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Posts Tagged ‘power of music’

A man should always consider how much he has more than he wants and how much more unhappy he might be than he really is. (Joseph Addison)

A new song for my small church community runs through my mind. It fits for the last Sunday in November when I will be leading our service, but I haven’t played guitar in so long my electronic tuner needs a new battery. I gradually stopped practicing after an injection of Kenalog in my middle finger did nothing for bone-on-bone arthritis. My finger picking had become uneven, jerky, irritating even to an audience of one. Me.

But, I have been missing my old friend, music. She speaks directly into my soul through sound, mood, and harmony. The new words and chord transitions that are coming to me won’t stay in my memory unless I let my fingers know how to find the magical connections along the frets. I can still hold a pick—for now. My right hand has been gradually turning into a claw. I can’t flatten it as easily as I can my left. And  those fingers don’t look that straight either. Maybe the hand doctor will bring some hope when I see him on Friday. Maybe.

In the meantime my Big Baby Taylor fits my short frame well. Big Baby is not a person, and therefore is incapable of human resentment. It doesn’t care that I left it in a gig bag for months at a time. Sure it is seriously out of tune. But a turn of a few keys and an enthusiastic greeting will renew our relationship. As I consider lyrics I realize that keep-it-simple is essential, in both message and style. Words like I-love-you may be ordinary, but a two-year-old understands what they mean.

When I accept less-than-perfect I’m ready to go. The finished song appears using four chords in a major key. And in between each beat I consider all the people in my life who struggle: I just learned about someone who has non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and waits for a transplant. A very young woman discovered she has advanced cancer; Stories about inequities everywhere seem to rise from the ground and fall from the sky. I’m not sure I know anyone unaffected in some way.

Yet, if I never experienced darkness I’m not sure I could appreciate light. Perhaps the struggle to control my hands makes the sound they create sweeter—not in an accomplished sense—in a spiritual way.

The first verse to my song: ONE LIGHT is not written for any particular religion. The first verse is printed below. I aspire to live the Dalai Lama’s definition: “My religion is kindness.” Someday I may be able to share the finished work through YouTube. Right now my performance needs entirely too much practice.

Who knows? Maybe I will succeed. Maybe not. I know someone who plays exquisite guitar without several of his fingertips. Grandma Moses was 85-years-old when she started to paint. Right now I’m assuming that my hands will heal, or that I will find a way to maneuver with what I have.

One light can shine through darkest times.

One light can pierce great fear.

One love can touch a heart of stone,

And teach it how to sing.

Peace and light upon all!

believing something amazing is about to happen

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Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. (Confucius)

Kate sits on my bed with my guitar between her knees as I tell her the names for the strings: E, A, D, G, B, and E. Some of the strings are as much as a full step sharp. They need considerable adjustment. Pain has curtailed my playing for longer than I’d like to admit.

“One of the first things you are going to need is an electronic tuner,” I tell my granddaughter. On the bed isn’t the best place to play, but we aren’t going to get as far as a real song. Not yet. We’ll just see where the open chords are, and how they sound.

I hold my Big Baby Taylor for the first time in a long while. The weight feels precious in my lap and I realize I’ve missed her even if she hasn’t missed me. “This is what a minor chord sounds like and this is how a major chord sounds. They each have a different feel.”

Kate listens carefully and I realize that one chord is not enough to show a mood, just as a single word is never sufficient to give an adequate view of anything. I should have played at least a phrase or two. A first impression isn’t always accurate either. When one of my water exercise classes became aqua zumba, I thought, I dance like a cardboard cutout. I’ll never learn it. The class has ended now and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

“Taylor,” Kate says looking at my case. She’s a Taylor Swift fan and loves the song, “White Horse.” I hold my breath, unsure how much my nine-year-old granddaughter understands about romantic relationships. The love inherent in everyday giving seems sufficient for a girl who still treasures her American Girl dolls.

“Your turn.” I give her the guitar back. “This is an expensive instrument. But I trust you.”

Kate’s E-minor sounds amazingly crisp for a first-time try. She and I both smile. She talks about all the instruments she wants to play. And I encourage her.

“Not going to be easy,” I say hoping my smile hasn’t faded. “But it will be worth it.”

Kate may not be old enough to be in double-digits yet, but she’s seen the ups and downs of life already. One of her school mates died of cancer this summer. Another friend was disabled by a freak accident when she was three-years-old. Kate has volunteered at the Free Store. She knows designer clothes are not her natural right.

She has no idea how beautiful she really is.

“You play,” she says.

There isn’t much time before Daddy will be here so I show her a few chords: C, G, E, and F, using a variety of strums and picking patterns.

“That sounds pretty,” she says.

“You can do it, too. And more.”

Her long legs are tucked under her and I suspect her thoughts reach into possibilities. No, I can’t see her thoughts, only her expression and glistening eyes. I suspect she sees some day, far away. I see now, a fourth-grade-girl with the world ahead of her.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart, Kate. Go with all your heart.

secret of genius child Optimism Revolution

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No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it. (Paulo Coelho)

At a writers’ conference several years ago, I heard an agent or editor, don’t recall who it was, talk about how important it is to have a polished ready-to-go manuscript. She emphasized the necessity to find a unique approach, a fresh angle. A memoir that simply tells “my story” can’t cut it. However, I believe in tact. When a woman wrote the story of her ordeal surviving breast cancer, this professional bluntly told the woman it did not stand out. It added nothing. In essence it was no different than anything already written. The writer broke down in tears. Perhaps that one-on-one rejection could have come with constructive criticism instead of an ax. But I don’t read so-so manuscripts all day long. I only edit my own groaners.

Writing is a tough business.  I write anyway, whether I make a lot of money or not. I’m addicted. When one small group of folk told me I had touched their lives with my words I felt honored. That doesn’t mean I don’t have goals. I want to write well. But, if I don’t touch hearts, I have failed by writing only fancy words.

Occasionally I also write songs. These are always positive and have a limited audience. When a friend shared a story about a 96-year-old man named Fred who wrote a song about his deceased wife, Lorraine, I was intrigued. He didn’t follow a single rule for the contest. He couldn’t sing or play an instrument. In fact he wrote that if he sang he would scare people. Yet the professionals who conducted the contest were touched by his sincerity, read his lyrics, and decided to record his song. It didn’t follow the guidelines for the contest, but it fit the requisites for the soul of a song.

Warnings appear on the YouTube clip to keep tissues close by, and don’t watch if you don’t want anyone to know you have working tear ducts. (Well, that’s not a direct quote, but it gives a clear enough notion.) http://twentytwowords.com/2013/08/26/widower-submits-a-song-about-his-wife-of-73-years-to-a-songwriting-contest/

Since I have watched the video, several times now, I find myself humming “Sweet Lorraine.” My son gave me a gift card for iTunes. This sounds like a good place to use it.

In the meantime I celebrate an out-of-the-box success. The video has gone viral. The words don’t suggest that there was anything different about Fred and Lorraine. They lived an ordinary life. Well. But, they did it for 73 years. And that is tougher than facing a hard-nosed publishing world with a few pages of printed words.  

Kudos to Green Shoe Studios! You found the treasure because you could broaden your vision. Thanks.

Fred hears his words come to life in song.

Fred Sweet Lorraine

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Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold. (Leo Tolstoy, novelist and philosopher, 1828-1910)

A song I wrote recently runs through my head as I hunt for something I lost—the steroid inhaler I use to prevent asthma attacks. It was on my dresser. Now it disappeared, melted as if it were some kind of metallic ice, and then evaporated. The repeating song has an uplifting tone; my spirit doesn’t want to go there. Is this just a walk along a city street or is this a way of seeing? The words explore attitude. Do I notice soot-stained curbs or bird-filled trees? All a matter of attitude.

My attitude wants to sink, throw something rather than systematically search. No, I am not facing immediate danger. Discomfort? Yes. And I am missing my writing time by organizing areas where I could have accidentally placed it while doing a bad job of multitasking. This wasn’t in the day’s plan. Moreover, my effort delivers nothing. Yet.

The song continues to play through my skull like the hold music that comes after, “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line. There are 615 callers in line ahead of yours.”

Okay, I hear you, song. I’ll try to find the good in the moment. Ah, what is this, hidden on the side of my dresser? Something that I was absolutely certain I put somewhere else—and I need it in three hours. Hmmn, yeah, well, I guess that could be called good news. And I finished organizing an area or two that’s needed it for months.

You can stop that incessant singing at any time now, Terry, I tell myself. I got the message! Oh well, I guess it’s better than the old camp favorite, “A thousand bottles of beer on the wall,” especially since I don’t drink anything stronger than orange juice.

Ear plugs don’t help in this situation; one step at a time does, maybe with a little rhythm added.

pic from Positive Inspirational Quotes

stumble part of dance  PIQ

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My grandfather always said that living is like licking honey off a thorn. (Louis Adamic)

I feel ridiculous. Sure I know how to tune my guitar. Strings get out of tune—all the time. I did this last night in forty seconds. Too much warmth and the wood swells; the sound becomes sharp. When the temperature drops the wood contracts. The E string goes flat and the others drop out, too. But, I’m using a different kind of tuner. The Snark works even in a noisy room. The room is filled with conversation, shouting, laughter. I’m the one distracted, not the electronic device.

Fortunately, a few deep breaths and minor adjustments remind me of the obvious. Externally, I appear calm. All I have to do is tell my internal self to do the same. I have at least thirty minutes of music prepared. Won’t need anywhere near that much for the few minutes I have at the YMCA senior luncheon, before and after the speaker. Today’s topic: “The Wise Way to a Healthier Brain.”

My part of the preparation feels like studying for an important exam: sixty hours of an intense mental workout for an hour’s worth of questions and answers. But then music is different. It is something the soul gives itself, for its own sake. The music lover doesn’t count practice hours. Actually, I have no idea how many hours I have spent getting ready.

Several years ago I stopped playing for months, many months. During that time my hands succumbed to arthritis. When I came back to my Big Baby Taylor, my fingers didn’t want to do what they once could handle easily. So, I did what anyone else who is foolish would do, I scheduled a gig, and forced those digits to cooperate. They did. Somewhat. However, since this girl didn’t pluck a string until she was in her mid-fifties, she can hardly be called a professional. Stubborn? Well, that is another matter. I have sat on my bed and played, paused, and then thrust my hand into a warm wrap to recover before continuing.

Come on, you can do it, I think. The arthritis pain is low right now. My middle finger on my right hand suffers most. But, my friend, Antoinette, did healing touch on it yesterday, and showed me how to send warmth to the swollen site. Here is one of the suggested techniques: http://www.spirithospital.com/Article–Healing-Mudras.html So far it is working. Positive thinking, more than a concept.

“The sound is ready. Go ahead,” I’m told.

Well, the sound could be better. I do what I can and give my best anyway.

Oh, very little in life is perfect, but several folk ask for the words to my original work. That is a plus. Seniors don’t applaud unless they mean it, and they clap with enthusiasm. My three-year-old granddaughter waves to me from the back, but doesn’t try to run from Grandpa and leap on stage. Perhaps the size of the group is too intimidating for that move. There are at least 150 people at the luncheon, not that I would stop to count.

I started awfully late in life to become a great musician, but if all I wanted was perfection I would miss out on a lot of joy, a lot of opportunity, and find regret instead.

Smiling, I pack my supplies after the event ends.

“We’ll have a better sound system for you the next time,” the set-up person says.

Okay. I guess there is going to be a next time. A few inflamed joints can’t win yet!

pic from The Optimism Revolution

music feelings The Optimism Revolution

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Aging is not “lost youth” but a new stage of opportunity and strength. (Betty Friedan)

The knuckle on my middle finger on my right hand looks like it belongs on a gnarled tree branch, the kind that has led a part of the tree in a peculiar unexpected direction.  Oh, my skin, bones, eyes and ears have aged, too. In fact my five-year-old granddaughter asked who the bride was in the forty-one-year-old photo on her grandfather’s dresser. I laughed at that one. But it’s that finger that troubles me now. It gets in the way of smooth finger-picking on the guitar. And I have three gigs lined up these next two months.

I am not the only person who needs to overcome difficulties to get to a goal. Pictures fill the Internet of runners on  prosthetic legs. I revel in stories of  persons who have survived stage-four cancer or the young person with Down syndrome who earns a college degree. My challenge isn’t that great—all I ask is to entertain a few seniors at the YMCA and nursing home and make them smile, perhaps sing a few more years and let new words and chord patterns blend into a fresh song.

The going has been rough, especially in southwest Ohio where temperatures tend to be bipolar. Middle finger says uh-uh and nicks the wrong string or rebels entirely.

“Oh no you don’t,” I tell it as if it were a belligerent child. Then try again.

Funny, that hasn’t eased the pain one bit. Help came from another source—a call from the Activities Center at the nursing home where I played last month. “Can you come back on March 21 when we celebrate birthdays?” The voice on the other end sounds sunny. Apparently I got good reviews from the residents, despite middle finger’s balking. I mean, ouch isn’t in any of the lyrics. By the end of my last performance I had to single strum a few times before beginning again.

The arthritic rebellion quieted after that phone call. I managed the Travis pick without swollen, painful interruption. Apparently, yes you can are powerful words. I have decided to use them even more often as I speak to other people—maybe even give myself reinforcement instead of reprimand. Who knows what can happen?

from the Optimism Revolution

expect miracles Optimism Revolution

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In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future. (Alex Haley)

The Statt Family Songfest—this celebration extends far beyond the dictionary definition where an informal group gathers to sing. This musical family and friends meet on an evening after Christmas to  enjoy every verse of thirty-plus Christmas carols. Some of the children play downstairs; the older children join the singing, and the babies dance, recognizing celebration with the innate sense infants enjoy. Harmony seeps into the walls and defies the weather. So what if there is a winter storm warning for tonight. If fear talk is going on, I don’t hear it. Instead piano, voice, and even the clear bell-like tones of a glockenspiel take over the living and dining rooms. Breaks occur either for food and drink or a rousing rendition of Ein Prosit.

I watch as toddlers shake bells or lift their arms touchdown style, a pre-verbal form of hallelujah.

The artificial atmosphere at most parties bore me. I don’t drink alcohol, and while there may be a benefit to discussing the pros and cons of political situations, this kind of talk tends to turn into an “I’m right and you’re wrong” match. The Songfest is different. Music is a powerful spiritual vehicle that unites people.

This year I feel especially blessed. I didn’t have to drive. I can relax and let my friends, Dick and Marie, decide when the snow has become a foe instead of a nuisance. Moreover, I don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Time isn’t an issue. I can stay until the last note of the last song.

That final song, an a cappella version of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” hits me in a way I didn’t expect. It was my grandfather’s favorite hymn. He was a mild man, quick with a smile. I inherited my lack of height from him. As the song swells I drop back into time. I’m five-years-old and I hear my grandfather’s gentle voice suddenly boom out. He stands, back straight, hands on the pew in front of him. He doesn’t need a book for the words. I stop squirming for a change and lay my hand next to his. He grabs my fingers and gives them a soft squeeze without missing a beat.

In the present time I miss more than one beat, however. I feel my grandfather’s presence in the room. I am also aware of Avita, the mother of our host. “She was a great woman,” one of her grandchildren told me earlier, when I complimented the family. “She taught us how to be like her.”

And I think about learning, not what comes from books, but what comes from being true to who you are. I fight to keep my voice from cracking. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord.”

One corner of Songfest (I’m on the far left in the pink sweater.) photo by Kathy Statt

songfest 2012

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