Visit with inspiration

Yesterday’s visit with my good friends from several years past was a great reminder that there is so much ahead of us, and our attitude can completely decide how things will be.

We visited folks who sing in the choir at a church I served just after college. They were a wonderful support there: she was an assistant organist and pianist, page turner, organ student; he was a source of sage advice and humor, and constant reminders that it was “their job” to train me, sometimes by fire!  (He was right.) We have kept in touch over the years, and so I brought my son yesterday to visit them in their wonderful home in rural CT, where the sky is massive above an open meadow, and the birds and wildflowers are the majority of the neighbors.

Here’s what was truly inspiring: These folks are not “young” by the calendar – I’ve forgotten how old, but know they were certainly born well before my parents – but they are younger in spirit than most of my own contemporaries.  And their youth comes from simple pleasures, not world travel or fancy possessions, but enjoyment of the simple beauty that surrounds them – her collection of musical instruments, several of which she has built herself; his love of airplanes, evidenced by the small models that float above the garden. A recent accident that proved to be a setback in their lives involved a toboggan!

I, for one, can get bogged down with the constant demands of life, and then completely miss the joy and beauty that is right in front of me.  Days like yesterday remind me to look a little closer, see the perfection in every detail, and live in it.

Milepost achieved

Farmington Valley Greenway

My son and I have accomplished a significant biking goal – we made it into Massachusetts! As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have been riding the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in little sections of 3-5 miles each (the ten-mile roundtrip is a pretty good accomplishment for a 7-year-old on a single-speed bike!). Yesterday’s leg of the journey started at Rte 20 in Granby and extended some 4 miles into Southwick, MA.  This is that little puzzle-piece-tab of Massachusetts that extends into Connecticut, for reasons I’d love to know.

It was a gorgeous day. Here’s what I noticed on this trip: The landscape changes a lot in short distances. I mean, we often comment on how different New England is from Florida or Texas or other distant places.  But, I am amazed at how widely different the section of trail in Farmington is from the section in Granby, just 15 miles away, and not just because we humans have put more stuff up in Farmington. The trees feel different, the sun is filtered differently through them. We ride through swampy, boggy areas in both, but somehow they seem warmer and more inviting (if that’s possible) in the northern areas.  And then, when we crossed the line into Massachusetts, there was an even more significant change, almost offering an understanding of why these borders were originally set up.

Each bike ride now starts and finishes a little farther from home than the previous, and I’m looking forward to seeing even more new and more different.

Dare to say it out loud?

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel, at home

I’m sure you’ve thought it, but I have yet to hear too many people say it aloud: This might be the most beautiful Spring, ever!  Perhaps due to the very warm days we had in March, the flowers have been brighter, more vivid and colorful, the birds are more plentiful and vocal, and the greenery just plain intense. You know — when you look up at the tops of the trees, and the line that divides the green leaves from the blue sky almost hurts to look at?

It started with the super-yellow forsythia in mid-April (earlier than usual), when I noticed right off that we were experiencing something new. We have three flowering trees in our backyard, and for the first time, all three have bloomed simultaneously… yet another indicator that the clock is a little off, but with wildly positive results.

I’m certain that I’m not the first person to notice. But nobody talks about it. We’re all too eager and ready to find the negative things that surround us daily, but almost don’t believe it when something so simple fills our existence with beauty.

So, today, I dare you: Tell someone you know that it is “the best Spring ever,” and smile real big.  Let me know their reaction! It may be a very entertaining moment for both of you, and the best part is that the smile will last for a long time.

Memorial weekend worship

It was a bright and beautiful Sunday – we started worship with my piano piece, “Remembrance,” and walked together outside while singing loudly and proudly, “America the Beautiful.”  Outside, in a long-standing First Congregational tradition, we gathered in the Memorial Garden, where the names of those among us who have died in the past year were read in prayerful honor.  For me, it was a review of the funerals that I had taken part in over the past year, providing comforting music and helping this unique moment in the life of a family to be a little more about thanksgiving and a little less about mourning.

As each name was read, the lowest bell in the church tower was tolled,  a powerful use of a single musical note.  The sound of the bell, the surrounding birds, the blowing breeze were together a fitting memorial to these people – returned to nature, remembered, honored.

Weekend miscellania

As mentioned last weekend, I’ll not be doing full blog posts on Saturday-Sunday.  However, I will provide a Saturday listing of upcoming events and other interesting links.  Some will fall into the “Shameless Self-promotion” category, for which I apologize, but may be enjoyable for weekend web surfing nonetheless.

  • Updated Portfolio of my new websites:    Set 1 Set 2
  • Auditions for adults and children can be scheduled at any time for December Lessons and Carols and Spring 2011 Concert:
  • Sunday Worship at First Congregational, Bristol, CT will include our annual outdoor Memorial Day Service of Remembrance, a dramatic choral setting of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” and a new (this week!) original piano piece, “Remembrance.”

Music rings out with teamwork

Last evening’s bell choir rehearsal at church was a great success. This group is challenging, yet a lot of fun and very rewarding.  With just six ringers (including myself), the challenge is to make full-sounding music with a small team.  We also have a wide range of abilities in the group.  It has been a treat for me to train some brand-new, younger ringers, who are learning very quickly how to make great music.

four-in-hand ringing

Being a regular ringer as well as director has presented a new and unique challenge for me; I’ve enjoyed learning new techniques like ringing “four-in-hand” (Tricky! Two bells in each hand need to ring independently of each other, so one goes sideways and the other goes frontways – it makes my brain hurt sometimes!).

Bell Choir has become one of my favorite music groups because of the teamwork involved. We have a common goal of making the music sound wonderful, and the common goal above that of bringing praise to God and inspiring others with that music. Attaining that goal in worship requires each person to be present for rehearsals (else their notes in the scale do not get played at all), listen to each other so that the notes match each other when playing a melody, watch and respond to the director so that a tempo is maintained and beautiful “moments” of dynamic or phrasing can happen. It is a lot to count on, and I’m impressed every time with how well they do it.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to work with such a committed and talented group, and for the inspiration they provide. They ring in worship next on Sunday, June 13.

When nature wins

Today, I’m sharing a series of photos I took on a bike ride a few weeks back.  I call it “When Nature Wins.”  Along the Farmington River rail trail there is an old factory that is seemingly still in use, and there is a railroad siding that runs directly into the back of the building. Of course, the main track is long gone, replaced by the bike trail, so the remaining trestle and rail ties fully intertwined with Mother Nature is quite beautiful.  It is a great reminder that our Earth has so much inner power.

Who’s actually writing this music?

I had a great conversation with one of my business colleagues yesterday about the tenuous relationship a person has with his/her subconscious “self.”  I described this relationship, in my personal experience: “We’re like ambivalent co-workers — we work OK together, but don’t really like each other.”  The real trick is getting out of my own way to allow my smarter, better-connected inner self to rule. (This is where those tired-but-true words of wisdom ring forth: “Trust your gut,”  “Listen to your instincts,” etc.)

I am certain that the process of writing music is the closest I come to simply allowing the subconscious to take over.  Evidence was at the ready this week:  I wrote eight measures of music on Monday.  On Tuesday, I realized it was written for a specific upcoming occasion (Memorial Day).  Previous to this, there have been several occasions when music has emerged, and days later it has been clear that it was in dedication to someone who has passed on.

With all that life deals us, we need reminders that we have an inner connection to each other, to this earth, to the universe, to God.  If we pay close attention, our success will be great, our lives will be fulfilling, our efforts will be meaningful.

Good music doesn’t happen in a vacuum

Yesterday, I took advantage of the beautiful day and drove up to Worcester to meet two friends who are part of my relatively new journey of music creation.  I had lunch with my concert manager, who, aside from gently pushing me for quite awhile to write this blog, offers great help and advice about promoting music that is close to my soul.

Then, I spent the afternoon practicing and composing at another friend’s house:  his Steinway piano is featured on my current recordings, and will be heard on the collection of my music that will be produced this summer. Aside from the all-important quiet space that visiting there provides, we are able to talk and share knowledge about the technical aspects of recording, performing, and composing. (Things like: how can I release the dampers without there being a “hiccup” noise in the recording?, or why does this particular piano’s design make reaching some intervals more difficult?) Then, I can play again with new perspective.

The challenge becomes to take all that is heard and shared and “file it away” — trusting that the mind pulls out that info subconsciously when needed.  I’ve found that the best recorded music happens when the musician can be free to express what’s in the soul without worry.

There is an ever-growing circle of “musical advisors” that constantly help me: these friends, my talented wife, the folks who make music with me regularly (both by singing and listening). The source of music itself is in equal parts confusing and beautiful, and I am grateful that is not up to me alone to figure it out!