Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Every Moment Offers Us a Choice

Ok I'll confess. I'm procrastinating. Sort of. If you're a writer, you'll likely understand. See, there's an article that's due and has been percolating in my mind for several weeks now that needs to be written and it's challenging. Not just the writing of it, or the starting of it, but the article itself. It's about challenging ourselves to be responsible instead of looking the other way; about living within the better part of who we are instead of just letting things slide which are wrong, and no longer continuing to do nothing, allowing situations to degrade. To no longer live less than who we are and forget our purpose as people. To cease the abdication of our responsibility by either sitting idly by or perhaps worse, by taking the *easy* route of just stepping away to avoid it altogether. As civil adults in a civil organization, which also models behavior for children, to no longer allow others to be hurt (including ourselves) by a culture of bullying. See what I mean? This is not an easy subject, but is one that's been crying out to be addressed for some time. My sense of urgency about this has been fermenting by observing more and more people hurt by others as well as by those who do not say "no"…."this is wrong". I KNOW this is a hard thing to do in the face of people who have been bullied for a long time into complacency or even worse, into leaving. We need to regain our inner sense of our own power of what we will and will not accept both for ourselves as well as other adults and children. For too long there have been too many excuses to let things slide. Yet it is so destructive to our very spirit. Other eyes are watching not only those being hurtful but also those who are seeing/learning that perhaps this is the way adults should treat one another…and young people. God is watching, too. And those of us who sit idly by suffer doubly: by wincing at what we see and hear and in also knowing we haven't said or done something about it for ourselves or others.

So I needed some inspiration and turned to, you guessed it, YouTube to find a video for a song I really like. It's more like the anthem which is bolstering me to find the words to write the article which is due. The song is called "What Have You Done Today to Make You Feel Proud?" by Heather Small. And I got way more than just inspiration as I was doubly blessed by not only hearing the song again but additionally by the particular video I found which goes with it. This is a video which reminded me so much of my younger sister (by 4 years) and only sibling, Marcia who died tragically many years ago. At only 20 she was already a very accomplished and determined young woman. Marcia was majoring in Special Education in college and was an incredible horsewoman. She and her Morgan horse, Proctor's Royal Duke, attained considerable fame together throughout New England. There is still an annual state trophy sponsored in her name for the rider who has achieved the highest points in a year. A grand champion trophy.

As I watched the video, tears of jubilant remembrance came to my eyes. Although the young woman in the video is riding a pony and is a "jumper", there are so many similarities. The pony she started with was almost impossible, yet with much time and practice, you'll see there's been an extraordinary transformation. Oh I saw the flaws, I heard my inner mind's voice saying what Marcia would be saying, "Feet IN…sit UP…hands STILL" etc. Riding is exhilarating, but it is demanding and hard work. But the results are, well, they are more than marvelous. My sister, like the girl in the video, also rode "English" (instead of with a Western saddle, dress and style) but "Saddle Seat" instead of all the jumping you'll see in the video. Even at her young age she had mastered the amazing art of Dressage…which is like ballet with your horse performing amazing feats while the rider is very still in the saddle, seeming to give no visible commands at all. Leaping, cantering, trotting, flying "lead" changes (which hoof the horse *leads* with while running), sudden stops and twirls and movements with ballet names such as "Arabesque". Breathtaking to watch.

Although in many ways we were very different, in some very important things, we had strong similarities. She stood up for the "underdog" and was dedicating her life to something I have been doing all of mine: empowering others to find their best selves and living in the joy of found purpose, healing wounds, mediating conflict with gentleness and resolution, and finding peace and dignity in how they treat themselves and others. The title of this post comes from some remarkable words I read online written by the major of Newark, NJ. The mayor's name was not listed, and as I don't even know when this person was mayor, unfortunately I cannot give proper credit. They deserve to be put in their entire context. I was stronger and more determined from reading them, and I hope you will feel the same way, too.

"We are living in a poverty of compassion, action and moral imagination. Too many people care too little about change and being a catalyst for change. We can't let our inability to do everything undermine our determination to do something. Even the smallest act will undermine the largest obstacle. Every moment offers us a choice – accept conditions as they are or take responsibility for changing them." These words were followed by two powerful quotes: "All humanity is one individual family. Each of us is responsible for the misdeeds of the others" – M. Ghandi And finally, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" – Martin Luther King, Jr. Most importantly, the words of Matthew 7:12 "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets."

So, my friends, what have you done today to make you feel proud? I so hope you enjoy the video and the song.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Peace, Perfect Peace

Some of the choir members where I’m Director of Music know that we enjoy the rather irreverent BBC program, “The Vicar of Dibly”. But most especially, I enjoy the theme song! I thought for sure it was written by John Rutter until I located a lovely performance of it on YouTube together with a slide show of scenes from the rural English countryside.

It’s a lovely, crystal clear setting of “The 23rd Psalm”, and even the arrangement of the notes in the song is as absolutely reassuring and comforting as the words themselves. It all flows like a gentle stream, unhurried and never perplexed. Now those are two qualities I’d like to embrace within my life on a daily basis! *unhurried and never perplexed*. Yet as foreign although much longed for notion this may be, it is precisely how Jesus would have us live.

So for the sweet coolness, some unhurried and un-perplexed moments of perfect peace, I’ve embedded the music video of “The Lord is My Shepherd” (Psalm 23) b y Howard Goodall. I wish I knew who is performing this piece, but that’s the way it goes in this case.
Do enjoy and come back and play this again, especially when you need a little refresher of some peace, perfect peace.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sometimes You just Have to Lean

Well, it's been three nights in a row of not getting to sleep before 4:00 a.m. and I'm in a funny mood. Not "ha ha" funny, just thoughtful and looking for things which gladden my heart. For those of you who know me, and many who've come to become acquainted with me through this blog as well, have probably already figured out this will have something to do with music. And, you'd be right!

I'll 'fess up about something else, though. I am a "House" junkie. I so enjoy that program. We didn't discover it until just this year, so watching all the re-runs on USA has been a total pleasure as they're all new to us! Many nights I'm just blissful as that network will run several episodes in a row. USA has even had "House" marathons!

I can't explain why I like this program so much, the main character, Dr. Gregory House, is an irascible character who is not easy to love. He's a brilliant diagnostician, though in the real world, the way he calls for oodles of very pricey tests, I can't imagine patients who'd get out of "Princeton General" for less than a million dollars…and that's before they start TREATING the patient for the condition/disease House and his team have diagnosed.

It's got to be something about the relationships, the strange but strong friendship between House and Wilson, the compassionate oncologist buddy of his and the love/hate relationship House has with his team. This is not real life medicine (as far as some of the reckless, risky, incredibly pricey tests and procedures by the tens or twenties) in practice…doctors also do not order their colleagues to break into patient's homes to look for clues to causes for the mysterious combinations of symptoms the patients present with. But the diseases, disorders etc. ARE real. Most of them are very rare, some are extremely unusual and unique but common sense, but all are REALLY interesting. Nothing will make my week more glorious for the moment than those episodes when I "get" the diagnosis before House or his team does. It's positively exhilarating.

House is a miserable guy, in constant pain, self medicating continually but manages to keep his edge and amazing insight. His fund of information (actually that of all his team) is extraordinary. He also has a baby grand piano and a collection of guitars in his apartment and several episodes will end with him playing something…for real. He actually plays regularly in a band called, "The Band From TV". All the musicians are actors and they're a committed group who's been playing together for more than 3 years. I was so enamored by a debut TV performance of this group with House (played by British actor Hugh Laurie) playing the piano and doing some of the singing, we even got a DVD of them in concert. You'll notice actors you've long known from police shows, all kinds of dramas, and more.

I just plain like it. Below is a video from YouTube with The Band from TV playing one of my favorite Bill Withers songs, "Lean on Me". It doesn't really display the excellent musical talent these actors have, but I really like the song. The lyrics have always been significant to me and the simplicity of the tune and harmony has its own special sweetness. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just for fun…

This "quiz" was on my friend Walt's blog, www.manchmedic.blogspot.com which he got from a friend of his, "Epijunky" on that blog. I read it and thought it be fun to have at it myself. Wouldn't it be nifty if this quiz caught on and other bloggers went through the questions on their own, too? Anyway, just for fun, here goes. Thanks Walt….a little fun late on a Saturday afternoon.

1. Cigarettes: Expensive sticks of poison…too pricey in every way…pocketbook, health, ultimately your life.
2. Sex: A lady never tells
3. Relationships: Important even, for your health! Grateful for my wonderful husband, family and good friends.
4. Your Last Ex:  Cannot comment.
5. Power Rangers: Heard of them, but….say wha???? They come in primary colors?
6. Crack: Evil…will steal your brain and wreck your life.
7. Food: One of the great joys! Oh, the varieties! You can travel the world at your dinner table
8. The President: Hm…..I had such hopes.
9. Cars: Freedom! A friend of mine calls my car my "office". Sometimes it's my chapel, depending on the music or silence.
10. Gas Prices: I agree with Walt -- Better than last year but still too high
11. Halloween: Severe badness, with seduction by candy. Stay away. You'll lose more than your teeth and your figure.
12. Bon Jovi: Many women wish they had that hair.
13. Religion: Faith is central to my life. "I am not ashamed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ" from Romans 1:16
14. Myspace: Again, I agree with Walt. Facebook is better. Fun way to stay in touch with far away friends I rarely see.
15. Worst Fear:  Something awful happening to my husband or a calamity happening to me which would leave me helpless.
16. Marriage: My husband is a precious gift.
17. Paris Hilton: I cannot understand why people pay any attention to her…??? Shallowness personified.
18. Brunettes: Long ago, in a galaxy far away….
19. Redheads: My favorite is our dear neighbor, Betty Carey.
20: Politics: Are everywhere…there is little escape no matter your work, unless perhaps one is a hermit.
21: Pass the time: Time? My *spare* time is between 2 and 4 a.m.

22. One night stands: Never did this…never will.
23: Cell phone: Indispensible! Do you s'pose they could improve Blue Tooth so it won't fall out of your ear?
24: Pixie Stix: Ick. Not for me.
25: Vanilla Ice cream: Too blah…love different flavors, depending on my mood!
26: High school: Nose to grindstone, attended 2 at the same time, zero social life…..survived the craziness.
27. Pajamas: Nope. Nightgown or lightweight caftan or abaya.
28. Wood: It's almost a sin to paint it. Why do people do that? (interior and/or furniture)
29. Wet Socks: I confess. I hate even dry socks and hardly ever wear them, the standard sock type thing, that is.
30. Alcohol: I now know the delight every once and a while of a Hendricks (type of gin made in Scotland) and tonic…VERY cold.
31. The word HATE: One of the 4-letter words which divide people, unless it's about injustice. Then it should unify against it!
32. Your best friend: My husband John. I'm thankful too, for close women friends I've known for many years. Been through much.

33. Money: Believe it or not, the reason I wish we had more is because we could do more for more people than we already do.
34. Heartache: Part of life, a dance I too often know. I wish I could detach more easily from things which I cannot change.
35. Love: Is what makes my heart continue to beat…love for God, my husband, family and friends…for life itself…for music.
36. Time: Goes faster every year….I have a theory about this along with a statistical explanation…too long to write here for this quiz.

There! That really was fun. I hope it catches on! Thanks to the originator!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Just let it rain on down…

Many have very much enjoyed the post "Liquid Silver, Crystal Voices" which featured a video of the amazing choral group "Conspirare" singing "Light of a Clear Blue Morning". This has been especially popular among those of you who, like me, have great difficulty sleeping at night.

There is another piece which was originally written for string orchestra by the late Samuel Barber entitled "Adagio for Strings" and the first time I heard it I was captivated, hanging on every note, my heart rising and falling with each languid beat. The sound is divine. But to hear it in an arrangement for voices was like the extraordinary discovery of a rare shimmering diamond. If you have found the CD the Conspirare vocal group issued, "In the Company of Voices", you already know they sing it with the same exquisite quality of "Clear Blue Morning". More of that wondrous, cool liquid crystal.

I wanted to bring this piece to you, especially those who are members of the Insomniac Club, however I could not find a video of Conspirare singing it which I could embed on my blog. HOWEVER, I did find on YouTube a performance of this incredible music by the Choir of Trinity College in Cambridge, England. Those of you who are musicians may know the phenomenon of English interpretation of much choral music being performed at a slower pace than many other fine choral groups throughout the world. This is also true for many British performances of orchestral music as well. The Trinity College recording is no exception, with it being almost a full minute longer than other but less exceptional recordings I could locate.

The "Adagio for Strings" arranged for voices is set to something called the "Agnus Dei" which is Latin for "Lamb of God" and is part of the Catholic Mass both in church as well as in large works of music, such as the Bach B Minor Mass or Masses by other composers. The prayer is also part of other denominational traditions. The words refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God, and translated they mean:

"Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace."

The video is very simple as it features only a still picture of Samuel Barber in black and white, so you will NOT miss anything if you close your eyes as you listen J It is an incredible meditation. A complete prayer in itself. If you are weary, trying to find sleep, or need a gentle embrace of peace, sit back and listen. Try not to push the music along any faster as one might feel like trying to do if they are tense. Just let it rain on down…note by note. And breathe, friends, breathe as you listen. Long slow deep breaths into the heart of the meaning of the music. I pray that soon you'll find tensions ease, worries cease, and discover yourself in a place of gentle grace, on the threshold of sleep.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Liquid silver, crystal voices

For those of us who cannot sleep, the night is very long, isn't it? There is a quietness to it when we learn to surrender and realize that worrying about "if I fall asleep now, I'll have gotten X hours sleep when the alarm goes off" is a lose-lose game, only adding anxiety to an already too wide-awakeness. For me reading doesn't help because I'll become engrossed in what I'm reading and before long I hear the early morning birds begin. Or even praying can sometimes get my mind going about possible solutions for people's various problems…and then before long the light is on again and I'm writing. Television can sometimes help if I can find a movie with the right equation of boring, quiet or gentle enough not to become consumed in the story line.

Once I'd thought foreign films would do the trick, but nope. Even worse. I find myself listening and straining to pull up languages learned years ago to understand what's being said behind my closed eyelids. One thing, though, I've gotten my understanding of French, Spanish and Italian back in fairly good shape! And I cannot fall asleep to German. Too harsh sounding. (sigh)

It really is about surrender. Sink into the mattress. Don't worry about what time it's getting to be. For me, anyway, all those "sleep hygiene" things do not work. The advice about, "if you're not sleeping, get up and do something until you feel tired enough to sleep" wrecks worse havoc for me, personally. I'd be up all night cleaning or active at some other pursuit and get ZERO sleep and no rest on top of it. See, for me it's not about not being tired enough. It's some weirdness about just plain not being able to get to sleep. It's part of a constellation of issues I have which I won't go into here as they're really not relavant to this post. Because it's not about whatever it is behind it, it's just the not sleeping part.

A few months ago I heard the four-time Grammy award nominated choral group "Conspirare" sing an acapella piece which sounded like pure, liquid silver. Together their sound was like the most crystalline cool water being poured gently on the warm and welcoming weariness of sleepless skin. "Conspirare" is Latin for "to breathe together". They are simply amazing. The song I heard was the most serene arrangement, with a smidge of Celtic influence (mainly the presence of a delicate Irish penny whistle quietly in part of the refrain) of a Dolly Parton song I'd ever heard, or could even imagine! What a remedy it might be for someone searching for sleep.

It's only fitting that as I write, it's 3:40 a.m. and will try to embed a video of the group "Conspirare" singing "Light of a Clear Blue Morning". You may have to click on it a few times to get it to play but be patient. It really is worth it. Drink it in. And if you're a member of the Insomniac Club, I hope it may help to lull you to that magic place where sleep begins.

"Light of a Clear Blue Morning" by Conspirare from KLRU / Conspirare on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

And Now for a Little Levity

Billy Connolly was first introduced to this country on an HBO special presented by Whoopi Goldberg in 1990 (?). It was the funniest hour of so I have ever spent in my life. The name of the special was "Pale Blue Scotsman" and I thought, "Well, this should be interesting". But pretty soon, I was laughing so hard that my face hurt. I was wet from the tears running down my cheeks and when he got to this part, the part from YouTube which I've included below, the part about what proper planes should be like, I had fully slid off from the sofa and was on the floor. I laughed until my sides ached.

First, though, you may need to suspend your thoughts about a certain word or two which many in the British Isles from the, with all due respect, the less educated working class use almost like punctuation. It's not terribly unlike many people in this country, actually. Think of it as similar to what it's like when you watch a Shakespearean play. For the first while, you notice every archaic old English word which seems to stand out from the theme of the actual story. Then, suddenly, it's as if those words are not there and you can completely enjoy and understand the rest of the production.

This is my way of warning any unsuspecting people that while being hysterically funny, Billy Connolly uses the "f" word a lot. BUT it does not get in the way of the utter hilarity of the story he is telling. I used to have this comedy special on VHS tape and whenever I was terribly blue, utterly sad and nothing else would cheer me up, I knew if I put this tape in the VCR, pretty soon I'd once again be on the floor, utterly dissolved in laughter.

The following segment is only one section of the special, but I'm glad that I was able to locate it and I think it's among the funniest parts of the entire video. Billy Connolly has gone on to become a well seasoned comedian (having previously been well known throughout Europe before coming to the States) and is also a respected serious actor as well.

For those of you needing a good laugh, sit down in a secure place. Make sure your coffee table isn't too close to the sofa so you will avoid injury should you also find yourself falling or sliding to the floor. If anyone is shocked that I enjoy this segment, please realize three things: 1. he does not take the Lord's name in vain (that would get in the way of it being funny for me), 2. I am a real person, and rarely can you get through a day or most movies without hearing this word at least once. 3. It's not part of my speech, and I'm not advocating that people use this word, but this does not prevent me from seeing and enjoying this man as the cultural, hilarious phenomenon that he is. I hope you will enjoy it, too. If the idea this has the "f" word peppered lightly through this is offensive to you, why not take this moment to navigate away from this page and turn to something else which will bring you a big laugh. Everyone should laugh SEVERAL times a day. As adults this happens altogether too seldom but we need it, actually, for our very health. So, if not this video, find something funny and laugh a LOT. Whatever it is, enjoy! Come back to this blog soon, as there'll be something else posted here. It won't be more Billy Connolly as this is the funniest thing from him that I know.

Exquisite Prayer from “Les Miserables”

Just for a different, quieter but such an ardent few minutes, this is among my most favorite pieces from the musical "Les Miserables". While Colm Wilkinson has been considered the consummate performer in the role of Jean ValJean for the last several years of the run of this incredibly inventively staged musical, still, my favorite was the original Mandy Pantinkin in this part. I could not find a video but if you ever have the chance to hear it…do! The clarity, the absolute crystalline perfection in the pitch is only rivaled by the astonishing breath support and control. You find yourself just hanging on, lifting yourself out of your chair with the impossibility of how long Mandy Patinkin holds the final note. It is as if he could keep that final note going long enough, it would travel the entire way from here to heaven and truly, in the words of our Jewish brothers and sisters, be literally from "our lips to God's ears".

But Colm Wilkinson is marvelous, too. This is something which will resonate not only with every parent, but everyone praying for someone they love.


Summertime Island Music Memories

This soft June air today, a certain *something* on the breeze, and the brilliant blue sky brings my mind back to some wonderful summers I spent years ago on an Island off the coast of Maine, out of Southwest Harbor (off from Mt. Dessert Island). Idyllic times when the ocean mixed with the seagulls, lobster boat sounds, sun and sky, and LOTS of music with a revolving door including professional musical guests who stayed in the house with us. Oh the spontaneous evening singing and playing. Seems like everyone knew all the words and the harmonies to classic songs, the guitar and other instrumental music was fabulous and these were the kinds of nights you just didn't want to end. After dinner, sitting in this huge living room in an amazingly vast house built in the time before there was an income tax. An immense, comfortable house with many bathrooms which had marble sinks and claw footed tubs, but we had no electricity! It originally had gas lights, and so our stove, fridge, hot water heater(s), and freezer were all powered by gas. There could be 22 people staying at this house (it was fun cooking for all these folks), eat at the same table altogether for dinner, and not have to run into one another throughout the day unless we wanted to. Simply amazing. This kind of house could not be replicated today. Many bedrooms had fire places. One wing was what used to be "the servant's quarters" and laundry in years gone by. Yes. It was that kind of grand house.
After long days spent in such joyful pursuits as sailing or other boating on the ocean, even courageous rowing of a dory around the island, the nights were especially sweet as we were filled with salt air and recharged by all that sun…and great food with of course much after-dinner coffee. The music was acoustic and we sang and played by those terrific (but tricky) kerosene Alladin lights which were actually not only table lamps, but also elegant floor lamps!
As I'm writing I'm listening to lots of different songs to find a few which represent the luscious rich sounds which filled the air long into the night. We had famous classical musicians there as well and that music was especially elegant. But today, my thoughts are traveling back to more of the music of other genres.
Though Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young never came to stay with us (actually, that's a good thing...we didn't really need the kind of issues or substance abuse baggage they might have brought with them), lots of their music rang through the house…but I must say it thankfully didn't have the nasal quality some of their performances do.
I could not find performances of "Suite for Judy Blue Eyes" which astoundingly enough, we all seemed to know straight through from beginning to end, but here's one which, although so beautifully situated high in the Northern Hemisphere that on cold August nights we saw the miracles of the astonishingly colored curtains of the phenomenon of the "Northern Lights", still this song resounds with the feeling of this place. Plus it was one we enjoyed singing all the harmonies and solos to. "Teach Your Children", "Train to Marrakesh", "Helplessly hoping" and a few more were lots of fun to sing together, too. And who knows. Perhaps I may find acceptable videos of these pieces for another post.

But for now, here's a YouTube performance (not the best, but the best I could find) of Crosby, Stills and Nash and "The Southern Cross"

Monday, June 1, 2009

End of another (small) Era

Well, it had to happen sometime. Though we were not ardent fans of the Jay Leno "Tonight" Show, it was always nice to have it to turn to on a quiet weekday night if some late night chuckles were needed and a peek in at some current music. I cannot believe it has been 17 years since he took over that show from Johnny Carson! Anyway, last Friday night was the end of the Jay Leno "Tonight Show" era on NBC from 11:35 – 12:35. It will be interesting to see what happens come September and his new show debuts at 10:00 p.m. Will we watch and then go to bed early? What about the competing 10:00 shows on other networks? The CSI's etc. and those shows we seem to find ourselves letting down to at the end of a long day? I guess as in many things, time will tell.

On the other hand, tonight is when Conan O'Brian begins where Jay left off. Hm……we've never been "Conan" people. Couldn't really get into him. Couldn't see what all the hype was about. And we didn't fit in with the Dave Letterman show either. Now when the Leno show was still on, if I was having trouble sleeping, afterwards I could change channels and really get into the Craig Ferguson show! Still do. I like this Scotsman who's become an American citizen this past year.

To commemorate the ending of Jay Leno, I was glad to find a live James Taylor performance of "Sweet Baby James" (though it's not my favorite JT song) as he moved his touring schedule around to be able to appear on Leno's last show. This video is from the DVD of his "One Man Band" concert and begins with him explaining how the song came to be.

I hope you enjoy it!