Category Archives: Music and Theatre

Whoa! What just happened?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is handed a shotgun and calmly drops a mad dog. His daughter Scout thinks something like, whoa, what just happened? She had never seen a gun in the house, much let alone in her dad’s hands. She did not know her father had been a dead shot from his youth.

I lived for a time in Edmonds Washington – in the bowl. Weekdays, I worked with extracted body parts in a medical facility. There was no refreshment I loved better on a weekend than to walk the half mile to the beach-the edge of the sound-the freedom of a ferry port that could take you away on a moment’s notice.

On the beach was a small quirky thrift store that supported the attached senior citizen center. I was 55, so in a way I qualified for all the benefits. The center boasted a vintage linoleum tiled dance floor / concert hall and a cafeteria that hosted Grey Gourmet a few days each week. But it was the thrift store that could distract me – at first.

One Saturday as I browsed the blouses, books and unique kitchen gadgets assembled, I heard live music – a guitar, a mandolin – coming from the regions beyond retail. I picked my way to the hall that accessed the curtained restroom stalls and passed beyond to the next available room. I poked my head in the door to listen. “Hi!” called the guitar player and evident leader. “I heard the music,” I stated.

“We’re a seniors oldies band. We practice every Saturday morning.” I smiled.

“Are you a musician?” For the next 90 minutes, Vern called chords and I played along to some Elvis songs and other oldies I had never heard before. Hits caught in the gap between my mother’s generation and mine. On my way back home, I mused, “Whoa, what just happened?”

I practiced with the band for a couple months before my departure for Colorado. We played a Sunday dance or two in the ballroom – fish bowl conspicuous. My portion of the take was $3.00.

On an odd midweek day off I strolled Olympic Beach unshowered and barefoot with my corduroy pants rolled up a la Tom Sawyer. Suddenly, a voice hailed from the observation deck of the senior center. It was Craig, the 91-year-old ladies man from the Sunday dances.

“Cherry! Cherry!” He called, “am I glad to see you! Come in, come in quickly.” I obeyed. “Come. See the piano. We always have sing-along before our meal on Tuesday. Our pianist did not show today.”

Turns out Craig was the leader of sing-along. The usual pianist was retired after years of pleasing crowds in Branson. The darkness of dementia had overtaken her. Some days she forgot which song she was playing and launched into a medley. Sometimes she simply forgot to show-up.   The seniors gathered around the piano and commenced the enjoyment of oldies I didn’t know and harmonies with which I was intimate. 20 minutes later the Branson pianist arrived, taxied by a daughter my age. I graciously took my leave. On the walk home I murmured, “What just happened here?”

I never quit on my music. Invited, I will play any piano, anywhere, any style. Whatever style I am playing at the moment is my favorite style of music.   There have been nursing home gigs, years of folk music with elementary kids, decades of private students and plenty of church praise and worship. There are intervening years of enjoyable jobs that seem to have nothing to do with music on the surface, but are inextricably woven to music via location – the beauty and inspiration of a dock on the bay or a Rocky Mountain high.

So recently, I have found myself moonlighting with a John Denver tribute band. Evenings, I keep my habit of enjoying an hour of piano before bed. On my days off, I practice feverishly. The John Denver originals are familiar friends. The current pieces, written in a style and spirit honoring John Denver, can be quite intricate and challenging. Just this week, I had a break-through with a lead-in reminiscent of the Eagles and Desperado.

Quiet joy, like happiness, overtakes you when you least expect it. Rising from the piano bench I muttered, “Whoa, what just happened?”

 

Like traveling with a fat boyfriend

“I’m thinking of selling the upright bass,” he said. “Selling the upright bass?” she gasped, scandalized. “I think I could get a thousand for it, maybe more. I don’t have a case, so I can’t just stack it in the studio closet with the guitars. It’s hard to protect and store.” “Sell the upright bass,” she repeated with dismay. “Aw Mom, I’d just give it to you, but I know you like to be mobile and move everything in your Subaru,” He reasoned. “Yeah,” said her daughter-in-law, “hauling an upright bass around is like traveling with a fat boyfriend.”

She loves to travel. She loves her independence. She outfitted her Subaru to be a mobile sleeping cubicle. She keeps looking for a tiny house with French doors – to accommodate her acoustic piano. “My daughter-in-law is entirely right,” she concluded, “I need a bigger Subaru – one with room for my piano and my fat boyfriend.”

Cremate me, then throw the concert of the century

She wanted to die doing something she loved. And she loved hiking in beautiful places. Each time she hiked, she made her peace with the God of the Universe. On that particular day, she thought about dying. This is a beautiful place, she thought. I am comfortable here alone, in my solitude. I would be okay with dying here, although I am feeling quite healthy. But, if I should die, would my grown kids know what to do? Would they shed needless tears or spend useless money? Would they cry over the fact that I died alone, out in the wild? Tears of grief should only be shed because they miss me and loved me. There is nothing wrong with dying (or living) in solitude. Would they feel compelled, out of grief, loss or guilt to spend money on useless things like caskets and plots and headstones? Ah, there it was, the challenge of dying without money. It is expensive to die in a hospital. It is expensive to die on the trail. It is expensive to die in your sleep. It is expensive to legally dispose of a body no matter how and where that body breathes its last. Therein she was not ready to die. She had little money to leave to her descendants and less still that she was willing to have them spend on the dead! Money should be spent on life! What she did have in abundance to leave with them was music and a love of music. She had birthed, raised-up, trained and then released; not one, not two, but three passionate musicians to the world. Different genres, different eras, different goals, yet all three saturated with acute audio receptors, secure pitch, word-smithed lyrics and throbbing rhythms. Music told the story of her life and her contribution to the lives of others. And this is what she wanted to communicate to her offspring:

Cremate me. Scatter my ashes in a beautiful place. And if you choose to spend money, let it be on musicians. Throw the concert of the century. Tune the piano! If there are any black limos, use them to ferry musicians. Pack them full of instruments and bands. Let the music be well-prepared and well-performed. Skip the church and choose the concert hall or the amphitheater.  A church building does not add one bit of holiness. For that matter, skip the speakers and preachers. Do not. Do not go down the moralistic route of speakers who try to shame, blame, coerce or manipulate the audience into a change of heart or lifestyle. The only kind of speakers I want to celebrate my life are those necessary for amplification of sound. Let the virtuoso string players play their adagios. Let the pop vocalists belt. Let the guitarists and drummers rock. Let the gospel choir sway and stack up the harmonies. Let the pipe organ thunder Bach. Let it be music well-prepared and well-performed. Fill the time with musical memories. Let the music comfort and speak. A good piece of music needs no explanation. Cut the preaching. Nix the manipulation. Play the music. Tell the story with music. Love and support the musicians. Take a trip down musical memory lane in my honor. Take a hike in a beautiful place. And I shall be at peace.

She got a head start on her goals this year

She got a head start on her goals this year and it happened most inadvertently.

“It is time,” said the inner voice.   “You’ve got to be kidding, “ she responded. It is not even December yet and you want me to set goals? Make New Year’s resolutions?

No. No resolutions. Resolutions are too often harsh, guilt producing, reminiscent of things you did not accomplish, places you did not carry through. You said it – it is not even December yet. So, how about just giving thanks? Let’s take a grateful tour down memory lane and accentuate the positive. What have you accomplished this year? These years? To this point in life? Have you done the things you wanted to do? Have you pursued your dreams?”

“Well,” she replied, “I love to make music. I’ve never been famous or even well known for my virtuosity, but I have made hundreds of vintage folks at retirement centers happy with my smooth and relaxing piano melodies. I never went on tour with the band, but it’s hard to feel any regrets. All my offspring are musicians. I have written musicals, staged musicals and invested in the lives of thousands of elementary age people both in the classroom and as private students. I sang. I danced a little. I played lots of keyboard, a few wind instruments, a little percussion. I can die happy. I suppose if I did have a regret it would be that I never learned strings.”

“Wait a minute,” said the inner voice. “Why does that have to be a regret?”

“It doesn’t.” she said. She reached for the guitar that sits next to her piano while simultaneously Googling guitar lessons.

She got a head start on her goals this year and that is how it came about that she could sing “Silent Night,” and accompany herself on the guitar before the end of 2015. Now all she has to do in 2016 is keep those callouses hardy through daily practice.

There are times when resolution means closure. And then you start the next grand movement. What next? What do you want or need or aspire to? There is a fresh year ahead. What is your next desire? Often, renewed desire begins with thankfulness. I am thankful for the music in my life. I am thankful for the circuitous road travelled. I anticipate the next bend in the road!

Cinderella did not have an escort

The truth is, Cinderella had wanted to go to the ball for many years. There was live music at balls. More than just about anything, Cinderella loved music. Cinderella also loved to dance. At least, she thought she would love to dance if she ever really got the chance. Then again, maybe dancing was just one of those things that sounded really good until you did it, like public speaking or something. Perhaps in another life when all men were gifted with coordination and grace and courtesy and – most of all-a great sense of rhythm, she would get her chance to go sailing across a parquet dance floor.

Year after year the invitations came. She opened them eagerly and read every word, every description of the theme, the musical selections, the plated meal. Every year she would sigh and check her bank account and lay the invitation aside and think about it until it was too late to do anything about it.

Then one year there came a triple play for her attention. First, the invitation by traditional mail. Second, the invitation by email. Thirdly, dance lessons for that specific ball were offered at a local dance studio. Dance lesson that very evening. She would never have known but for randomly checking her email while on lunch break. Who could resist a special four-session discount? Without much deliberation, Cinderella went. She learned to Foxtrot. She learned to Swing. She heard the instructor comment on the level of dancing experience of the men who would be at the ball. Who were these men? Were they coming alone? As a team? Cinderella did not know. But it did not trouble her much, because she had not yet decided whether or not she would go. Or had she? Had she committed herself to going to the ball by taking advantage of discounted dance lessons? Surely not!

At the next session, the instructor made some off-hand remarks about dancing in an evening gown. “Evening gown?” thought Cinderella in alarm. “Have I ever owned an evening gown?” Now that changes things. “Here’s what I’ll do,” said Cinderella to her roommate. “I’ll just wear my ordinary black dress and take this pumpkin with me. Everyone will have to understand my fairy godmother didn’t show.” They laughed at the joke, but Cinderella was beginning to think she should uncommit herself.

That very weekend, she went to visit her cousin in another town. “Evening Gown?” said her cousin. “Here, borrow mine.” Cinderella had not expected that response. Once again Cinderella was forced to debate the wisdom of going to the ball unaccompanied.

Over the years, Cinderella had learned there were things you never got to do if you waited for someone to go with you. She bought the ticket. One single ticket. And in so doing inadvertently served a challenge into the court of the event planner. Fund raising events and dinner shows have tables. Round tables. Tables that seat an even number of event goers. Tables for ten to sponsor for thousands of dollars. Hundred dollar plates for couples to purchase in pairs. What’s an event organizer to do with a single ticket holder? Communicate, of course, which she did promptly via email. “Do you know anyone else who is going? Can I seat you with your friends?”

“You mean I can sit with my friends? Oh yes please! I know a violinist, a couple trumpeters, a French horn player, and a saxophonist.   We go back. Way back. Are there any vacant seats next to them?” asked Cinderella. But she only asked it in her head. Instead she responded, “Feel free to place me at a singles table or the odd place to fill out a table. I am quite comfortable with music lovers young or old.”

Replied the coordinator, “I’m glad you’re coming, even as a single date. I go on self-dates all the time, but I’ve never tried a formal event before. I like that.”

And that, my children, is how Cinderella became a trendsetter. One solitary woman, past a certain age who refused to wait for an escort or a man to help her complete her bucket list. Who realized it was time to take her place as a sturdy and august patron of the arts. Her gown is borrowed, her slippers are not glass. Though her pearls are real, her fur will be faux. Her coach is Red Pearl, a trusty Subaru. She is going to the ball. And she will definitely be home before the clock strikes twelve.

 

Ebony and Ivory -Confiding in the keys

I got a bit historical at the piano the other night.  My roommate, who was baking muffins in the open kitchen just above me, got a glimpse into my very heart, soul and spiritual journey in that moment – ‘tho she may not know it.

Rather than rehearsing through my usual repertoire of folk and pop, performed predominately at nursing homes, I let memory and experiment have free expression.  Using all 88 keys and liberal glissandos, I took my childhood musical memories on a tour into adulthood. I dredged up Sunday school songs, folk songs and a smattering of top 40 – mostly things I had never tried to improvise before.  What came out?

Dormant feelings. Repressed pain and joy. Snippets and pieces, long forgotten and now ruminated on.  Thankfully, my roommate loves piano and overlooks the imperfections – especially when we are both doing common ordinary utilitarian things like baking and practicing.

She hummed along and danced about her work.  We share the same birth year and a similar religious upbringing so most of the melodies were familiar to her. She did, however, pause for a chuckle when I came flourishing down from a rollicking “Do Lord” to a sultry “Imagine.”

No one.  No one knows me so well as my piano. Every now and then my soul is laid bare and then healed – comforted. 30 minutes spent on a wooden bench addressing 88 keys yields more self-awareness than an hour with a therapist who knows me not. 

Two Musical Untruths and the Excellence of Pentatonix

I never had a favorite band.

Wait.  That’s not quite true.  As a person whose tag line is often, raising young musicians, I have had numerous favorite bands.

I’ve never purchased a ticket to a live concert before.

That too, is incorrect.

I paid my own way into more than a spate of excellent Colorado Children’s Chorale performances and winning Conifer High School Marching Band competitions. I have bartered, finagled and roadied my way into fog-machine-filled venues and housed bands in my basement.

Kevin at the Mesa, 2010
Kevin at the Mesa, 2010

But those memories are long ago and far away.  In every case, I was acquainted with someone in the band and the band knew me.

This is the first time I have avidly followed a band where I did not know the performers personally and none of them even knew I existed.

When I was young, I never had a heartthrob celebrity musician.  No Shaun and David Cassidys.  No Bobby Sherman.  The Justin Biebers of my youth were unrealistic and inaccessible to me and I knew it.

Precisely because I did raise young musicians, I was privileged numerous glimpses, backstage and frontstage, of the level of excellence possible-and the price of achieving it. Because I operated mom’s taxi far and wide to deliver a youthful male soprano to multiple performance locations, because I was the one who laundered and pressed wardrobe every night during the heavy Christmas performance season, I understand what type of all-inclusive family commitment it takes to launch a superstar.

Philip (center) and Colorado Children's Chorale wardrobe closet
Philip (center) and Colorado Children’s Chorale wardrobe closet

I get the idea of all consuming: eat, drink and breathe music in order to be one-take wonders.  It is for those reasons and more I revere Pentatonix.

I stumbled on them accidentally post Sing Off 2011 and I watched Sing Off clips over and over.  I chuckled at Video Killed the Radio Star and truly came to believe The Dog Days Are Over.  I pressed repeat on the deserved compliments from Shawn Stockman.  It was impressed upon me that three of them were 19 – the age of my youngest son at the time. Like a high school girl, I sleuthed through biographies and YouTube and found the lead trio attended high school together.  Be still my beating heart.  What would it have been like to be their music teacher?  To have those three in my class?  YouTube also yielded the depth of multi-talent, experience and character for Avi and Kevin – the rhythm section – who are, coincidentally, my daughter’s age.

It is fitting I have a favorite band. I need excellence in my life.  I will pursue it, laud it, achieve it.

To that end, I purchased a best seat available ticket to a Pentatonix concert and betook myself to Orem Utah by private motor coach (which, in the common vernacular means I drove my Subaru).

Only briefly was there quiet enough to hear the close velvet harmonies and sonorous intertwining of finely exercised and tuned vocal cords. But I did get to witness the deafening roar of the crowd and unmitigated appreciation for five über talented performers.

Excellence can and should have its reward and I am satisfied.

Pentatonix concert Orem UT March 2015
Pentatonix concert Orem UT March 2015

 

 

 

Dear Ghost of Christmas Past

Dear Ghost of Christmas Past,

I know you so well. I know that you love pecans and peanut butter fudge and reading good books while sitting by a wood fire.  I love the way your eyes brighten and you look your best, invigorated and alive, in the great out-of-doors; snow covering your boots, up to your calves, even your knees. We have a lot of history. We have made beautiful music together haven’t we, Ghost?  Christmas after Christmas, pleasant harmonies with two or four or twelve or 56.  Yes, Ghost of Christmas Past, I remember producing, costuming, directing, acting in holiday theatre.  What about the years as parade announcer, narrator?  And oh!  Remember the events? Sitting in the audience for Disney on Ice, The Nutcracker, The Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the spectacular Colorado Children’s Chorale. Remember the Conifer High School Marching Band freezing before the parade and marching gingerly over the ice so as not to fall and dent shiny tubas, mellophones and flags? And before that, remember a blond-haired 13-year-old standing in a tux and spotlight on the stage at Boettcher Concert Hall soloing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” I had almost forgotten.  Thank you, thank you, Ghost of Christmas Past for this journey down memory lane. There have been lean years and one or two fat years. I have loved the finding and giving just the right gift and hated the stress of being unable to find the right gift; chafed at the loneliness of buying my own gift after I got over the self-pity of not having any gifts at all; hated not being able to afford the right gift for the right people or wood for the warmth of growing children. As I said, we have a lot of history. And then, there were the tears; seasons of parting and temporary good-byes that turned out to be permanent. But the tears I remember most are the tears of surprised joy. Remember that year?  The year I learned it was possible to cry from overwhelming love and beauty?  I was thirteen and feeling displaced in so many ways. Poorer than usual, I steeled myself for an empty Christmas.  I expected nothing. And then someone gifted me a small piece of costume jewelry – a rhinestone pin in the shape of a trumpet and I was undone.  As if the gift was not enough, we were hustled about to put on our coats and hop in the car. Tickets. Tickets to the Ice Capades. That Christmas exceeded my wildest dreams.  Why?  Because someone, there in my universe, knew me so well. You know me, Ghost of Christmas Past, as well as I know you. But I cannot live there in the past, and that too I know so well.

The Dickens Carolers somewhere around the late 90s
The Dickens Carolers somewhere around the late 90s

This fabulous decade

Remember the days when you went to a photo sitting, waited two weeks for the proofs, chose which you liked and waited 10 more days for the prints? I had a birthday a month ago and I’ve been waiting on the proofs for a few weeks.  The proof that I really am older and the proof that this next decade will be even better.

Somewhere along about the age of 40 I realized that every time I approached a decade marker I got a second wind.  I was curious to see if that would happen this year as I completed yet another decade.   Looking back; this has been a fabulous decade!

During the last 10 years I ____________________________________________

  • Completed a bachelor’s degree graduating magna cum laude
  • Saw my daughter graduate high school
  • Watched my youngest son graduate high school and launch into the adult world.
  • Cheered as my daughter graduated college
  • Completed a manuscript for a children’s book and saw it all the way to independent publication
  • Actually got paid to write – every penny counts
  • Got to interact with four grandchildren
  • Travelled by train to San Francisco and Seattle
  • Packed all the necessities of existence in a Subaru and moved 1000 miles solo
  • Taught classroom music fulltime
  • Taught piano for enrichment
  • Completed a women’s fiction manuscript which will probably never see the light of day
  • Got paid to play the piano
  • Took in as many events, travels and concerts as time and money allowed
  • Hiked all the trails of Colorado National Monument
  • Returned to retail store management and found I loved it

And now, I am beginning to plot and plan how I can see more National Parks, hike in more beautiful places, make more music and write publishable manuscripts in the upcoming decade.

A fabulous party

For the first time in 60 years, I planned my own birthday party and paid for a live band – just because I love music and I love raising young musicians.  This is how the band looks…

…but not really how the band sounds. iphoto correctly guessed my generation when it automatically chose the audio.

The band?  They are indie innovators and accomplished musicians. In reality this is how the band sounds 

These musicians? They are my children.  My greatest accomplishment was raising them to adulthood and allowing for or providing for as much music in their lives as possible.

Kevin, Philip, Andrea
Kevin, Philip, Andrea

Musicians who dare greatly

What’s not to love about a symphony variety show?  A place where musicians play fiddles rather than violins; everyone sings whether professionally trained or no, conductors wield bows instead of batons; and pure silliness is allowed from folks who are usually, well, a little staid and classical?

I took myself out again last Sunday night.  I went straight to Moss Performing Arts Center, plunked my plastic on the ticket table and said, “One please.” The ticket seller typed my name into the computer, charged my card and replied, “We’ll let you in if you promise to write something good about us.”

Oh. So I have a reputation? If you don’t already know, I have a habit of attending concerts, snapping photos and  writing  about them.  I love to focus on the good things happening in my hometown. The visible growth of  Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra  is definitely a good thing. I went to the variety show on Sunday night expecting to enjoy good music – hopefully of many genres. The most impressive take-away, however, was the display of courage.

In her book,  Daring Greatly,  Brené Brown maintains that vulnerability, “Sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage are not always comfortable.”

Every participant who took the stage has amassed years of experience and education in performance or communications. Through constant use, and honing of skills, they have, to all appearances become perfect. Perfect or not, even under normal circumstances it takes courage to step on a stage and reveal your inmost self through music.  But a variety show is not normal circumstances.

For this variety show, each musician aspired to something out of their comfort zone.  Some picked up a secondary or tertiary axe.  A   conductor  used to being “an elegant figure on the podium,” relinquished control. Laying aside the tails, he donned a costume and became  Dick Van Dyke  vulnerable  – just to give the audience a laugh. Two trumpeters who have garnered awards and accolades willingly tooted shower tubing and plastic funnels while attempting classical cadenzas. Tell me this, if you knew perfection was at your fingertips with three valves and designer brass; would you submit to the uncertainty of plastic funnels and shower tubing?  Thanks Judd and Scott, it was most impressive.

Most satisfying moments?

  • The lyric mellow cello on Saint Saëns,
  • singing along with down-home harmonies on Amazing Grace,
  • a classic jazz combo.

A variety show, a fund-raiser, music thoroughly enjoyed by all, but an emotional act of courage, none-the-less. Wild crowd cheers and a thumb’s up to those in the musical arena: Alycia, Jeremy, Kelly, Kirk, and company of musicians.