My blogger-buddy Anna visited Las Cruces, New Mexico for the first time a few weeks ago and posted a few photos and thoughts on the desert. What a treat to see the familiar through her newbie eyes.
Final Goat Family Portrait: Larry, Terry Scape, Mama Goat and Tater
I’ve been immersed in that period of time during our between homes journey lovingly referred to as living ‘on the compound in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico’. Place where my Goat Suite Saga was born.
In less than two weeks portions of my Swimming with Swans project are going to be presented for the first time to the general public. MamaGoat, Tater, TerryScape and little Larry along with all of us humans and critters of the compound will be introduced to a group of locals as far away from life in the desert as one in the US can get. I often joke that we came from a Mile High here to the Swamplands…but we also came by way of the High Dry Desert.
Most readers of this blog know that I received a Puffin Foundation Grant for the recording of my Swimming with Swans: the music. One of the requirements for gaining the grant involved the pre-securing of a venue in which to present completed grant-proposal material.
Goodwill Parochial School becomes The Goodwill Cultural Center
If not for Camden Writer and author, Brenda Bevan Remmes, I would have never known of this special spot nestled within an isolated area between Mayesville and Sumter, South Carolina*. Steeped in a long history of struggle, nurture, and yes, healing – The Goodwill Cultural Center aka The Goodwill Parochial School was recently restored to serve as a local heritage and arts center – offering historical, cultural and educational events to the public.
Brenda introduced me to this gem in the swamp about two years ago when the GCC held one of their first sponsored events by the Magnolia Singers from Charleston – shortly after the Emanuel AME Church shootings. I was amazed at the group’s desire to reach out in their hurt and offer insights into their culture while spreading a healing balm through their talented singing.
WINDOW TO THE WORLD
REFLECTING ON OUR PAST AND ENVISIONING OUR FUTURE, WE AFFIRM THE RICH HERITAGE OF THE GOODWILL SCHOOL THAT OPENED DOORS OF OPPORTUNITY IN 1870, AND THAT IS A WINDOW TO THE WORLD TODAY THROUGH THE GOODWILL CULTURAL CENTER.
I don’t pretend to understand the South. However, I have found a slice of something I like to call the ‘true spirit of a southern community’ in the Goodwill Cultural Center.
Over the course of these two years in attending various events at the GCC, I’ve observed the interactions between the locals. It’s obvious to this outsider the love and commitment these individuals have towards each other and towards working through its own healing-path. A sort of living reconciliation rooted in historical interconnectedness which touches me deeply.
This is a slice of the South I admire; a slice of the South not often seen by outsiders.
As such, I am both humbled and honored to be a small part in the GCC’s continuing legacy as a featured guest on Saturday, June 3rd.
Like many others, I feel at a loss to shape words into coherent phrases expressing outrage, sorrow, compassion and balanced thinking in the midst of our current flood of events in today’s world.
In light of this, as always, my medium of choice is music…and music as protest/social statement has a long history. Yes indeed I, myself, did the singer-songwriter scene in my early adulthood. Coming of age in the midst of another time of social unrest – I still embrace that genre.
Life goes on and in today’s world, my own current brand of compositional expression tends towards instrumental music. Personally, I feel it allows for individual interpretation, un-dictated by lyrical suggestion.
Which leads me to Max Richter, a favorite contemporary composer of mine.
Some time ago I stumbled upon an interview-article with Max published on Fifteen Questions. This on-line journal engages “production experts, performers, journalists, scientists and composers to discuss what music means, how it’s made, where its limits lie, and why it affects us all so differently and yet remains universal” rather than discussing the private lives of artists or their latest releases.
Here are a few of his thoughts to which I relate and are relevant to the subject of this blog post. I encourage those of you interested in musical composition and the driving forces behind it to read the full interview.
Max Richter – interview excerpts and short musical clip
Music for me is storytelling, so I usually start with an intention or something I want to say. From there I kind of struggle around in the dark, trying to find ways to say that. Sometimes it’s a linear thing where I have an idea and then go about trying to find ways to express it. Other times I will discover things along the way and the idea ends up turning into something else altogether. It’s a mixture between intention and chance.
I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.
The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
Music is a social art, kind of like talking, but in a way, music as a vehicle for political critique has evaporated in the last 20 years and that’s disappointing.
I think if we’re talking about something in music, we should be talking about the big things that are worth talking about and those things are: the state of the world; how we live and how we spend our time. That’s something that really drives me. For example, the track The Shadow Journal on Blue Notebooks, for me, is a protest song. It was composed and recorded the week after the first big anti-Iraq war march in London. And even though Czeslaw Milosz’s words are actually describing the Second World War, the imagery he used resonated with me at that particular moment in time and so social comment was most definitely the primary motivation behind this piece of music.
Generally speaking though, people are not thinking about music in those terms anymore, not if you compare it to the counter-culture movement of the sixties, when social commentary was one the absolute driving forces of music. It’s a shame and a lost opportunity in many ways.
Herbie (and the Headhunters) Hancock – interview excerpts and musical clip
And then there’s Herbie. Rummaging through some of my paper files a few weeks ago, I came across a Music and Musicians (June 2010) article I kept on hand entitled, “Herbie Hancock: Imagining the future with a plan, a piano and a vision of peace.”
I first heard of him as Herbie and the Headhunters in 1973 during my second year of college (University of Colorado at Boulder, 1972-1977). I fell in love with his ‘new’ funk sound while listening to his Chameleon on the then ‘underground’ Denver radio station KLZ FM.
Give the piece a listen as you continue reading excerpts from that article.
I wanted to make a global record. Although I’ve recorded with artists from other countries at various times, this truly was about emphasizing global collaboration as a path toward peace. I started thinking about America basically being an immigrant country.
Most of us have ancestors who were not from these shores. So we have these issues that are happening now about immigration and closing the borders and locking things down. I understand the motivation – the fear from 9/11 and terrorists. If you couple that with the insecurity that has come about because of the economic downturn, it’s drawing people into a state of chaos.
They’re trying to find ways to blame something, to put it on somebody. I think it’s time to stop looking outside for who to blame…now is the time to proactively begin the process of creating the kind of future we want for our children and for our children’s children.
How did you translate those ideals into music?
The first thing you have to do is be willing to be open and to embrace cultures outside of our own. The second thing is respecting the cultures and the people of those cultures. What other ways can we show our respect for other cultures? One of them is through language. It’s why I decided that if I truly wanted a global record, the record couldn’t just be in English…
Today’s World – in conclusion
Max and Herbie’s comments reveal the motivation behind much of an (he)artist’s work.
Communication – whether of a personal social statement or expression of some inner emotional response to life’s experiences – is often the result of a composer’s work; intentional or not.
For most musicians, even if performing non-original pieces, interpretational nuances shape one’s own message to be received by the audience as a gift from the heart.
For myself, my Swimming with Swansproject is one such work…to give voice to the fact that those of us who have experienced or are currently in the midst of a period of displacement in a living situation or even state of mind, are not defined by that but live day-by-day and create works of beauty regardless. And share it with all who will listen.
That’s just who we are and what we do – we count, we matter and we make a difference.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV
The officially stated theme for the 2016 Camden Writers Anthology #2.
Starting in January, I pulled about four pieces from my stash of vignettes relevant to the 2016 anthology theme – some started but unfinished, others already firmly written and in need of my critique group’s keen insights and suggestions, still others with germinal ideas and notes-to-self on how to proceed.
I discovered early on during critique presentations that even the one piece I thought was 99.9% ready to go, wasn’t. And that really was fine with me. I decided I’d use the submission deadline as the catalyst for getting those pieces and ideas in shape for publication.
Meanwhile I was deeply ensconced in a regular routine spent on the practice stool prepping in anticipation of upcoming recording sessions for my Swimming with Swans: the music project.
Progress towards both project milestones were rolling along smoothly. However, I didn’t factor in the possibility of Dad entering into hospice care in April.
Our front porch Golden Orb, spinning a ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ addition to its web base
The first full summer we lived in the South we encountered massive and prolific webs of this indigenous species of spider, the Golden Orb.
The spiders themselves get to be quite large and are wickedly beautiful…meaning, these are gloriously colored arachnids that come equipped with some seriously sharp and long legs.
What I found most intriguing was the amount of detail in their webs. Many spiders offer intricate designs in their web-construction, but these Golden Orbs use those as a base on which to further weave additional layers of web construction.
please, enjoy the music while you read the following, I promise it is related to the main thrust of this blog post…and since there are several guitar solos, well, you don’t really need to watch the lyrics up on the screen
Okay, so I’ve been starting and stopping in the writing of several blog posts.
I need to feed the blog, yes, but I gotta say my focus has been a bit wonky since returning from my five weeks visiting Dad. I started to write about that in a post entitled “Spider Webs, Jacob’s Ladder and Losing the Strand” but could only get so far when I’d lose the strand…(to befinished and posted at a later date).
Then on to a relatively easy Shoutout about the great Maestro Ricardo (and my friend) receiving a prestigious award at the annual GFA Convention in Denver, held just one week after I left. I wanted to attend, but those plans got trumped (don’t know if I like that term anymore…) with the Dad-card. No regrets at all, but it does leave the “Shoutout: In Honor of the Maestro Ricardo” in the queue to be sent sometime whenever I can do a final edit on it…again, the focus thing is the limiting factor here. It may never get finished and sent out since it’s more (out)dated news.
I discovered early on that I didn’t have the energy required to return to my current Swimming with Swans projects. This of course lead to frustration because I needed something to do in the realm of creating while navigating this new pattern of four weeks here and two weeks there; along with the emotional stuff that goes along with end-of-life and long distance elder care.
So I picked up the needle…that phrase is loaded, eh? I first mentioned this phrase in my post “The Rusty Quilter” that describes my history and re-introduction to quilting and fiber art.
Whole-cloth quilt top basted and ready for straight stitch machine-quilting
That said, I began in earnest my new ‘now’ project totally unrelated to anything other than as a pleasurable creative outlet: the whole-cloth quilted throw; which will be discussed in greater depth in yet another WIP blog post, as yet unnamed.
During today’s immersion in some straight line machine quilting, I listened to an Amazon Prime Classic Rock Song List.
When ZZ Tops’ tune, The Sharped Dressed Man came on full blast in my earphones and into my brain, I remembered my Jo-Jo and his new obsession with dressing snappy for work.
Joe Lilly is the Sharp Dressed Man
Here’s Joe in his Tuesday morning duds, posing in the dining room of my folks’ house, with the telltale cleaning supplies and messiness in the background. One of the fantastic things I got to do while visiting Dad was to make dinner for our kids. Some of Ma’s cooking stuff is still in the kitchen and so I was able to throw together some makeshift family favorites.
Since Joe still lives in the Denver area, he purposely carved out time to stop by after work and/or pick me up for doing fun stuff together during ‘down times’.
One such outing was going to his gig at the Oriental Theatre. Actually, my sorella-amica Lisa and I went to see our sons* at this wonderful venue. Like most musicians, he’s in several bands/ensembles. This one, Heavy Medicine**, added a horn section recently, of which Joe is their main sax-guy.
The Sharp Dressed Man with his Heavy Medicine Bandmates playing the Oriental Theatre, Denver, CO 6/2016
Me and my son – the sharp dressed man
Lots more of this mother-son stuff is in the future with each trip back to visit Dad.
Oh and on the marquee behind us is the name Leon Russell, significant in that another blog post in the queue needing to be finished is called, “The Buena Vista Social Club, Leon Russell and Dad”.
The first recording session for Swimming with Swans: the music is scheduled to begin Wednesday, April 27th.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post:
When prepping for actual recording, timing is everything. Not just in the realm of musical readiness, but also in gear readiness. Booking this session date gave me approximately two weeks to break in fresh strings. So of course that meant changing out strings ASAP; which I did.
All set and ready to go!
Changing out strings on the Prisloe is pretty routine. Basic procedure for me involves laying down a blanket on the living room floor, arranging all the necessary tools on it (tuner, peg turner, string pack, dust rag, jewelers’ sandpaper, string clipper) and then sitting down with the instrument to my right. All set and ready to go.
The body as a natural luthier’s bench
This is how I’ve done it for decades on both the classical and the 12-string, so even if I had access to a cool luthier’s repair bench, I’m not sure I’d use it for this task.
gently sanding out burrs in the nut
Doing related guitar maintenance is often easier done during string changes. Unfortunately the ‘new’ dead spot on the 4th fret 4th string is way beyond my mending capabilities. It will have to wait until I find someone in the area qualified to do repairs on my custom Prisloe.
1st string shortened before winding on peg
Until then, I also trick-out the 1st string to accommodate an oddly unbalanced string winding on the peg.
odd but workable 1st string winding
Interrupted by a local intruder
Last week’s string changing routine was spooked up a bit by the need to crush a curious Palmetto Bug* (he looks tiny, but he shrank after being smashed, believe me!). Ugh – how I hate anything roach related.
Now, please excuse me as I continue to dig my fingers into these fresh strings…Gotta break ‘em in. My three solo selections are ready and just itching to be recorded.
*nicknamed ‘the unofficial state bird of South Carolina’, here are some funny conversations about the local critter.
Over these past three years of Thanksgivings, a tradition of sorts has evolved. It seems our son Joe’s holiday of choice is Thanksgiving. Each Thanksgiving since landing here in South Carolina after our between homes journey, he has flown in to join us at the family feasting table. This fourth year was no different. He spent 10 days with us, kind of a combination re-group after his 2.5 month vacay in the DR and holiday time with the fam. This year we three took our walk in the Swamp the Saturday after Thanksgiving as usual only at a new-to-us spot: Woods Hole. To date, that is hands down our fav Swamp-place. But this post is about last year’s Swamp walk…
The Saturday after Thanksgiving 2014, I took a walk in the swamp with my son.
My Jo-Jo at the Lynches River Swamp, SC (2014)
Turns out, he has become more of a walker since his youthful accident a few years back which requires him to keep his ankle supple and stretched. Because my hubby was in the throes of knee problems, we took our walk without him. It made for a long-overdue Mother-Son time together. Yes, we communicate via texting, phoning and e-mailing, but there’s nothing like actually spending physical time with those you are in relationship with. There may not be much spoken, but just the living, breathing and, in this case, walking presence of another produces a deep communication that can only be transmitted in such a manner.
Me finding a prime stump at the Lynches River Swamp (2014)
Getting into each other’s head and space, without pretense is very freeing. It also helps me to sort through stuff.
That November, I was blessed to be able to focus on my Musical Non-fiction project, via my Nano Rebellion. It progressed nicely and I was pleased with my output as well as organization of said output. It also served to re-connect me with myself. A self that has by circumstances of ‘place’ not been easily allowed to come out and play.
South Carolina Swamp Cypress Trees
The Monday following our Swamp walk I took Joe with me to be a part of my regular Wounded Warrior Horse Therapy volunteer time. I was excited to show him off to the gang as most of those there have family nearby 24/7 – warriors, therapists and volunteers alike. He got along with most everyone as he always seems to do wherever he goes, especially with Jason. Funny, that, since they remind me of each other. Joe’s interest in the horses wasn’t all that much, but he did like seeing his Ma doing her horse thing anyway.
What happened there was something I didn’t expect. Doing what he always does, talk music with me comparing notes on gigging and crazy audiences; drawing others into our conversation cuz you know, everyone loves music. Between talking up his own bands and the Denver music scene, somehow it came out about my being a working musician, my dad being a pro-jazzman and that that was how he was brought up – surrounded by rehearsing musicians, learning to help set up gear for Ma’s gigs/concerts… No one there knew of my status as a musician prior to moving to South Carolina. I was just one of the horse handlers. Mostly due to the fact it wasn’t something relevant to horse handling chores or in bonding with the warriors. And also due in part to my own healing process related to the last months of our between homes experience…But that day, that ordinary Monday during horse handling chores and bonding with the warriors around the picnic table after therapy sessions, my son bridged the real me with the current me.
My hand scored copies alongside newly entered NOTION scored parts of Mo Giolla Mear
The other day I came off of the practice stool elated. It was one of those sessions where everything went right. The tone from my perfectly honed right hand nails emitted a luscious aural tapestry of sound while working through completed scores of my own creation or arrangement. Fluidity of movement in the left hand during execution of certain passages, coupled with the flow of interpretive playing all within acceptable tempos…this is my dance, this is my place, this is my praise to the Giver of Gifts.
I was particularly pleased to master specific measures in my classical guitar arrangement of the traditional Celtic piece, Mo Giolla Mear. Written during our between homes time, it is part of my Swimming with Swans: the music project.
Yes, there is an entire story behind the discovery of this piece of music and how it relates to our life on the road. It remains scattered in the bits and nits of my mind, journals and ‘little list’ e-mail updates jotted down at the time. For some reason the words do not come easily right now. The challenge remains for me to sit down, focus and craft a vignette to include in my Swimming with Swans: vignettes of our three year journey between homes manuscript.
However, while immersed in my music, that challenge is mercifully set aside. Continue reading →