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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A quote for the New Year

This could be a poetic form for my resolutions this year. 

Sing songs that none have sung,
Think thoughts that ne’er in brain have rung,
Walk in paths that none have trod,
Weep tears as none have shed for God,
Give peace to all to whom none other gave,
Claim him your own who’s everywhere disclaimed.
Love all with love that none have felt, and brave
The battle of life with strength unchained.

⎯ Paramahansa Yogananda

Thanks Rochelle! 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Invitation to join a hospice choir

You are invited to join a hospice choir I am directing this spring. Please consider sharing your voice and heart in the rewarding work of singing at the bedside of someone in fragile physical and emotional condition.

Communicating love and care to someone who is struggling with life and death takes a heart full of compassion, attentive eyes, a kind face and a voice strong enough to be vulnerable. Doing this work brings meaningful life lessons – I hope you are ready to receive them.

If you are interested, please continue reading about orientation, rehearsals and bedside visits. If you know of someone who may be interested in this, please forward this to them.

Cool quote

A quote from an unknown Ingrian (Finnish) Bard LI 858:

"If what use are we singers
what good we cuckoo-callers
if no fire spurts from our mouths
no burn from beneath our tongues
and no smoke after our words?"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No SING today; Next is 12/22

Oh, the weather outside was frightful
and the fire is sure delightful.
And since it's best not to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
(with apologies to Sammy Cahn)

Hello Sing Heavenly Harmony fans --

I haven't heard if the library is open today ... it was yesterday, amazingly enough ... but even so, I don't think anybody is able to maneuver very well in this snow. So stay home. Be warm. Sing about the beauty of Snow as you make snow angels and snow labyrinths (thank you Bing, Danny, Rosemary, and Vera-Ellen). Or yearn for Summertime (thank you, Ella). Or listen to the coming Spring (thank you random and unknown chamber orchestra and violin soloist) as crocuses, daffodils, and tulips start thinking about when they might start peeking their heads through the dark ground into the light.

The next Sing Heavenly Harmony is Wed, Dec 22, noon-1 p.m. Come for a little sing to calm your heart before the holiday.

An invitation to join a hospice choir starting in Jan.  I will be directing a hospice choir in partnership with AseraCare hospice. If you'd like to be part of this group, please email me at pointsoflightmusic@gmail.com and I'll fill you in on the details.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Favorite fresh snow activity: making a labyrinth

The Midwest is getting pounded with a storm dub'd the snowmageddon or snowpocalypse of 2010.  And while most folks are kvetching about not being able to attend concerts, parties and shop, I love this opportunity to slow down by stomping a classical labyrinth in the church yard beside my house. 

(If don't know what a labyrinth is or how to use one, check http://labyrinthsociety.org/ for a good place to start. And if you're looking for a labyrinth in your neck of the woods (or desert) search the http://labyrinthlocator.com/.)

There's lots of directions on the internet about how to draw the boundaries for a labyrinth (here's my favorite:   http://www.lessons4living.com/drawing.htm) and not so many on how to create the path.  Where snow is plentiful, a path is all you need.  A few tips before you start:
  • There are two types of steps to make.  When WALKing to make a path or connecting rings, feel free to drag your feet.  Other times you will need to take care and raise your feet high to not disturb the snow as you move between rings.  I refer to this as STEPping. 
  • A labyrinth is always off-center and is, in other words, not symmetrical.   It is very close to being a mirror, but is not.  If it was exactly the same on both sides you would have unconnected parallel circles.  And not a path leading to the center.  Feel free to ruminate on why that is and it's metaphor on life.  :)
  • I tried to color code the steps in a rainbow fashion, but yellow does not show up very well and red and orange looked the same.  So the steps are not exactly in ROY G. BIV order, but enough they should be easy to remember.

  1. First steps are in BLACK:  WALK towards the center of the space where you are working.  STOP before you reach the center and take a BIG STEP.  This is your center.  STOMP a space twice as big as you.  I like to say a quick invocation of this activity before moving on.
  2. Next make 7 half rings.  These steps are in RED-ORANGE:  If your steps toward the center are pointing "north" on a compass, these half rings start and end on the east and west axis.  Take nice big steps between the rings!  If you get too close to your previous ring the path may become unclear.  It's better to err on being too wide though then you run the risk of making it bigger than the space you have.  Nice thing about snow (at least in the Midwest) is it melts or you get more snow you can practice!
  3. This step is the trickiest because of the possibility of making closed loops. Here's how to avoid that.  Go back to the center and step into the first path to the "west" (really you can pick either side, but for the purposes of this demo, I'll stick with what's happening in the drawing).  Now WALK to the second ring.  STEP INTO the third ring and WALK around the turn you just created towards the center.  First half is easy -- here's where we have to be careful about keeping the loops open.  STEP back to the center and to the second ring on the "east" axis.  WALK from the second to the third ring.  STEP INTO the fourth ring and walk around the other path to connect with the first ring.  This is the YELLOW-ORANGE turns in the diagram.
  4. GREEN paths next!  For the remaining unconnected rings (four on the "west" axis and three on the "east"), make quarter arcs starting from the ring closest to the center and moving out
  5. The BLUE turns are similarly to the orange-yellow turns in Step 3.  Take note which side has four unconnected rings and which has three.  Go to the "west" side with four rings and stand in the sixth.  WALK and connect it to the fifth.  STEP INTO the forth ring and WALK to the seventh.  Celebrate!  Half of the labyrinth is complete!  Trot over to the "east" side of the seventh ring.  WALK and connect the seventh ring to the sixth
  6. To finish off your snow labyrinth, STEP INTO the fifth ring that is not yet connected and WALK to the path you made when you started the labyrinth (PURPLE)
Your Classical labyrinth is now complete!  Congrats!

I can complete a snow labyrinth in about 10-15 minutes depending on the snow depth and heft.  My first one took much longer because I "drew" the boundaries in blue and green water, which I soon realized was unnecessary.  If you used these directions to create a snow labyrinth, please let me know!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Hospice Choir & the Great Minnesota Give Together

Some of you readers know I am a member of Morning Star Singers (MSS), a group of volunteers who visit folks in fragile condition to share songs with them.  I've written about them once before and have been meaning to share more stories and insights from these sings, but haven't because life decides I have other things to do. 

One of those other things I've been doing lately is planning to lead a hospice choir of my own.  Not that I'm leaving the MSS, but expanding upon the work Barbara has started.  Barbara McAfee founded MSS with the idea that there would be subsets of singers that would cover "territories" of the Metro.  Although I'm not exactly organizing the Southern-Northeast region, I am hoping to create a model that is sustainable and decreases singer burnout by partnering with a hospice agency.  Interested in joining?  Watch for more details in a future blog article.

Pigbutton_smallToday is Tue, Nov 16, 2010.  It is also known as "Give to the Max Day" by non-profits around Minnesota.  I and my business name, Points of Light Music, have partnered with Springboard for the Arts, a non-profit organization that supports artists startups.  With Springboard as my fiscal sponsor you can now make tax-deductible donations to this hospice choir project.  Would you consider contributing to this project?  A $10 donation will help create a songbook for singers.  $100 will provide the means to bring comforting, soothing songs to 3-4 people in fragile physical, and emotional condition.  The button to the right will take you to my giving site

There are two added incentives to give today.  One is GiveMN.org, the organization that has designed the online giving platform and today's "Great Minnesota Give Together" is holding hourly "Golden Ticket" contests where a donor is selected every hour and $1,000 is added to their donation.  What a cool and generous match to make if one of you is selected!  Second is Springboard is waiving the 2.9% administrative fee for all GiveMN.org contributions made today.  It may seem small, $.29 for a $10 donation, but when the goals is to raise $5,000, that is $145 more for this project.  A little bit builds up over time.

If you prefer to send a check via USPS, please let me know and I'll give you the details on how to do that. 

I am so appreciative for all your encouraging words and whatever financial support you determine is right for you.  I know this Thanksgiving I will be especially grateful for the opportunity to do this work. 

With blessings of abundant joy, laughter, hope and songs (of course!) for your life and of those around you.

Cheers, Conie

Friday, October 29, 2010

Call for new verses: Balm in Gilead

I love singing ...
"There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole. 
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul."
There's something very soothing about the opening notes.  Like the oscillating imitates the movement of a hand on a back that needs comforting.  Or perhaps it brings back memories of having Mother rubbing Vicks on your chest, a real balm to help one breathe in the throes of a cold. 

I imagine the African American slaves who heard and sang this spiritual were heartened by it.  That they'll be made whole and that those who have treated them harshly would be healed of whatever causes them to be that way.  This sentiment is still relevent to the struggles of today.  At least for those who are able to wish all people peace. 

There are two verses typically associated with the spiritual which Wikipedia lists.  They're encouraging even when honest about the challenges that confront us daily. 

Is it selfish to want more?  I want to hear more stories about those who have overcome abusive power struggles.  It is these stories that give hope.  And so many need hope.  I'm wondering if intrepid poets, hymnwriters and accidental wordsmiths have written more verses.  Or would like the challenge to pen some verses.  Are you up for the challenge?  Or can you think of a friend who would be perfect? 

If you're up to the call, copy those verses into a comment below or drop me an email at pointsoflightmusic@gmail.com.  They may be used in worship services, but I promise to let you know we used it and acknowledged you on the reprints. 


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Seeking spiritual-religious songs from popular scene

I love my new church job.  It is at an open and welcoming congregation of "kind, unpretentious people trying to live gratefully in response to God’s many gifts" (per their website). By my interactions over the last two months, I can say honestly "they are who they say they are."  Gotta love it.

One of my tasks as the Music Director for their new Progressive Service is to seek out music that doesn't typically find itself in the worship service, but whose words resonates with a meaningful spiritual life.  How cool, right?!?  I thought so too. 

Want to join my fun in looking for such songs?  I'd love to have you along for the ride -- there's millions of songs on this planet and I only have two ears.  In particular, I'm looking for songs that fit into one of the themes for the year:
  • Advent Conspiracy
  • Marriage Equality & Full Inclusion
  • Haiti
  • Reconciliation (during Lent)
  • Being Green & Earth-friendliness
Leave the title and/or artist of a song or YouTube link in a comment under this post.  From time to time, I'll share some of what I find too. 


Friday, September 17, 2010

Think wild thoughts and sing, Sing, SING!

Ana Hernandez and Brian McLaren will be in town next Tue and Wed (9/21 and 9/22) singing and talking to Episcopalians about crazy church ideas and crazy worship music ideas.  The events are free and open to all. 

More info on times and locations, see http://episcopalspirit.com/

Today's dam bursting line: do not be afraid...

Attended a Taize prayer service out at the St. Paul Monastery in Maplewood which the Benedictine sisters do monthly on the third Friday.  I was late trying to wrap up some work before I'm in class all weekend and feeling a bit anxious about the roller coaster of life I've been travelling on lately. 

I walked in during the reading, one of my favorites, from 1 Corinthians 13.  You know the one ... read at weddings a lot ... the one that ends with "and the greatest of these is LOVE."  It seemed especially prayerful, especially holy tonight and I felt buoyed by all who were there.  Like every one of these persons knew intimately, or were striving to know and practice the unconditional agape love Paul is writing about.  A safe place where all were accepted. 

We ended with three chants and during the second one is when it happened. 
"In the Lord I'll be ever thankful, in the Lord I will rejoice!
Look to God, do not be afraid.
Life up your voices, the Lord is near ..."
It was probably the fourth or fifth time, I don't know I wasn't counting, that I realized which words I was just saying and which words I meant.  I got to "do not be afraid" and the dam burst.  Tears started streaming down my face.  In that moment I realized how much I was embodying the opposite.  Acknowledging the fear, I couldn't hold it anymore and it flooded the plains and found its way into the valleys and river deltas.  Releasing the fear, I was able to be at peace. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Peek-a-boo Joy

I've been working hard lately.  And not feeling much return on my investment.  A conversation with a friend reminded me of the balancing act of giving to others and self-care -- you can only give so much to others before your own self suffers.  And then I realized my practices of centering prayer, journaling, walking labyrinths, singing, moving were less present lately. 

Yikes! How did that happen?

Somewhere it seems my focus shifted to "I have to get this done!"  It creeped in when the tasks were few and I was feeling confident and sure.  And then behind the veil of certain confidence, the practices started to disappear.  Like a land during a drought the faucet of rejuvenation had be turned off.  Cracks appeared and thoughts started to worm their way into my brain.  How did all this noise get in here?  Where did all the lush calm mentalscape go? 

I was able to turn on the faucet from time to time a bit this week.  Watched a usually straight-laced guy boogie it down with Motown tunes yesterday and that brought a smile.  I allowed myself to attend a folkdance and song group meeting tonight and gave myself permission to concentration my attention only on what was present in the room.  I noticed my mind became more restful kindly gazing into the eyes of the other dancers, moving gracefully in time with the songs we sang.  Reminds me of computers that need to be restarted from time to time. 

Joy was returning, showing glimpses of her dazzling self. 


Thursday, September 2, 2010

There is in Her a Spirit

I'm really excited about an upcoming event hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of MN called "There is in Her a Spirit."  Why?  One of the presenters, Ana Hernandez, will be sharing "All the tunes you can eat" and hosting "An Evening of Heart Songs."  Doesn't that sound exciting?  (okay, so I am a little biased ...) 

Fall 2010 Sing Heavenly Harmony Dates!

Woohoo!  The dates for upcoming Sing Heavenly Harmony, a.k.a. SHH! in the Library have been set!  Mark these in your calendar and invite friends who will enjoy making a joyful noise for an hour or two of their day. 

WEDNESDAYS, noon-1 p.m.
- Sept 15
- Oct 13
- Nov 10
- Dec 22

SUNDAYS, 1-3 p.m.
- Sept 26
- Oct 24
- Nov 28
- Dec 12

The location to meet is the beautiful O'Shaughnessy Room in the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library at the University of St. Thomas' St. Paul north campus. 

Unless there is a big event on campus, you'll be able to find parking on the street around the library (northwest corner of Summit and Cleveland Aves) on the weekend.  For the mid-week, mid-day sings, I highly recommend parking in one of the parking ramps on campus (for a fee) OR plan time for a little stroll through the lovely residential neighborhood of Merriam Park-Macalester Groveland -- on-street parking near campus is primarily permit based and reserved for the early arrivers (and lucky). 

Future dates will be posted on the "Public Events" link (see the right margins) while all events are subject to change. 

Cheers!  Conie

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

FILM: The Most Excellent Dying of Theodore Jack Heckelman

This film is about Jack who decided to die consciously and document the process for others to learn from. Sponsored by the Minnesota Threshold Network
Wed. August 25, 2010, 7 to 9 p.m.
Southdale Library
7001 York Avenue South
Edina, MN


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SHH-ing on Wed

Sing Heavenly Harmony is back in the library for a mid-week, mid-day vocalizing break in your work day!  Come and make beauty for a little while.  Or sit and listen to the sounds we're making. 
  • Wed, Aug 18, noon-1 p.m.
  • Wed, Sept 1, noon-1 p.m.
Location:  Room 108 of the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center
NE corner of Summit & Cleveland Aves, St. Paul, MN (map)
Parking Information & Suggestions

Sunday, August 8, 2010


This weekend has been a time of remembrance, personally and in the world.  I've been reviewing with a friend what has transpired over the last decade and a half as she stands at a transition point not of her own making, processing the pain and how to honor the best of the experiences while moving forward. 

In the world, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened 65 years ago and I will have the pleasure of dancing at a 65th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony with Kairos Dance Theatre Co. and live music performed by the Junshin Girls Choir from Nagasaki.  This event is at a Como Park's Global Harmony Labyrinth (map) in St. Paul at 7 p.m. on Sunday evening, Aug 8 (see event details here or here; more about the Labyrinth here).  Please come.  The girls sing about a beautiful rainbow of peace cranes. 

I am so humbled by the creative spirit that continues to live on here and there to heal the wounds created so long ago.  So grateful that amongst the pain we can reach out to each other, hold hands and seek a better tomorrow together. We may not know what the shape that future will be but it gives me hope that my friend will walk through this painful event to another side with hands full of beauty and grace. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

jUST Parking

Here's a short article on parking at and near the University of St. Thomas to help you plan how to get to Sing Heavenly Harmony (a.k.a. SHH!)

Public Transportation
I would be remiss if I didn't provide a bit on the bus schedule!  Here's a list of buses routes in the near vicinity of St. Thomas.  Get more at http://www.metrotransit.org/.
  • #63
  • #21
  • #134
  • #87
  • #53
By Car
Parking at UST is especially challenging with the current construction projects in progress.  Here's some tips about where to park vehicle while you sing.
  • During the summer
    • On-campus: 
      • Weekends:  Most campus lots do not need a permit during the summer, so please use them!  The only restrictions are don't park in the handicapped spots unless you have plates or the hanger; meters are still patroled as well as other no-parking signs.  Here's a link to campus maps -- use the handy dropdown on the left to see where the various lots are.
      • Weekdays:  Unfortunately, the campus is pretty busy during the week and the campus lots closest to the library are full.  You'll find on-campus parking farther from the central core of campus -- consider it a warmup stroll to raise your heartbeat before singing!
      • More details on page 12 of UST's parking guide
    • On-street -- observe the posted signs, take note of hydrants and driveways.  Though you can get lucky finding a spot on the campus side of a street, you can also enjoy a lovely stroll through the beautiful residential neighborhoods around UST.  Four blocks away is a safe bet. 
  • During the academic year, the weekends function much like they do during the summer.  No permit is needed on campus lots until after 6 p.m.  On-street parking is available university side, just mind your signs to confirm.  The students are in their last month of the semester so they're hitting the books and campus hard. 
If you need driving directions to campus, their website has a page for all the directions you could be coming from AND the interactive map has mapquest/google map capabilities too. 
Can't wait to see and sing with you soon!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hospice Harp & Song Presentation: 8/5, 7p

Music at the End of Life: A Presentation by Carol Sack
Thursday, August 5, 2010, 7 p.m.
All are welcome. 
Free of charge.

St. Luke Lutheran Church
1807 Field Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55116 (map)

Carol Sack’s work of ministering to the dying through voice and harp has brought healing, peace, and even temporary alleviation of pain to hospice patients. Carol has many beautiful stories to tell. One such story is of a man in a hospice for homeless people, who would not respond to anyone. When she came to his room he immediately turned his back to her as he lay on his bed. She sang and played for a while. When it seemed like he had fallen asleep, she quit playing and quietly made preparations to leave. At that moment the man turned his head and simply said, “Play more.” Carol played for this man a number of times and it filled him with such peace he asked to be baptized shortly before his death.

Carol will share more stories as well as other aspects of her work. She will do this through art, pictures, and the beautiful music of her harp and voice. You will leave this evening blessed.

Carol is a missionary in Tokyo, Japan, where she both teaches Pastoral Harp at Lyra Precaria (Lyre Prayer) and ministers to the dying through voice and harp. She says she is nothing more than an instrument of God’s grace and love. Come and be filled with that grace and love.

(reprinted with permission)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Renaming SHH & upcoming dates

SHH is going through a bit of a makeover, trying on new word clothes to see if they fit.  Much thanks to Tammy, Carol, Mildy, Mary Lynn, Julie, and Jo whose thoughtful suggestions prompted more brainstorming.  How does "Sounds Hearts Hear in the Library" work for you?  Might the pain and joy our human lives experience fit within its bounds?  Could it invite stillness within for the stories to emerge around? 

Regardless of the event's name, more community singing is happening ... here's the 411 on dates and places
  • TODAY, Sun, Jul 18, 2:30-4:30p (co-hosted/lead by Julie Bonde)
  • Sun, Aug 1, 6-7:30p
  • Wed, Aug 18, noon-1p
  • Wed, Sept 1, noon-1p
(it looks like there's a 1st and 18th trend happening ... it's serendipity and not part of a conscious scheme.  Really!)


O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library, Room 108
University of St. Thomas, North Campus
(on Cleveland Ave just north of Summit Ave)
St. Paul, MN

Thanks again to you who shared personal requests about event times.  The times will be in flux for a bit longer with a goal of settling down by mid-fall.  If you'd like to add your voice to the chorus, click through to my earlier post about it. 

p.s. I'm working towards presenting an Around the World in Community Song-like program, matching up Daniel Levitin's book The World in Six Songs with community songs in English and other global languages.  Would love to have a cultural song from each continent -- if you've got a song to share, I'd love to hear & learn it!  And I'm willing to travel (there's three more continents on my bucket list and slews of countries!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tonight! Chamber Music featuring Arab-American composer

If you don't have plans around 7 p.m. tonight, Friday, July 16th, go to St. Mary's Episcopal Church in St. Paul for a chamber music concert that's not to be missed!  Unfortunately, I have misplaced the flyer with the details, so all I can remember is that it is an eclectic mix of instrumentalists and vocalist (no standard string quartet here) and that one of the composers on the program is Arab-American.  Sounds like it will be a wonderful earful ... sort of like this labyrinth at Como -- something you expect with some exotic twists!

St. Mary's address:  
1895 Laurel Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55401-5938

9:30 a.m. UPDATE:  More information about this concert can be found on Facebook.  The two composers on the program are Mohammed Fairouz and J.S. Bach. 
Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

SHH! More Song Circle dates ...

Did you miss a singing event recently and now itching to sing a song, to make a joyful noise? 

Check out the Public Events link in the right column to see when the next public sings are.  Opportunities are on Wednesdays in Jul and Aug so far and a few dates on the weekend are coming up too.

Sing on while you're walking on sunshine!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Open Sings: July 7 is Faure's Requiem

Posted with permission --

The sixth season of Open Sings begins this Wednesday with Gabriel Fauré's Requiem. Please join us if you can at Church of the Epiphany, 4900 Nathan Lane North, in Plymouth, just west of Route 169 at the 49th Avenue exit (map).

Everything starts at 7 pm with a rehearsal for about an hour, followed by some delicious refreshments. We'll return to the sanctuary then to take it straight through from the top, no stopping.

Singers and instrumentalists of all ages and abilities are invited. Thanks to Bethel University, we have scores to lend, or you can bring your own. Music stands are also provided.

The orchestration is 2 bassoon, 4 horn, 2 trumpet, harp, organ, strings (lots of viola and cello; solo violin only). Any volunteers for the solo violin part?

Our soloists are Beth Jeddeloh and Steve Rosas, two incredible singers recently graduated from Luther College. Beth is also a product of the wonderful choral program at Armstrong High School, and has appeared in a number of musical theatre and opera productions. Steve was baritone section leader in Luther's Nordic Choir and also sang in several operas there.

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) began writing his Requiem at the age of 42, at the height of his creative powers. A master of lyricism, Fauré brought to the ancient text a rich and subtle beauty. Again and again throughout the work he returns to the theme of light, creating some of the most sublime moments in all of music.

Admission is free, but if you would like to contribute, our charity for the evening is Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. A representative will speak to us briefly about Habitat's work. We suggest a donation of $10 — every dime we collect goes to Habitat.

This season includes three other works, all on Wednesdays in July:
  • July 14 - Vivaldi Gloria - to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness
    • 2 tpt, 2 oboe, 1 bssn, violin 1 & 2, viola, cello, bass - parts available here
  • July 21 - Mozart Requiem - to benefit Emergency Foodshelf Network
    • 2 clarinets or basset horns, 2 bssn, 2 tpt, 3 tbn, timp, violin 1 & 2, viola, cello, bass - parts available here
  • July 28 - Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem (in English) - to benefit City House
    • 3 fl (3=picc), 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bssn, 1 cbssn, 4 hn, 2 tpt, 3 tbn, 1 tuba, timp, harp, violin 1 & 2, viola 1 & 2, cello 1 & 2, bass - parts available here
Dress is casual and the church is air-conditioned. Please pass along this invitation. Bring your friends - all are welcome!

If you have any questions, ideas, criticisms, or suggestions, please email me - johnhoffacker@gmail.com - or call 612 850-9208.

See you Wednesday!

John Hoffacker

Saturday, July 3, 2010

SHH poll: dates, times, names

Q&A time!  I'm standing at a multi-road intersection with a few decisions to make.  Since SHH! is about communities make music together, I need more input from you, the community.  When you have a moment, please add your two cents to this Doodle poll about dates and times.

If you haven't completed a Doodle poll, here's what to do:  First enter your name or pseudonym in the "Your name" box.  Then select the green-yes; yellow-maybe; or red-no for each column-date/time combination.  Save your selections.  If your preferred option isn't listed, you can let me know what it is by adding a comment.  Look for the "Add a comment" lower on the page. 

Another thing I have been mulling about is the words used in the acronym, SHH.  Sing is set -- unless there's a different better than sliced bread word to describe what we're doing, Sing is staying.  It's my 'H' words that I'm waffly about.  Harmony is a good musical and group term for what we're doing.  It's that Heavenly word that I'm thinking about swapping out.  It has religious connotations that I worry may stear some folks away from the activity.  Using "holy" is the same, although I personally believe one should make the ordinary everyday activities holy.  What if I used "healing?"  Some folks swear music is the magic balm for their souls.  I'm not about to argue with them, but I'm afraid of using Healing in the title.  It feels too much like a promise -- one that I can't keep.  What do you think of "Sing Harmony Here @ [location of your choice]?"  "Here" isn't very descriptive, but it also avoids the heebie-jeebies of the others.  I'm open to suggestions -- Add a comment here, on the Doodle poll or drop me an email at pointsoflightmusic@gmail.com

Thanks for sharing your input!  I plan to schedule some sings shortly and use your feedback in the short and long term.  Stay tuned for details!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

For the fun of it

Imagine this:  100 years ago radios were not in every car and bedroom, but only in the homes of the wealthy or the military. 

What would you do if you could not listen to your favorite band, singer, or quartet?  Remember there's no YouTube or TV either!  How did people pass the time?

How did you guess I would say "make music"? 

My theory is this:  to help pass the time in enjoyable ways that rested their usual mental state (or stretched them in a different intellectual way) they made music together.  (I will also accept the answers of baking/cooking together, build things (like barns) together, create craft/handiwork together, but this is a music blog!)

In making music together, people shared company doing an activity with a common goal.  Some groups may have been highly trained professionals, but I want to think about the amateurs that gathered 'round the piano after supper to sing or the string players who met on Sat afternoons to read Haydn quartets.  Why did they play together?  Did they not like performing or did not have opportunities to perform?  Did playing aggressive allegros and sweet andantes give them a vehicle for the irritations and kindnesses to flow from their soul?

I worry about people today, that they're taking in too much of other people's songs and not getting in touch with their own and giving it a vehicle to be released.  I believe making music, even if it is someone else's composition, helps us process our inner emotions and voice.  Sometimes musical ad jiggles program us to want this or that material ideal, but overall I believe making sounds and especially getting in touch with the song that is within us every moment of every day is important in claiming our individuality within the harmonic weave of billions of other people. 

So how does one do that? 

If you were once told not to sing, defy that advice!  You are probably now older than the person that told you that and unfortunately that person didn't have the training, time or energy to spend in helping you match pitch.  I believe to the depths of my bones that if you can talk, you can sing and it's just part of a spectrum of activites.  A baby human doesn't automatically know how to dance.  It first needs to learn how to move and control its limbs in space, then organizes them into crawling, standing, walking, running and dancing!  (would you believe that I also believe everyone can dance?).  So, start playing with the way your voice asks questions, gives commands, shares enthusiasm and gives encouragement.  Our English language isn't as tonal as Mandarin Chinese, but it does rise and fall (see Scientific America's recent article about speech and minor thirds).  Then sing in the shower, in your car (like the guy I saw this afternoon!  I want to see everyone enjoying their time at stoplights!) and other mostly isolated places until you feel confidently comfortable about the instrument that is all yours. 

Feeling ready to make music with others?  Look up the plentiful community bands and choirs in metro areas.  If you live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, come to my community song circle on Sunday afternoon (details here).  You don't even need to be able to read music!  Don't live nearby and/or your community doesn't have a community music group?  Call up some friends, find a date for all of you to meet and create your own hootenanny.  There's no music police to say you're not playing that F chord in tune or mistakes cannot be made.  Remember this is for fun!  (just beware of cranking your amp too high and not to fall off your chair or train from laughing with glee). 

(p.s. if you liked this post, please share it with your friends & family.  thanks!)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

parks, picnics and poses

If you're looking for a way to enjoy the beautiful park system in Minneapolis, check out Kairos Dance Theatre's performance at the Lake Harriett Bandshell on Thu, Jun 24.  This intergenerational dance company is doing highlights from their Ida & Irv show from this spring.  I attended their performance on Mon night at Loring Park and can tell you there will be jazz, storytelling and smiles -- perfect reasons to plan a picnic in the park! 

SHH! Keep this on the DL...

It's time to shake up some norms and make a joyful noise in the library! 

Sun, Jun 27, 4-6 p.m.

O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library, Room 108
University of St. Thomas, North Campus
(roughly the corner of Summit and Cleveland Aves - campus map)
St. Paul, MN

Sing Heavenly Harmony (aka SHH!) is a community song circle.
We'll sing old spirituals, newer rounds and chants.
All you need to do is bring your voice -- What you don't already know will be taught to you.
And if you have a song you'd like to lead -- please come and share it!

Questions: pointsoflightmusic@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New song: what was said to the rose ...

I learned a new song at SHH yesterday!  A beautiful three-voice canon on the words of Rumi. 
What was said to the rose
that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.
Yummy sentiment.  Yummy melody.  Rumi, you are amazing.  And dear composer that is yet unknown to me, thank you.  And Jules, thanks for bringing it to SHH!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Next SHH! in the Library is ...

You're invited to ...
Sing Heavenly Harmony (aka SHH!) is a community song circle. 
We'll sing old spirituals, newer rounds and chants.  
All you need to do is bring your voice -- What you don't already know will be taught to you. 
And if you have a song you'd like to lead -- please come and share it!

Wed, Jun 9, noon-1 p.m.
Sun, Jun 27, 4-6 p.m.

O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library, Room 108
University of St. Thomas, North Campus
(roughly the corner of Summit and Cleveland Aves)
St. Paul, MN

Questions: pointsoflightmusic@gmail.com

Saturday, June 5, 2010

filling the gap

I'm the type of person who is willing to let others dream up a vision and take the lead while I happily follow with my support in small ways (when I believe in the vision, that is:). 

Except when there's something missing and there seems to be no relief in sight.  Then I'll step up to the plate to help fill in the gap.  Happened when I was in college - the music library didn't have very many operating hours and a fellow classmate was having a hard time getting there to checkout the reserves for the piano rep class we were taking.  Guess who volunteered to work so the library was open more hours?  Moi.  As you can imagine, it happened in a few areas of my life. 

Earlier this spring one of my favorite activities, a monthly song circle, was going on hiatus for not just one but two months.  The room was booked or the leader was out of town.  Singing is one of the expressive ways I keep my sanity so not having this outlet for 12 weeks was like being asked to starve.  So, I took matters into my own hands.  I found a room for a group to sing in, booked it, gave the event a name and let folks know. 

You may be wondering why in the land of 10,000 choirs I didn't just jump into a church choir or another community chorus?  A couple of reasons:  1) as a choir director in a church, my role is to plan and lead.  I needed an outlet where I could just show up.  2) ten years of classical voice training had freed a lot of my vocal technique into big sounds that some conductors don't like sticking out in choruses (unless it's opera and you're trying to sound like a crowd of different voices:).  3)  growing up in school and church choirs, I was surrounded by structure.  All well and good, but I was ready for a change to expand my improvisation experiences. 

Sing Heavenly Harmony (aka SHH!) in the Library had its first sing/stopgap "intervention" on Wed, May 12, 2010.  Two more are scheduled for the O'Shaughnessy Room at the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library on the University of St. Thomas' north campus.  I hope you can join us for one or the other!
  • Wed, Jun 9, noon-1p
  • Sun, Jun 27, 4-6p
More events are being tentatively scheduled for Jul and Aug -- check the "Public Events" link in the right column of the blog for the next scheduled opts.  If you'd like SHH! at your library or community singing for your private or public event, please contact me at pointsoflightmusic@gmail.com.

Blessings on your gap filling measures!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

These songs were made for you and me

I was invited to sing some patriotic songs for a private reception celebrating a fellow's new citizenship.  As this isn't a request I get often I polled some friends on what they thought would be suitable songs for the occasion.  I started the discussion with America the Beautiful, the National Anthem, and included "Lift every voice and sing." The latter was on a Wikipedia list of 60-some American patriotic songs and I thought it might provoke some interesting discussion. 

Two very good suggestions came in:  Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land and Finlandia.  Thank you Jules and Larye!  (Nobody agreed or disagreed with LEV&S)

TLIYL is great.  The first and last line of each verse says it all:  This land is your land, this land is my land/This land was made for you and me.  Interesting history:  Did you know there are seven verses for TLIYL?  After the first verse of redwood forests that everyone knows, verses 2-4 are more beautiful images of our country (or any country for that matter) while the last three are political commentary on personal freedom, property, and hungry folks and in the case of the latter two, usually censored.  Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, and Seeger's grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, lead ALL of the verses at Obama's Inauguration Celebration Concert on the Mall.  Cool.  I have biographies of Guthrie & Seeger that I've been meaning to read and this nudged me to get on it. 

FINLANDIA the tune (btw I'm not yelling at you - it's common practice for hymn tune names to be in CAPS) and more specifically the poem "This is my song" (many poets have been inspired to wax eloquent to the lyric meter of this hymntune) have been hanging out in my consciousness for awhile.  As a music major and later music library staffer I knew of Sibelius' tone poem but didn't really give it much attention.  Last year I sang "This is my song" at a community sing, but since it was an aural tradition event I was preoccupied with the unfamiliar melody and words to really take it in as a whole.  This gave me the opportunity to dig into the beautiful tune and amazing words acknowledging our universal needs and wishes.  I haven't memorized it, but think I will. 

So, here's the setlist I used for the reception (aka "these songs were made for you and me").  With gratitude to Walt for joining me in the song leading. 
  • This land is your land (processional into the backyard garden)
  • America the Beautiful - sung by all
  • This is my song (FINLANDIA) - just me
  • The Star Spangled Banner - sung by all
Thanks for the opportunity Lisa.  I would do it again.

Caroling, is it just for Xmas?

What thoughts come to mind with Christmas caroling?  Does the thought of standing outside for a period of time in crazy weather singing jingles about snowmen, reindeer and stable scenes bring chills up and down your spine (literally & figuratively)?  Or does it conjure up memories of a community joined together in a singular activity to bring cheer to others. 

We ponder why we sing silly songs outside during the shortest days of sunlight, but there must be something about this group activity for people to repeat it year after year after year. 

Could it be we realize this intangible experiential gift is something that can live eternally in our memories, that singing/listening joyful honors each other's presence showing others they are loved? 

Why don't we do this more often? 

It was the intersection of hospice choir volunteering and working as a church musician in December when I realized that visiting people and singing with/for them is not just for Christmas or the dying.  It is for all of us at all times.  And that's when Minestrone Minstrels was born. 

Minestrone Minstrels is a visitation ministry of singing and sharing a meal together.  I'll talk more about the meal sharing in a future entry (though if you need instant gratification visit Emily Scott's Sit & Eat blog for glimpses of my inspiration).  For now, I invite you to ponder how your community, be it congregation of baseball enthusiasts, gardeners, or faithful, can remember your elder and/or home bound members with time spent together. 

Caroling.  It's for everyone, everyday. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Come together

May Day has been a day to celebrate the spring planting for centuries. And in more recent times it is, for much of the world, a day to gather and support the rights and fair treatment of workers. Today, I see these themes of community and beginnings magnify my own life story.

I have spent the majority of my waking hours the last four days with artists and healthcare professionals attending the Society for the Arts in Healthcare conference. I observed movement and color, listened to words and music that in some way set the stage for healing. I have listened to hours of research going on in the field. I have met people who are passionate about healing and how the arts play a role.

And I feel like I’ve found my people, a tribe heeding the call to use the arts to aid in the healing of others.

I had started a music therapy degree about 15 years ago, but shelved it when I felt my maturity as a musician and person were not ready. Experience is the classroom for maturity and so I worked and made music for a decade. Along the way I met amazing people who opened my eyes to different ways of being. And more recently found the strength, courage and faith to make the leap back into the healthcare field armed with a much different arsenal of musical tools than I would have imagined before. It’s like I finally graduated and ready to start that music career in healing and wellness. Or if I stay with the earlier farming reference, my seed is ready to be planted.

Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater performed with Simone Perrin at the Closing Celebration. In the last dance we, the conference attendees, were invited to sing and waltz ...
“Come together, join in one place.
La-da dee-da-dum dee-da-dum dee-day.”

Like seasons of planting, growing, harvesting and rest, life contains similar cycles. Like communities with a common purpose, we circle round to witness each other. Come together indeed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuning forks

It's been awhile since I've written an entry. Life has been busy and mine is no exception as I made a decision to leave an institution I had been with for 12 years. Why would I do such a thing in the economic climate that we are in? Well, it had more to do with the calling of my heart than security in money, homes or things.

A few years ago I was introduced to community singing in the aural tradition. No music reading ability needed as songs were taught by rote, line by line. Once we were secure in the 4-6 lines we were invited to sink deeply into beautiful poems and melodies and to play with harmonies in old spirituals. After so many years of singing in choirs and doing what the page and the director had in mind, I was ready to go out on a limb and try something new.

One of the first chants I learned was a blessing that many faith traditions call their own. It's pretty universal: When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so, that when you die the world cries and you rejoice. I don't know what was more influential, the words, the pseudo-Native American tune or the marriage of the two, but this song has become a personal tuning fork. Each time I sing it, it goes straight to my core and asks me: Are you living the life that will bring the most possible joy to the world? Like a tuning fork, singing it helps me remember my life's purpose and helps me recalibrate my actions so they resonate more fully, less dissonantly, with myself, with others.

So, I'm in the process of recalibrating my life. Over the last five years I have been releasing the hold certain activities had on my schedule and I just let go of the biggest one, a full-time job with benefits. What's next, my thoughtful and concerned friends ask? I'm hoping to develop more community development programs that incorporate singing and dancing. More details to come. J

Before I sign off, I want to ask you, dear reader and friend, what is your tuning fork? Is there a song or a painting or person in your life that has the effect of clearing the distractions and helps you focus on what's true in your world? Please feel free to share.