Music in nature

Farmington River, Burlington, CT

Farmington River, Burlington, CT

My goal this spring has been to get out and do a bike ride with my son every day that it is possible.  So far, so good: most sunny days he and I have set off on a 5-9 mile rail-trail excursion, and he is improving more quickly than he is growing in stature (which is happening rapidly!).

Being very attuned to sound, I’m constantly aware of the singing birds, the rushing river, the breeze in the leaves, the whir of tire on pavement, and of course the not-as-subtle, “Dad! Slow down!”  It feels completely cliché to write about how beautiful these nature sounds are, but I feel it is too important to be ignored.  Even along the trails, the sounds of our (human) making are ever so close, with the passing trucks and cars, and most especially those who have long cell phone conversations while walking in the woods!  The connection I have felt to nature becomes even more precious when there is so much competition for my attention.  I’m even aware when we stop just to enjoy the view that is so hard to quiet the nagging voice that says, “Get moving! Work to be done at home!”

So, the medicine I’ve chosen is to do it regularly.  Get out there, feel the breeze, hear the sounds, quiet the mind.  Try it!

Final rehearsal of the season

First Church Choir - Palm Sunday 2010

Last night, my wonderful church choir rehearsed for the final time this season.  Despite a slow start (I know for me it was tough finding the energy to sit in a room for an hour and a half when it was so gorgeous outside!), some hard work was done, some beautiful and exciting music was made, and we even attained some new heights in our general ability to find more meaning in the music.

To me, the weekly rehearsal is a more powerful community experience even than what we do on Sunday morning:  the voices raise together as one, and even though we are preparing to sing “in public”, we are singing just for each other – a safe circle of friends. Summertime is a necessary and welcome break from the planning and scheduling, but I will miss that time together each week.

It has been said that singing is the single best thing you can do to take care of yourself and improve your life (see this study conducted last year by Chorus America). I have seen that in action and have been part of it; it is truly humbling to lead such an important yet intangible part of life!

Worlds collide

piano compositionOne of the challenges of writing music is finding time to “make it happen.”  This is actually a misnomer (at least for me), because I truly feel I have very little control over when and how it happens.  So, it is more accurately finding time to “let it happen.”

Just before lunchtime yesterday, things with my web business freed up enough that I could sit at the piano for awhile, and yes, a piece I had started months ago actually developed into a page and a half of new stuff.  Momentum was great, I was having fun, my son was hanging out and listening…  and then the phone rang. After a half hour on a necessary business call, I went back to the piano and only seemed to be able to play the same two chords over and over!

The irony, of course, is that the music I write is so clearly about relaxation, focus, meditation, centering, contentment, quiet…  It seems I’m much better at preparing that space for others than for myself.

Visit with greatness

Mary McCleary (1984)

I visited a very dear friend yesterday, Mary McCleary.  If you are into handbells at all, her name is very familiar to you, as she was a very prolific handbell composer in years past, and a tireless advocate for that instrument(s).  Mary is my sort of “adopted grandmother” – I followed her as music director in two churches in CT, and we have always been mutual admirers and good friends.  She’ll be 90 in August, and now lives in Elim Park, a retirement community in Cheshire, where she has gotten a total new lease on life as a musician, helping them to put a pipe organ in their chapel, leading a group of elder singers in a weekly sing-along (she says, “Can you believe I’ve finally learned to play by ear?!”), and being part of a very close-knit community after many years of living alone.

My favorite story about Mary is that she played her first organ recital in Connecticut on THE Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941!  She always mentions that of course they had no idea the attack happened until days later.

The differences we make in people’s lives as musicians are immeasurable.  I have always been humbled by the sheer number of people that have had their lives enriched by Mary’s gifts and joy in sharing them, for so many years.  My young son was along for the visit, and was taken in by her immediately – perhaps McCleary Fan No. 3000?

The power of music to heal

This past Saturday, I was asked to play the organ for a memorial service at a church that I served going on 10 years ago.  The service was for a wonderful gentleman, who was a tower of the church, both literally and figuratively: he was that really tall guy who sits in the back row of the bass section, week after week without fail, serves on important committees, is always willing to lend a hand to better the church community.  I describe him in general terms, because every church has one of these people, and if you just think for a moment you can identify him or her!

I was struck by the power music has to heal people at these events.  I was invited to play because there was a request for a half-hour concert, and people remember my playing as a powerful thing even though I only served that church for a brief time.  The church was full, the choir sang beautifully – emotional settings of “Amazing Grace”, “Come Sunday”, and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” – and people sat in apparent calm.

Sometimes it takes tragedy to really see the need for music – a gift from God that is impossible to understand or quantify – and yet it is with us almost every moment.