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! 



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

Location:
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!

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

Location: 
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.