Saturday, May 31, 2014

Where Have All the Songs Gone?

It had been a pretty day.  The late afternoon sun was slanting through the windows.  I could see robins, cardinals, blue jays flitting around outside.  First iris were blooming ... my Evening Lights azalea.  Too early for supper, I poured myself a nice, light vinho verde and put on a CD--a compilation of music from the '60s that a friend had made me some years back.  Very soon, I found myself dancing around the room ... and singing along as an enormous nostalgia nearly overwhelmed me.  I hadn't listened to these songs in a long time, but this day, just a week ago, I was right there with each and every one of them.

These were MY songs, OUR songs, the songs of my generation.  I thought of that book by Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, about our parents--they who went through the Depression and World War II.  But I realized that mine was a great generation, too.  In high school, we were told that we were apathetic.  Later, we were called The Silent Generation.  But then we exploded.  We were out there with our counter-culture, our songs that helped stop the Vietnam War, that contributed toward wiping out oppression, prejudice, or that simply joined us together as a generation.  We had our guitars, our marches, our heroes:  Bob Dylan, The Mamas and the Papas, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Trini Lopez, Scott McKenzie--he who wrote the lyrics to "If You're Going to San Francisco." (The man I married and I went to San Francisco at that very time--to get married.  Now I can barely hear that song without feeling all of it sweep over me.  Those days, that time, the person I was and the people I loved, lived with, knew, to say nothing of our passion, adventurousness, energy.)

Waiting for the train to San Francisco ... in my hippie goat coat.  Brown leather with orange embroidery ... all-fur inside.  Later, in San Francisco, passers-by complimented me on it.  I'd bought it when living in the Middle East and wore it for years.

Where are today's songs?  Rather than giving up, giving in, where are today's protest songs that we can hear over and over, that are melodic enough to sing, with powerful lyrics and sweet, simple accompaniment?  I think we're the poorer for not having them.  And, if someone says that such songs do exist, well, I don't hear them.   I wonder if our attention is too scattered ... if we're too out of practice to stop a moment, take a deep breath, and get such songs to speak for us again.

Last week I wrote about joining a six-week senior singalong.  Well, you should have seen us when we tucked into those '60s songs.  Let me tell you:  we had energy and passion as we belted them out.  They were part of us ... of who we still are.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Goldie Oldies, or Joining a Senior Singalong

There are maybe thirty of us, mostly women, a few men.  In our 70s and 80s.  We only need the lyrics--which have been printed out and placed in three-ring binders, one to a chair.  We already know the melodies.  We grew up with them.  Some are from the late 1800's (The Man on the Flying Trapeze) with everything on up through the '60s ... and a few beyond that.  Don't Fence Me In.  Cole Porter.  A bit of Gershwin.  Pennies From Heaven.  Paul Simon.  Cat Stevens.  Leaving on a Jet Plane.

Every Tuesday for six weeks, from 1:30 to 2:30, we gather in the music room of a local church and fill the hour with song.  Susan, our director and accompanist, knows most of the people and all of the songs ... and tucks right into them twiddling across the piano keys, sometimes even standing up to play.  She makes it all rousing, good fun.  Sometimes she gives us a little background.  For instance, she said Shine Little Glow-Worm, Glimmer, Glimmer had been taken from a German operetta and re-lyricized in the '50s. 

I haven't sung for years though I've been a singer most of my life--in a college madrigal quartet, two New York City amateur choruses, community choruses in the towns where I've lived, a small, early music group.  The great works from Handel to Honegger with some Monteverdi and Villa-Lobos tossed in.  I was devoted to it.  I even took singing lessons for a time.  But then ... I stopped.  I no longer wanted to commit to winter night driving to attend rehearsal.  Too dicey ... or too potentially dicey.   Or I'd come home but not get to sleep ... just lie there with the music replaying in my head.  So a six-week spring afternoon singalong seemed just the thing.  

I enjoy reviving the old familiars but have also surprised myself by sometimes finding myself in tears ... when singing All Through the Night because it is so unimaginably beautiful ... and This Land is Your Land because it rushed me back to the '60s when I was out adventuring and life was grand.  And because I suddenly felt very privileged to have been a part of that era.  To have known the music culture of that day--the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary.  During Peace Corps training, we'd sit evenings and sing their songs.  As we did on the banks of the Mississippi after one all-day hike through the Southern Illinois woods.

After our singalong group sang Getting to Know You (you remember, from The King and I), one man, well into his 80s who'd spent time on Broadway, informed us that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote it for Mary Martin in South Pacific. But South Pacific's first night had gone on forever, he said, and didn't get out until well after midnight.  Something had to be cut.  Then when the stage production of The King and I came out a couple of years later, Gertrude Lawrence (who played Anna) found herself with fewer audience-arousing songs than the performer who played Lady Thiang, the king's head wife.  That had to change, she said.  So, Rodgers and Hammerstein trimmed Lady Thiang's songs and handed Gertrude Getting to Know You, writing an entire new scene just to fit it.

We have just one session to go.  Heck, if there are any re-plays, I'll sign up.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mother's Day Run

When I paid a visit to my (chatty) chiropractor a week ago, knowing Mother's Day was coming up, he asked if I had plans.

"My daughter is running a half marathon, and I'm going as her support team."

"Where is it?"

"Down in western Massachusetts."

"And what does the support team do?"

"I drive her there, wait around, cheer her when she comes in, and then we go out for Chinese food afterwards."

"Sounds pretty nice."

In fact, it was fabulous.  We met up at her house at 6:30, drove down the interstate to a spot where masses of cars were already parked and people were lining up to register for the Western Mass Mother's Day Half Marathon.  Soon enough, it was 8:00 and the race began--a 13.1-mile course along roads over hill and dale.  (Her goal was to better her time of just under two hours from her first such run, the Chicago Half Marathon.)

(Sorry, as a privacy issue, no photos of the runner herself.)

First, a rendering of the national anthem.

Then, they're off.

There they go!
As support team, I took appropriate photos, then sat in my car and read.  I knew it would take two hours ... that she'd finish around 10:00.  At 9:30 I shouldered her bag with its ice pack and water container and walked the quarter mile along the country road to the Finish Line to join the on-lookers.  The first runners were already coming in.  Mostly men--they with their longer strides.  Then more and more began coming as the rest of us whooped, hollered, cheered, and applauded.  It couldn't have been a prettier morning.

Looking down toward the finish line where you can just see a hint of orange cones.  (No runners in view at this point.)

Then, there she was, having just crested the hill, coming down toward the finish.  I found tears in my eyes as I clapped and called out her name.  Though she admitted that the run had felt "insanely long," she'd bettered her Chicago time by four minutes.

The finish line itself where all those who completed the course received a metal.  You can just make out the black pad on the road  (visible behind the car) that triggered each runner's chip as they crossed it, clocking their exact time.

We topped the morning off by driving to nearby Amherst and going out for dim sum, a favorite cuisine for us both!

A beautiful morning in Amherst ... and a great old vintage car

One of our dim sum dishes--shrimp har gow

I don't know when I'd seen such a pretty day.  But that's what May is like around here.  The perfect follow-up to a tough winter.  Blossoming trees, sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures in the 70's.  Both runner and support team had a great morning!  And, hey, congratulations kiddo!  All your training and prep work paid off!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Things That Help ... Things That Hinder

A beautiful, walkable beach, this one in Southern California

Things That Help:
  • Making cookies and seeing them cool on a wire rack
  • Getting an invitation for dinner
  • Going back to a town I love
  • 76-degree weather
  • Waking to a sunny morning
  • Bringing home two or three good books from the library
  • A perfectly cooked filet mignon
  • Bach
  • Laughing
  • Sketching
  • Pine trees
  • Walking along a beach
  • Flowers
  • Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  • A friend who spontaneously stops by ... with a bottle of white wine isn't bad, either.  (Or red.)
  • Scotland
  • Provence
  • Blue Pearl champa-scented incense
  • April through October
  • People who can weave, make paper, do traditional arts
  • People who can play a musical instrument
  • Going to a fabulous restaurant
  • Visiting Santa Fe
  • People with common sense and a sense of humor
  • Anyone who offers to carve the turkey
  • Bacon
  • An ocean voyage
  • A full tank of gas
  • Going to an art museum
  • A surprise bottle of champagne
  • Cell phones when you need them
  • Chocolate

Things That Hinder:
  • Big box stores
  • Piped "music" in stores, dental offices, gas stations, car dealerships
  • Seeing a hurricane, tornado, or ice storm warning in the forecast
  • Improper grammar
  • My winter fuel oil bill
  • Airline travel
  • Cover-ups
  • Cold cereal
  • Getting a movie and then finding I don't like it
  • Two-plus-year-long Presidential campaigns
  • Not getting a good night's sleep
  • National hubris and greed
  • Pedestrians in parking lots who don't watch where they're going because they're on their cell phones
  • One of the political parties ... plus the other one as well
  • Caviar, liver
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • People who don't do what they say they'll do
  • Barking dogs
  • November through most of March
  • Ice storms
After an ice storm

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Tulips in Ink and Pencil

Back in high school, I had a Japanese pen pal--a girl my age named Chikako.  I remember she wanted me to write out the four verses to The Star Spangled Banner and send them to her.  She, in turn, sent me a Japanese ink stick and ink stone which I still have and still use some sixty years later.

The ink stone
The ink stick, made of compressed wood soot and glue

You put water in the ink stone.  (You can see a depression where the water pools in the photo.)  And then you take the ink stick and make circular motions on the stone to produce a liquid black ink.  Using a plain rice paper (my roll is labeled "Kozo"), I've produced some quick sketches including these two of tulips.

And here are two tulip sketches done in colored pencils.

As my note here says, I drew this "During another nor'easter ... snow, snow, snow"

As a p.s., I wish I now had Chikako's address, though, of course, too many years have gone by.  We corresponded for maybe five years exchanging photos and gifts.  She was a splendid correspondent with beautiful penmanship and good English.  I also wrote to a young French sailor in the South Pacific and a German lad in Munich who liked to play soccer.  Claude and Alfred.  Social media has now taken the place of writing letters to pen pals and with it the excitement of finding a letter in the mail box, written in a familiar hand, with foreign stamps and the dream that one day I might go to those places.  As a high school student, I loved being connected to The World which I dearly wanted to see one day.  Lucky me:  I got to!