recording by the delicious trio of Ellen Epstein, Michael Cicone and Cindy Kallet.

It’s what I call a “gets me out of bed in the morning” song.

Inspiring.

Thought-provoking.

The sort of song I love to perform — and aspire to write.

I listened to it over and over again — and then went to Doug Hammer’s recording studio, where we recorded a few takes (the second one of which you can hear in the player at the top of this post…)

Every now and then I remember to bring a camera and take photos while I am traveling. Sometimes I even manage to upload them onto my laptop. And on very rare occasions I find the time to look at some of them.

The images in this post are from the summer of 2011 — and feel like they match the sprit of Peter Mayer’s song.

Chicory

Chicory is a wonderful plant which grows all over the place — from farm fields to urban roadways. I love the flowers’ shade of blue, which reminds me of a clear summer sky.

I am also deeply reassured by the way it is able to take root, survive, and even bloom in what appear to be extremely inhospitable locations — with very little soil or access to water.

Hurrah for the resourcefulness of weeds!

Ryder & Toad

Here is one of my nephews interacting with a toad next to Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. Ryder lives in southern California and will happily sing the entire song “Uptown Funk” (by Mick Ronson featuring Bruno Mars) if you ask him to.

Jasper & Araianna 2011 B

This is my other nephew and my niece with my older sister (their mother) in the background by their garden in upstate New York.

Jasper & Arianna 2011 A

They love each other very much.

Steep Hollow Field

Although originally from Detroit, MI, they have grown up on a farm.

I feel inordinately blessed to be the uncle of three such delightful human beings.

Peaches Lime Rock

These are peaches growing on a little tree my mother and step father planted in Connecticut. I am astounded at how much fruit even a small tree can create — seemingly out of thin air!

Trees amaze me in so many ways.

I was looking at photos of the thousand year-old redwoods in California recently, trying to imagine what their sense of time might feel like…

I am impressed by how much patience and trust a plant has to have — that it will get enough rain, for example — since it cannot get up and move around the way we animals do.

And how generous they are to feed us with their fruit, their nuts, their berries — although it is hard to know whether they are generous because they want to be or because they have no other option…

Asian Pears Lime Rock

Isn’t this Asian pear beautiful? How does the tree grow it?!

And let’s not forget our invaluable allies — the bees, bats and birds who pollinate different plants and — according to recent statistics I read in an article about bee health — are responsible for the cultivation of a third of the food we humans eat…

What an amazing system: beautiful flowers which delight our human eyes and attract (and perhaps also delight) billions of extremely hard-working and diligent pollinators whose diligent work leads to delicious, nutritious food for so many beings — many of them human — to eat.

And it’s powered by photons traveling through space from a nearby star.

And it’s assisted by water which falls from the sky, is sucked up by the plants’ roots, is incorporated into leaves and flowers and fruits and berries, and eventually evaporates back into the sky — only to begin the cycle again.

What a planet!

As Peter writes in his song, “The challenging thing becomes not to look for miracles — but finding where there isn’t one…”

Summer Sky

Thank you for reading and listening to yet another blog post.

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.

The Ebb and Flow


Autumn is arriving here in Boston, MA.

Summer is ebbing, and cooler air is flowing into our neighborhood.

In the morning I sit on our back porch, wearing a hoodie until the sun warms everything up.

I listen for sounds from the natural world — today a blue jay — competing with the sounds of cars and buses and trucks and motorcycles on nearby streets.

And I happily remember my time last month camping in North Truro on the Cape and next to Cayuga Lake in upstate New York.

I find camping to be a terrific reminder of many important things — how little water one needs to wash dishes, for example. Or wash one’s hands. Or take a shower.

The campground has cabins with sinks and toilets and showers, but the sinks have taps which automatically shut off after about three seconds — a simple and very effective reminder to use water more mindfully — and the showers are activated by quarters (25 cents for three minutes of hot water).

And in upstate New York I simply jumped — except for the times when my feisty nephew Ryder pushed me — into the lake each morning and then scrubbed with Dr. Bronner’s soap and a washcloth.

We had no radio, no TV, and no internet.

We awoke early — due to birds singing their morning songs — and went to bed early, too.

Sometimes we all sang together after dinner — songs written by the Beatles being the most popular selections.

I wrote new songs for most of each day — happily holed up with my ukulele and laptop computers and rhyming dictionary — and then joined other family members for a swim in the late afternoon.

One of the most powerful part of camping for me is being reminded of the ebb and flow of life.

We see it at the beach.

The waves flow in and out at the water’s edge.

The tide rises and falls, sweeping the ocean shore clean of footprints twice a day — while revealing (and then concealing) sand bars, rocks, shells, crabs, sea weed, drift wood, and tiny jumping sand fleas.

Back at camp, we see neighboring tent sites fill with new arrivals and then empty at the end of the week.

What was a colorful array of tents and coolers and towels and bikes becomes a community of pine trees, a picnic table, some squirrels, and lots of open air.

I find it a very poignant reminder of mortality — my own as well as the mortality of all the people and places and animals and plants I love here on planet earth.

This feeling of mortality seeped into the song I wrote, “Under My Umbrella,” which is embedded at the top of the page.

It seems to fit with the days getting shorter as we approach the autumnal equinox.

Deep breath in.

Deep breathe out.

Thanks for reading…and listening.

The Beauty All Around

Today I visited one of my favorite urban yards (near the intersection of Dana and Centre streets in Cambridge, MA) as I was biking home from a visit with my beloved acupuncturist.

The people who live there have planted an astonishing number of bulbs under a huge Beech tree in front of their home.

Right now hundreds of snowdrops and crocii are blooming, as well as one tiny Siberian iris.

And even though the temperature was near 32 degrees Fahrenheit, I saw two little bees diligently visiting each crocus flower to gather tiny bits of pollen.

Amazing!

The crocii have inspired me to share two different versions of a song I wrote a couple of years ago, “The Beauty All Around.”

Here’s a version I recorded last week with pianist/composer Doug Hammer.

I think this song originally sprang out of an excited realization that some of my favorite pop songs — such as “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay — were based on only four chords.

I am not sure when I came up with this particular four-chord progression — but I remember sitting at a picnic table next to a lake near Worcester, MA, when I started recording it.

It was a warm autumn afternoon, and I was attending one of my favorite congregations of human beings on planet earth, the Massachusetts Men’s Gathering.

Although I was not having the best time at my day job (as the lyrics attest…), I was happy and grateful to be sitting by the water, surrounded by trees and birds and sky and clouds.

Here is my original version, recorded using my trusty Apple laptop running GarageBand plus my small, blue ukulele.

If you are able to take the time to listen to both versions, you will notice how the lyrics have evolved a bit.

ps: If you are ever feeling down in the dumps and have access to the internet, just do a search for “crocus images.” So many colors! So much beauty! What a planet…