Category Archives: Music

Musical adventures

Embrace the power of light

Don’t despair when you see the darkness. Be inspired by the courage and resilience of the human spirit and know that the light has the power to eliminate the darkness. And make no mistake: Everything you do matters. Nothing is too small. Changing your own thoughts and self-talk changes the energy you put out into the world and makes it a better place. Imagine when we are all working on loving ourselves better how peaceful and beautiful a world it will be. It takes each one of us being responsible for ourselves. Start with you. Start right now. Embrace your power. ❤️

Nina Cried Power – by Hozier, featuring Mavis Staples

Finding yourself in a song

Do you have certain songs that you reach for when you’re looking for support? And no, I’m not talking about slow grooves by Barry White or Marvin Gaye when you want help getting your significant other “in the mood.” (Not that I have anything against that, mind you.)

Rather, I’m talking about songs that you find helpful when you need emotional, psychological, or spiritual support—songs that lift you up, songs that make you feel like you again.

Perhaps it’s a tried-and-true hymn, something you’ve heard your entire life. Or a silly pop song that was all the rage when you were in middle school and makes you smile every time you hear it…  or start singing it in the shower. (Come on, you know you do.) Or maybe it’s “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” from Disney’s classic movie Song of the South. That’s one of my sister’s favorites.

In an earlier post, I talked about the jazz song “Start All Over Again.” Well, another song I find myself reaching for at times is Peter Cetera’s “One Clear Voice.” When I’m feeling off-balance or lost, this song’s words bring me back to knowing who I am and feeling more secure in my ability to navigate life’s sometimes tricky waters.

Of course, I’m not 100% positive what the lyricist had in mind when he wrote these words, but for me, this song is about finding one’s own inner voice. (Or maybe it would be more accurate to say uncovering that voice, as it is always there, in the same place.) Our inner voice, or our intuition, always knows the right answer, the right path to take. We need only stop all the commotion long enough so that we can hear it.

Of course, that’s not always easy. Often the hardest commotion to quiet is the chattering in our minds. That’s my experience, at least, and I’ve heard the same from many friends. You can find a quiet room somewhere, at least for a few minutes. The challenge becomes how to quiet your mind. Maybe it’s spending some time on your yoga mat, taking some conscious breaths, or just giving the right song your full attention.  Whatever works for you, find it—and use it, often. In the stillness, you will find yourself, your truth. And while the truth isn’t always easy, it will lead you down the right path and to peace of mind.

What song do you reach for when you need to find yourself?

One Clear Voice
The whole world is talking
Drowning out my voice
How can I hear myself
With all this noise
But all this confusion
Just disappears
When I find a quiet place
Where I can hear
Chorus:
One clear voice
Calling out for me to listen
One clear voice
Whispers words of wisdom
I close my eyes
‘Till I find what I’ve been missing
If I’m very still, I will hear
One clear voice
I’m always searching
For which path to take
Sometimes I’m so afraid
To make mistakes
From somewhere inside me
Stronger than my fears
Just like the sound of music
To my ears, I hear  (Chorus)

Feeling legendary

First, my apologies to those of you who have been waiting for my write-up of the concert that David Crosby and Graham Nash gave at the Strand Theatre in York, Pa., on May 8. What can I say? Life happens; other things take priority; yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyway, enough with the excuses and on with the show!

Throughout the show, I had the distinct feeling that I was witnessing, or perhaps being part of, American history. There was something legendary about these two. I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but this feeling was a first. So what was different about this show?

Was it their social commentary? They commented on corporate dishonesty, perceived unfairness in tax structures, religious war. They talked about issues with nuclear power plants and waste disposal. Quite honestly, I usually find social commentary quite annoying in the middle of a concert. The first person that comes to mind is Bono, who can be heavy-handed and long-winded when he talks about societal issues. Unlike Bono, however, these two restricted their commentary to fairly short matter-of-fact prologues or epilogues and let the songs (such as “Don’t Dig Here,” “In Your Name,” and “They Want It All”) do the majority of their speaking. It struck me that these two men probably had been committed to the same or similar causes for decades. It really didn’t matter whether or not I shared their convictions; they obviously cared about them intensely and consistently, and that’s worthy of anyone’s admiration.

Was it their rapport with each other and the audience? They were definitely funny. Near the beginning of the show, Nash announced they would be playing a lot of music that night. After all, their basketball team, the Lakers, had just lost a game and was out of the NBA championship, so what else did they have to do? They also sincerely expressed their preference for small venues, such as the Strand, where Crosby said they can strive for their best work, compared to the “blimp hangers” they play “with the other two guys,” where, as Crosby said, they have to work “in broad strokes.” They laughingly provided echoes of themselves singing and talking in the big arenas.

When introducing “Cowboy Movie,” Crosby said, “This next song: I have to confess, they made me do this: they ganged up on me, even my family.” Nash commented, “We would love to see you f**k up.” Nash explained that Crosby had not performed this particular song on tour in 40 years. Crosby then played and sang the long narrative with all the intensity and inflections needed to effectively “tell the tale,” as Nash complimented him afterwards. The desire to see each other screw up seemed to be mutual. Later in the show, Crosby giggled with pleasure at a mistake Nash apparently made. (I missed it.) “He almost never makes a mistake. This is a deeply frustrating thing for me. I make frequent mistakes: huge ones, publicly huge ones. So when he makes even the teeniest little mistake, I get great joy,” Crosby explained, sounding very much like the Wicked Witch of the East.

These two men obviously care about one another. Perhaps the length of their relationship was a big part of it for me. It was joyful to watch two men who had known each other for more than four decades, who obviously are very different but still share so much beauty and fun. The fact that Crosby’s son, James Raymond, was playing keyboard with them added another layer of love. When Crosby revealed his relationship to Raymond, his comment brought tears to my eyes: “He’s my son … and three or four times as good a musician as I am.” The love was palpable: the theater was full of it.

Or was it simply the artistic talent represented on the stage? To be truthful, I didn’t know a lot of the songs. I’ve never closely followed the music of CSN/Y. I knew (and loved) several of their more popular ballads, but that was the limit of my exposure, I thought. I enjoyed those songs, of course: “Our House” was the one song that brought tears to my eyes. And then there were some familiar songs, like “Marrakesh Express,” that I knew but had not previously associated with the group.

I learned that I was more familiar with Nash’s songs. Perhaps about a third of the way into the show, Crosby said, “By way of explanation, it’s Nash’s job to write anthems that everybody in the whole world wants to sing: ‘Teach Your Children,’ ‘Our House.’ That’s his job. It’s my job to write weird shit. To each is suited his purpose.” This comment preceded a brand new song by Crosby: “Slice of Time.” Weird shit? Perhaps. But wow, that was some beautiful, creative weird shit, full of layers and phrasing perfectly suited to the musing nature of the lyrics.

There were quite a few songs I was hearing for the first time. Being a music lover, I’m not bothered by seeing a show where the songs are unfamiliar; in fact, sometimes I prefer it. In this case, I think the unfamiliarity added to the magic. I was continually amazed by the quality: of the diverse creativity, honesty, and sincerity in the songwriting; of the musicianship displayed by Nash and Crosby. I guess having decades to hone their talents helps, but really, that level of talent still blows my mind.

The other musicians were no slouches either. Nash explained that he and Crosby stole bassist Kevin McCormick (coincidentally born and raised in York, Pa.) from Jackson Browne’s band. On the other hand, the drummer Steve DiStanislao (“Stevie D”) had been stolen from them by David Gilmore for a while but returned. And then there was the guitarist (or “multi-instrumentalist” as Nash called him) Dean Parks, as featured on many Steely Dan songs.

I think my favorite “new” song of the night was “Camera” (1994). I loved both the song and its introduction. Crosby revealed that Nash is a “superb photographer” who has contributed greatly to the advances in the printing of digital photography. (Nash’s printer is on display in the Smithsonian.) Crosby said his own father was a camera man and made movies but preferred taking still photos. Nash pointed out that one of the movies Crosby’s father shot was High Noon, one of the American classics.

With that kind of legacy in the room, no wonder I felt part of America’s cultural history.

The beauty of just being you

A while back, a dear friend posted something on Facebook about appreciating the people in her life who are not afraid to just be themselves, flaws and all… for one reason, because it allows her to feel better about her own flaws.

“I appreciate the fact that as I get older I have come in contact with people who are willing to be honest about who they are, flaws and all.  Makes me like them all the more. [It] also gives me courage not to judge myself so harshly. Courage… because it is sometimes easier to just assume I should be a better person than I am.”

The very next day, I found myself thinking about my friend’s post again as I was listening to World Cafe Live on the public radio station. Brandi Carlile and the Indigo Girls were the featured artists. I found myself tearing up a little—because of the raw honesty when they spoke and when they sang. Carlile described her first songwriting experience with one of the Indigo Girls: how nervous she was to be working with someone she admired so much. She, after all, is just another person dealing with self-doubt and self-criticism. Hearing her laugh and poke a little fun at herself was refreshing. (Wow, other people—accomplished, talented people—really do have the same insecure thoughts I do!) And then the two women sang the song they had written together. Beautiful.

It occurred to me that this is what I cherish most in people and what I miss (often without realizing it) when it’s absent. When people aren’t trying to sell something or convince someone of something, when they are just themselves, there is something so utterly beautiful about that. You don’t have to like what they’re doing or saying or creating or singing, but if you can tell that it is truly from the heart or the soul, whatever you want to call it, it is magical. It is pure. And that is beautiful.

So, how about we make that our goal for the day? Just to be 100% ourselves and accept that as a beautiful thing. My guess is that other people will see the beauty too.

I find that it is often easier to accept myself just as I am when I am out in nature.

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Super talented, beautiful soul

I am thrilled. I just discovered that Alicia Keys’ June 30 concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, which was broadcast online live by AOL, is now available—at least bits of it are—for those who missed it entirely or in part. I fall in the latter category, as I very happily witnessed most of the performance on my computer after missing the first several songs. You’ll have to sit through a few ads to watch the recording, but trust me, if you appreciate music from the soul, it’s worth it.

This is Alicia and her piano: that’s it. No backup singers, no instrumentalists, no dancers. Just wonderful piano playing and a powerful, perfectly nuanced voice, presented naturally and with a beautiful spirit.

Alicia Keys Live at the Beacon Theatre

Turns out the first few numbers were covers of songs that inspired Alicia. In my opinion, after the lovely piano solo introduction, her passion really shows up with the last of the beginning covers—Brian McKnight’s “Never Felt This Way.” (If you’re looking at the site, that’s one click on the right arrow and then the second frame in that group.)

Just keep watching from there. There’s no reason to skip anything. It’s all good, to be understated about it. (Some of the songs are cut short, giving you only excerpts, but it’s better than nothing.)  Here’s how the rest of the playlist flows:

  • Butterflyz
  • Trouble Man – OK, this one’s a cover too, but it’s definitely worth your time: it’s Marvin Gaye, after all, and she commits to it.
  • Troubles – Gorgeous. This is where I started watching the live broadcast and was immediately hooked.
  • How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore – She included her version of this Prince song on her debut album, Songs in A Minor—released 10 years ago, the reason for this celebration—and she rocks this performance.
  • Goodbye – Beautiful, heartbreaking.
  • A Woman’s Worth – And the audience participates: “Baby, you know I’m worth it.” Damn straight.
  • Girlfriend
  • Why Do I Feel So Sad
  • Caged Bird –Short, but oh so powerful.
  • Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# Minor
  • Fallin’ – The song that started our love affair with Alicia, right from its very first amazing notes.
  • You Don’t Know My Name
  • Diary
  • Karma
  • If I Ain’t Got You Full version of this one… Yes!
  • Unbreakable
  • Like You’ll Never See Me Again – A shortened version, but enough to produce some chills.
  • Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart – Heartbreaking rendition … More chills.
  • Un-thinkable (I’m Ready) – The leap of faith she’s describing really comes out in this live performance. Feel the love.
  • New York State of Mind – Yes, Billy Joel’s song.
  • Empire State of Mind, Part II – “Broken down,” as they say…. and it’s the best part of the song, in my opinion.
  • Sure Looks Good to Me – Inspiring. Life isn’t always pretty, but “don’t rain on my parade; life’s too short to waste one day.” So keep on truckin’ and keep those spirits up.
  • No One

I feel badly for those of you who missed the live broadcast, not only because you didn’t get the whole uninterrupted concert, but also because you didn’t get to witness most of Alicia’s interactions with the crowd. The beauty that pours out of this 30-year-old woman is incredibly inspiring, even before she puts fingers to the keys or mouth to the microphone. I think you’ll get a feel for what I mean when you look at the faces of the audience members as they sing along on the last song. You may want to hang around for a few more minutes and watch the interview. Again, feel the love.

I, for one, am putting Alicia Keys on my “must see live” list. I hope you enjoyed this even half as much as I did.

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Whatever you look for, you’ll find

Yoga has been, and continues to be, my teacher in many ways. One of the core tenets I’ve taken from yoga is the idea that everything, everyone, is connected. This idea that we’re all one community—and you can translate that to your family, your neighbors, the people driving next to you on the highway, the people across the globe—is a powerful concept, one that can have a significant impact on how you perceive and interact with those around you.

So how do you act within your community? When you look at the people around you, are you looking for differences, or are you looking for similarities? If you look for differences, you’ll find them. (Thus the separation begins and perhaps the criticism and resentments.) If you’re looking for similarities, you’ll find those too—perhaps many more than you would have imagined. After all, each one of us is a human being, and we struggle with similar challenges, both external and internal. Seeing the similarities, or at least realizing that they’re there, helps us connect to one another and understand one another better.

Last night, I went to a concert because of a song that communicates that very idea. A few years ago, I saw Ronnie Dunn sing the beautiful story “Believe” on television, and I was struck by the raw honesty and emotion that he is able to communicate with his flawless voice. A little earlier this year, I saw him perform the new song “Bleed Red” on the Country Music Awards, his first appearance as a solo artist after leaving the hugely successful duo Brooks & Dunn. Again, I found his singing brought tears to my eyes. And so when I saw that he was going to be at Pier Six in Baltimore, I jumped on the chance to see him live. Although he did not sing the song that prompted me to go, he certainly did not disappoint: his performance was impeccable. He definitely fits my concert-going requirement of “sounds even better live than on the recording.”

Even if you don’t usually like country music, I ask that you listen to the words of this song, as I think it offers all of us a good reminder to look for the similarities, rather than always focusing on the differences.

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Musical honesty: Ray LaMontagne

As someone who is crazy-nuts for passion and honesty in music (and in people, generally), I feel compelled to share this video with you.

Facebook friends may remember me going wild about the album God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise when I first heard it. If you’re familiar with Ray LaMontagne, you already know what I’m talking about and you’ve probably already pushed the play button, eager to experience the beauty of Ray.

If you’ve never heard Ray, well, you’re in for a treat. I’m pretty much opposed to categorizing most music into genres, so I’ll leave that up to you to decide, should you care to. What I hear are lyrics that tell human stories beautifully, loaded with concrete images and simple, raw honesty; beautiful instrumentation—the pedal steel and lap steel make me want to cry (for example, in the title track that starts at the 13-minute mark of the video); and a distinct voice for which I have no words. It has to be heard to be believed.

Take some time (a wonderful 55 minutes) to watch Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs bring artistic honesty and passion to Letterman’s stage:

If you like what you see and hear, check out Ray’s VH1 Storytellers show on June 10, to get to know Ray a bit better. You can be sure I’ll be recording that one.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Letterman video is no longer available, so if you missed it, I am truly sorry. Good news though: Here’s a link to the song he closed with when I saw him at Merriweather in  September 2011: “Like Rock & Roll and Radio.”  (And which left me with tears running down my face.) Like what you hear? Keep going through the clips from the VH1 Storytellers show!

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Just chill

Sometimes you just gotta chill. Take a breath. Start fresh.

So take 6 minutes out of your day of oh-so-important (really?) and oh-so-urgent (seriously doubtful) tasks and enjoy this track by Mishka. Since the YouTube file has just the album cover, I’ve included a nice little sunset scene below for you.

Go ahead. Drift away. Everything else will wait.

Peace & Love to you, my friends.

Mallory Square sunset
Sunset from Mallory Square, Key West (2009)

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Not what I wanted to write about

This past weekend, I went to see David Crosby and Graham Nash perform. And I am just dying to write about the experience! But, as timing would have it, I have a work deadline that is keeping me from doing that just yet. Writing, you see, takes quite a bit more time than many people realize, especially when you want to write well—and I’d like to write something eloquent and moving about the concert if I can, as it certainly deserves that kind of attention.

So, I had intended to not write a blog post today. Fortunately, reading takes a lot less time than writing, and as I was eating my lunch—I still am, actually—I clicked through the Facebook updates and stumbled across a blog. And I just had to share it with you.

The writer’s name is Dr. Kristin Shepherd, and the blog that I stumbled across is the one she’s writing for Yoga Journal’s website: “Beginner’s Mind.” But she also has a blog on her own website, which I highly recommend checking out.

Here are a few of the tidbits that spoke to me from her latest post, Everything I Need to Know I Learn from Theatre:

1. Truth is gorgeous. Trust that your truth is enough. Stop faking anything in the hopes that it’ll make you more substantial, more interesting, more charming, more successful. It doesn’t work.

5. Joy comes from committing to your choices, not from endlessly assessing the merit of those choices with your squirrelly mind, which will never be satisfied and which doesn’t know the first thing about joy.

7. Not knowing is all right. Often preferable.

8. You’ll be an idiot to yourself and others some days. Practice instant forgiveness.

But the previous entry—Who Are You?—was the one that pushed me to share the blog with you, my friends. The message, which brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart, is presented in a way that is amusing and fresh and rings with a resounding truth, at least with me.

So, while this is not what I wanted to write about today, it is definitely what I feel compelled to share.

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Love, life, and non-country country music

Today’s post is prompted by my friend—I’ll call her S—who “isn’t a fan of country music” but is generous enough to take her sister to an upcoming Keith Urban concert. Mind you, this is after she saw him on TV. Emphasis on the “saw” (not “heard”). That had to be a difficult purchase to make. 🙂

I thought this video would be a great example for her of Keith’s infectious smile and non-country style when he performs live. (Actually, things get much hotter at his concerts, screaming guitars and all, as I had the pleasure of witnessing back in 2009: evidence below.) Plus, the video’s quite artistic in several ways, which I’m hoping artsy S will appreciate. But if not, she gets to look at Keith, so I’m sure there will be no complaining.

I hope this upbeat song and video can bring a smile to your day too.

Keith Urban’s “Once in a Lifetime” on YouTube

A couple of musings about the lyrics: Do I think love—the romantic love this song talks about—comes along only once in a lifetime? Absolutely not. But perhaps it comes only one time when we’re actually ready for it to be a healthy, long-term experience. I don’t know; it’s just a thought.

What I do believe wholeheartedly is that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear (and hate stems from fear). When you’re full of love, you are your best self; you feel expansive; you are generous and compassionate. When you’re full of fear, you contract into yourself; you are unable to live up to your potential or make true connections with others. Over the last few years, I have heard a number of very different people—including Jon Bon Jovi and k.d. lang at their concerts—talk about decision-making, about evaluating choices as to whether they are based in love or fear.  I believe you can never feel bad about a decision based in love. Just imagine what could happen if everyone made every decision acting out of love.

As Keith’s song says, “The best is yet to come… Don’t fear it now…. It’s a leap of faith.” Have faith and go for it! Life is what you make of it. Make it fabulous.

Keith Urban concert photo
Seventh row at the Keith Urban concert! (August 2009)

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