#MusicAdvent – Music and Coffee (and More Music)

This year for Holidailies, I’m also podcasting daily through the month of December. Click HERE to visit my podcast site, and listen to yesterday’s entry.

Joy to the World

The first song I remember hearing on the radio is Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” It was released in November, 1972, or about three months after my 2nd birthday. Something about either the imagery (my story) or the cadence (my mother’s story) of the “clouds in my coffee” refrain stuck in my toddler-brain. Perhaps this means Ms. Simon is to blame for my coffee habit. After all, until I was a teenager, my mother drank instant. (Yeah, I know, the thought is truly frightening.)

The first pop songs I remember asking musician friends to play, or humming on my own were a kind of eclectic batch that included Donovan’s “Happiness Runs” (they taught it to us in school, Shaun (yes, you read that right, Shaun) Cassidy’s “Teen Dream” (which album my mother would not let my then seven-year-old self have, claiming I was ‘too young’), and 3 Dog Night’s “Black and White” which, interestingly, is also from 1972. This is relevant only because I told another Holidailies blogger that I was pretty sure no one actually remembered music from their ACTUAL FIRST YEAR OF LIFE, and, indeed, while I may have since learned music from my birth year, 1970, I don’t have any organic memories of commercial songs from before I was two.

Why am I talking about this at all? Because:
a) I love music. I mean, there are times when I think in music. If there was a movie of my life, it would be a musical.
b) One meme at a time isn’t enough, and so many people mentioned this #MusicAdvent thing that I’ve caved and decided to play.

I’m not entirely certain of the rules, but apparently you share a song that matters to you every day during Advent, and this year, people are supposed to begin with their year of birth, and post song from each of their first twenty-five years of life…which means if you’re under twenty-five years old, you’re kind of screwed, I guess, or you can just make up your own rules.

Anyway, since it started yesterday, I’ve got two songs for today.

Day 1: The Carpenters, “Close to You,” the number one single from the week of 15 August 1970 (I was born on the 17th).

Day 2: The song from my birthday week is the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” but it’s not a song I really like, and there were so many good songs from 1971, so I’m going with Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” because it never fails to make me grin, and it was on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in the summer of ’71.

Holidailies 2014

Music for a Rainy Day: Interwar Duets

Cello, Leaning I’m not sure when I found the Interwar Duets, a collection of music for cello and violin from the period between World Wars I & II, but they’ve become a sort of favorite of mine since sometime last fall.

It began, I think, with a search for something two characters could be playing in a fiction piece I was working on then (and have laid aside, but will go back to soon). I wanted something interesting, something with a story, but something the average listener would probably not be familiar with.

It’s hard for me to listen to anything with lyrics when I’m writing, because I get distracted by the desire – no, the NEED – to either sing along, or get up and dance, or both. The thing is, I’m not good with quiet either, and my writing studio doesn’t have a television any more.

Whatever the reason, these duets have become ingrained in my being, and I find them particularly haunting in dismal, gray weather like today’s, probably because they were inspired by a rather dismal, gray, state of being in Europe.

Never heard them? Here’s a RHAPSODY LINK.

Image credit: demian1975 / 123RF Stock Photo

O Holy Night

O Holy Night

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

~ O Holy Night

2:40 on Christmas morning, but since we haven’t been to bed yet, for us it’s still Christmas Eve. This post, then, is short because between the hour and the amount of sugar and cognac in my veins, short is all I can do.

Tonight at mass, a young woman gave us the gift of her music: O Holy Night as a trumpet solo.

It was lovely and haunting, and even if a couple of her notes were wobbly, Christmas magic made her horn sound angelic.

It reminded me of another rendition of this carol, a carol I could never wrap my head around, until suddenly I could.


Link (for iOS users):
O Holy Night – Studio 60

Random Musings on The Longest Night of the Year

The Night Book

The Night Book | Credit: iStockPhoto.com | Click to embiggen

They say that spring will come again
No one knows exactly when.
Still the sun’s a long lost friend
On the longest night of the year.

We didn’t actually see the sun until the late afternoon today, because we woke up to thick cloud cover and heavy, fat raindrops that plummeted to the ground with satisfying splashes.

I don’t mind. I’m one of the few that loves the dark mornings and long twilights that come at the deepest part of the year.

We stare into the firelight
While December beats outside
Where the darkest hearts reside
On the longest night of the year

Fuzzy and I spent the day mostly together. We slept late, celebrated being together again after his week-long business trip to Utah, lingered in bed listening to the rain.

We finally crawled out of the warm covers because the dogs insisted it was time to get up. How they knew, when we didn’t, remains a mystery to me. I guess they have some inner time clock that alerts them to things like dawn, dusk, and dinnertime.

So keep me safe and hold me tight
Let the candle burn all night
Tomorrow welcome back the night
It was longest night of the year

After dropping our foster dogs (Madison and Marco) and our foster-housemate (Ben) at PetCo, we came back to the house, listened to the holiday extravaganza episode of “Ask Me Another” on NPR, and made a grocery list of essential things for getting through the next ten days.

I meant to buy votives, and forgot…I’m pretty sure I have tapers and tea-lights. I love candles, but ever since Yankee Candle changed their default sample size from a normal votive to a tartlet, I haven’t been buying many.

I used to think the world was small
Bright and shining like a ball
Seems I don’t know much at all
On the longest night of the year

We came home again, unloaded the groceries, and had sandwiches. I did some writing; Fuzzy dealt with an issue in Hong Kong, and then it was back to PetCo to pick up all three of our strays.

We press our faces to the glass
And see our little lives go past
Wave to shadows that we cast
On the longest night of the year

Foster dogs always look so confused when you drop them off at adoption fair. Their eyes tell the story. “I thought I HAD a home,” they seem to say. If I could, I would keep them all.

Well, maybe not ALL of them.

But a good many.

So keep me safe and hold me tight,
Let the candle burn all night,
Tomorrow welcome back the light.
‘Twas the longest night of the year

Tomorrow – today, almost – is the last Sunday in advent. So fast, this year has gone. I accomplished some lovely little things, but none of the big things I had hoped for. Baby steps? Maybe.

Sometimes I think the things I’m keeping safe are the very things I need to send out into the world.

Make a vow when Solstice comes:
To find the Light in everyone
Keep the faith and bang the drum
On the longest night of the year

I’m sitting at my kitchen table. My kitchen smells like cinnamon and chocolate, but under it there’s the scent of sleeping dog and the twin aromas of love and hope.

I don’t have a candle lit, but there’s a wreath in front of me with three votives.

If they were lit, they would burn for the past – the people who influenced me, loved me, guided me.

They would burn for the present – even though we’re in a state of extreme, if temporary, cash-poverty, the bills are paid, the house is full of food, the dogs are well cared for, and we are all mostly happy.

They would burn for the future – for the words as yet unspoken, the stories yet to be written or told. For the dreams we keep on dreaming, and for the connection we have, Fuzzy and me, to each other, to our friends and families, and to the world as a whole.

So keep me safe and hold me tight,
Let the candle burn all night,
Tomorrow welcome back the light.
After the longest night of the year

“The Longest Night of the Year” was written (music and lyrics) by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Sunday Brunch: Cello Hands

My latest Sunday Brunch piece, “Cello Hands” is up at All Things Girl. music6_by_KarpatiGabor_via_MorgueFileAn excerpt is below, but you can read the whole thing here: Sunday Brunch: Cello Hands.

I knew what a cello was, of course, because when I was much younger (five or six) I’d been gifted with a copy of Captain Kangaroo’s album of “Peter and the Wolf,” where he introduces all the orchestral instruments and tells you what characters they represent. (To this day the bassoon reminds me of a happy, sloppy, drunk man, but that’s another story.) “Okay,” I said. “Why not?”

Now, while nine may seem incredibly young and innocent to the average adult, it’s actually a pretty advanced age at which to start learning music, especially for stringed instruments. I’d always been a singer, and I could pick things up pretty quickly, and knew that a quarter note was short and a whole note was long, but this was different. This wasn’t me picking out melodies on my grandmother’s ancient, out-of-tune-except-in-summer-when-the-humidity-made-the-cracked-soundboard-sound-intact piano. This was learning how to think in a whole new language, and literally see the music and then be able to make it.

The Curviest Music in History

La Paz Music Statue

John Philip Sousa once said, “Jazz will endure just as long as people hear it through their feet instead of their brains.”

I’m not sure if it was jazz or some other beat that inspired the creation of these three curvaceous musicians, found in a plaza a block or so off the Malecon in La Paz, and since the descriptive tablets have either been removed or never existed, I may never know.

What I am certain of, is that the music that inspired this public art had to be the kind you hear, not just with your feet, but with every part of your body.

I imagine the sculptor hearing a street musician play a tune, while another joins in. I imagine a balmy breeze spreading the salt air from the bay throughout the city, and people out and about in the evening, listening to the combined voices of singers, instruments, sea birds, rustling palms, and ocean waves.

My friend Carmi says that this week’s Thematic Photographic theme is “curvaceous.” I’m pretty certain these sculpted musicians played the curviest music in history.

Finding my Zip

I’ve been in a kind of funk the last couple of days. I haven’t had a true migraine, just tension headaches and feeling really tired. I was up at 7:30 this morning, but then I went back to bed at 9:30 because I was so exhausted I felt like I’d been drugged into sleep.

I woke again at one-thirty this afternoon.

I’ve tried to write, tried to research, tried to get into the mood to do some more Christmas decorating, and all I want to do is sleep. I haven’t even cracked open (metaphorically speaking, as it’s a Kindle file) the Cleo Coyle book I got on Tuesday at 2:01 AM Central time.

Tonight, in an effort to shake the funk, I played a bunch of music, but even that didn’t help, so I went to YouTube and found a Peter, Paul and Mary video (because I am SUCH a geek) that never fails to make me grin.

That video is below. Enjoy:

Holidailies 2012

Dracula Under Glass


I’m not generally a fan of Philip Glass. I mean, I like his music better than I like, say, the music of John Cage, but when it comes to orchestra and quartet music, minimalism is just not my style.

However, earlier this evening I was poking around YouTube because after a friend introduced me to “chambersoul” musician Shana Tucker’s awesome fusion of classical, jazz, soul and folk forms – and did I mention she’s a cellist? – I found that my interest in my own cello was renewed. It’s been sitting in the closet for over a year, partly because I haven’t been in the mood to play, and partly because my hands hurt from so much typing, and partly because the C-string needs to be replaced and I’m terrified the string will hit me in the eye during the process.

But I digress.

So I was poking around iTunes, because I’m all about instant gratification, and I found a song by CelloFourte (aka Tate Olsen) that I quite like, even though his band (Skillet) is largely unknown to me. (I’m even less of a Christian music/Christian rock fan than I am a Glass or Cage fan, because while I believe everyone is entitled to self expression, I think praise music is a bit smarmy. To me, it always comes across as insincere. (I think they doth PRAISE too much.))

But browsing for music is all about finding the unexpected, and so I was surprised to come across a Kronos Quartet album called Dracula. Now, the Kronos Quartet has been in business almost as long as I’ve been alive and their repertoire includes a healthy blend of contemporary, classical and contemporary classical (no, that is NOT an oxymoron – it refers to modern music composed in a classical style). Even though they seem to be partial to Glass, I generally like their albums.

But Dracula? Really?? Could it be that one of my favorite quartets had celebrated one of my favorite stories?

As it turns out, it could. The album isn’t at all recent, but is the recording of Kronos Quartet’s performance of Philip Glass’s Dracula quartet, which is basically a modern, alternative score to the original 1931 movie which starred Bela Lugosi. In fact, KQ has played the piece live, under the movie, more than once.

The music alone is amazing – it really feels scary, mysterious, creepy, cautious, hopeful, and triumphant at various stages. As I have a DVD of the movie, I’m considering playing the two together some dark October evening (it begs for a dark October evening. Dracula doesn’t work in the late summer twilight. Trust me on this).

Meanwhile, I found a YouTube clip, of the music and the film, which I’ve shared below.


Ave Maria

As I write this it’s roughly 1:30 in the morning on Christmas Eve, which rather reminds me of those fables and proverbs built around riddles, like the lovers who can only have permission to marry when there are two Sundays in a week. I wanted to do a musical post, because I spent the evening singing and laughing with friends. First, practice for the song I’m singing for “special music” on Sunday (“Babe in the Straw” – the version Leigh Nash of Sixpense None the Richer recorded), then full choir practice immediately following. I was so cold during the first part that I was breathy and pitchy. If I look at the music, I mess up. Good thing I know all the words.

Our Christmas Eve service will be both more formal and more relaxed this year – yes, it can be both – we’re trying a new flow to things, and while I suspect some may find it a little discomfited by the whole thing – including language like “vespers” and “vigil,” I’m certain that, ultimately, it will be a lovely evening, and I’m looking forward to singing with everyone, and then racing across town to attend the “midnight” mass at one of the Episcopal churches. (It starts at 10:30)

A few nights ago, I sat on the back deck with Fuzzy and we celebrated the winter solstice by watching the eclipse and necking. More of the latter than of the former, really, but we saw enough of the show in the sky to appreciate the event. People say that the veil between the living and departed is thinnest around Halloween, but my grandmother is most definitely pressing against the sheer fabric of time in these days that lead from Solstice to Christmas. I walk into rooms – rooms she never lived to see – and catch the faintest whiff of her perfume; I wake in the middle of the night and feel the soothing touch of her cool, soft hand on my sweaty brow.

She always used to sing around the house. To herself, to her violets, to my grandfather, to me. She never knew the words, but she knew the music, unless you put it in front of her. She could play chords by ear, but couldn’t read actual musical notation.

My mother associates the song “Hello Dolly” with her, and that’s not inappropriate – she loved the song – but when I think of her, it’s “Ave Maria” that plays in my head. The version I prefer is Schubert’s, possibly because I grew up with it, but the version playing on my computer tonight, and in my heart, is the Bach prelude that plays under Gounod’s lyrics. The first is bold and passionate, the second, gentler, more contemplative.

Wexford Carol

I don’t remember when Celtic Woman became part of my musical vernacular, but I know that I love their sound.

Instead of a text post today, I offer this video, culled from YouTube, of their performance of the Wexford Carol. It’s a new favorite of mine, though my preferred performance is by Yo-Yo Ma & Alison Krauss. That video isn’t embeddable but can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMaubOI5flk.

Meanwhile, here’s Celtic Woman: