30 Days of Thanks Day 22: Time Alone in the Car

I haven’t been driving much for the past year. There are many reasons why I do not yet own a new van with high tech hand controls for driving, and I will attempt to write about that in a later post.

However, today I am grateful that I DID spend two hours driving by myself in my car. Two blissful hours alone, listening to music and singing at the top of my lungs. Yup, that was me.

I love all types of music, but I get bored listening to the radio. There are too my commercials. They play the same songs over and over and over. IPod playlists help, but as I said, I get bored easily.

Last year I discovered Spotify. I love Spotify because you can listen to, and save entire albums if you wish. Sure, there are arguments for and against this type of streaming service. But today Spotify made my trip a very enjoyable sing-along.

With any luck, when I insert the next bit of text, the playlist of the songs that randomly popped up for my drive will appear. If you’re heading out on the road, give these tunes a try.


30 Days of Thanks Day 18: Unexpected Visits

I looked at my mail after work yesterday and noticed a flyer from the local casino. I was about to throw it out when I noticed the photo on the back cover.

The signature concert advertisement featured an image of a Zac Brown tribute band, ZBTB. I held the flyer up to my face to get a good look and then sent my friend Tara a quick text.

Dude, is your husband playing at the casino in Schenectady tomorrow night?!

Yes, Dan’s band was playing. What’s more, Tara decided to come out with Dan for an impromptu visit.

That’s how I found myself at the casino tonight with Tara. We laughed, we sang, we danced. In other words, we acted like we did when we first met twenty-five years ago. Only this time, Tara actually gets to go home with the drummer.

Thank you Tara and Dan for a very fun night! I am grateful for your friendship and love in my life. I had fun, even if it was 2 hours of country music! 🙂

My Go-To Tunes: Old School Country

I have always been a person who associates memories with music. I can’t always remember what I was wearing for a specific event, but I can tell you what memories are attached to songs.

Growing up, our house was always full of music. The stereo was playing, or one of my sisters was practicing her musical instruments. I learned to sing songs which may or may not have been appropriate at a young age.

One of the first songs I remember singing is “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell. I used to have an orange plastic rocking horse with a blue mane. I named him Filbert. I would ride Filbert in my parents’ living room, wearing my cowboy hat, and sing “Rhinestone Cowboy” at the top of my lungs. I still know all the words. I don’t know whether to be proud of that.

Today I heard the news that Glen Campbell passed away. In honor of his life and legacy, I give you my Old School Country memory. Thank you for the music Glen.


My Go-To Tunes: Musical Memories

Sometimes, I’m going through life doing something completely mundane when all of a sudden my brain becomes aware of a song and I’m instantly transported to a different place and time. This happened yesterday as I was completing an overdue monthly expense report for my employer. I heard the high hat and the keyboards and started bopping in my chair. In came the bass, and I turned up the volume on my headphones without even realizing what I was doing. I started singing the first chorus before I became aware of the sound coming out of my mouth.

Sidebar – this happens all the time, much to the annoyance of my former cubicle neighbors when I used to work in the cube farm. “I’m sure you think you have a lovely voice, but it’s very distracting when you sing at your desk.” Um, well, I actually do have a good voice, but most of the time when I’m singing at my desk at work, I really don’t notice that I’m doing it. I’ll try not to listen to music but you screaming into  your phone is a distraction too! Is it any wonder I didn’t last there?

Back to the story…

When this happened yesterday, I was transported from my home office in Waterford, New York, USA, to the house on Mirramar Park in Blackmans Bay, Tasmania, Australia. I was sixteen years old in September 1990 when my host brother, Mike, blared the song at 6:45 AM and yelled at me to get out of bed. I remember the moment because it was one of the few mornings I did not get up before Mike to get ready for school.

This memory sparked another memory – February 15 is Mike’s birthday! A glance at the clock and some quick calculations and I realized it was already February 15 in Australia. I left a quick note on Mike’s Facebook page, sharing my musical memories and birthday wishes. He replied this morning (well, morning for me but I’m guessing he’s heading to bed).

Denise – You are AWESOME! I still absolutely love that song!!! i will play it tomorrow to my 3 daughters in your honour! I love how the bass line kicks in half way through the bar on the off beat…gold!

I love that music can be a universal language, connecting me to friends and family who happen to be on the other side of the world. Some people associate memories with food or scents. I know someone whose memories are triggered by clothes. But my memories have always been sparked by music.

The song that served as my memory spark this time was Modern Times by Daryl Braithwaite. Included on his album Rise, it is a staple on my “Aussie Tunes” playlist. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but yesterday I was struck by the second verse. Though the song was released twenty-seven years ago, the lyrics are still relevant.

Somebody pulls the trigger, while somebody waits to get hit

Somebody freezes in the winter, and I’m complaining about the heat

Nobody listens these days, though they’ve all got something to say

I’m singing songs about waiting, and you’ll come back some day

Now I need to go listen to the song again. You can listen to it too, in honor of Mike’s birthday.

30 Days of Thanks Day 7 – Guest Post by Carryl Robinson

Today’s post is written by Carryl Robinson. Carryl and I “met” in an online writing group where we connected over a shared love of music and hockey. Besides writing, what else do you need? Carryl’s writing fills me with hope and makes me consider how I can make my own writing more lyrical. I was thrilled when she agreed to be one of my guests during this year’s 30 Days of Thanks. You can read more of Carryl’s work by visiting her blog, Echoes From The Cave, or by following her on Twitter @CarrylRobinson

For Lynn
(With Gratitude)

It began with sorrow, a gift from a dear friend who was moving half a continent away.  A business card emblazoned with a treble clef staff, and, peering through the “spaces” of the staff, a pair of eyes.  I felt them pierce through me, as if the person connected to that drawing already knew everything there was to know about me. Vocal Eyes Music, the card read. Lynn Skinner.

“I think you’ll like working with Lynn,” my friend told me. I didn’t even question her; I had learned to trust Susan’s instincts over the years of our friendship.  I called Lynn the very next day, my first voice lesson scheduled within the fortnight.

Lynn’s studio is calming and restful, with few distractions.  It feels like my favourite hoodie, a warm sunny spot on a winter afternoon, and a hot cup of tea all rolled into one.  On one wall, however, there is a photograph of a man.  He is obviously seated and he is studying an object in the foreground. It is the neck of a guitar.  The photograph had been taken from behind the guitarist, the man’s gaze was fixed, laser-like, on the guitarist’s hand and the neck of the guitar.  I was transfixed.

“It’s Pablo Picasso with the uncles of the Gypsy Kings,” she told me.

What manner of voice teacher has a photograph of a painter and a guitarist on her wall?  And why did I have such a hard time tearing my eyes away from that image?

I don’t know what Lynn recalls about our first meeting, but I remember feeling I had absolutely no business being in her studio at all.  I knew my breath control was abysmal.  I knew my voice was good enough for choral singing, and perhaps the occasional musical offering at church, but it was nothing special.  This pixie of a woman, this dynamo, this miracle worker who had given Susan her voice back was going to have her work cut out for her working with me.  I was a hopeless case.

And so we began.

It all begins with the breath.  Don’t let anything impede the flow of the breath.

When my beloved father died, very unexpectedly, I spent the entire hour in Lynn’s studio, sitting on the carpet, tears sheeting down my face. Breathe.  Just breathe.  She played the piano while I struggled to take the next breath, and the one after that.  And when I started holding my breath, in a futile effort to control pain and loss: Keep breathing.

Other lessons followed.

Singing seems to lead your writing, and sometimes your writing leads your singing.  Let’s work with that.

So she has me to write things.  What does it mean to live life in an open key?  Tell me about artistic alchemy.  She has me to experiment with colour and form as I listen to a much-loved guitar piece.  She invites me to play with sound, with melody.  I begin to learn to fly, even if my wings are under-used and weak, even if I think I cannot.  She invites me to show up, to put more of myself into song.

The Wailin’ Jennys, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, The Secret Sisters, The Indigo Girls, K.D. Lang, Sarah McLachlan, what do they have in common?  Why do you like to sing their music?

They’re all storytellers, I tell her.  I love songs that tell a story.  Start there.  Tell me a story.

And so I write a backstory for the narrator of “Angel from Montgomery” and I improvise a narration that fits “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and in the creation of both, I find the music shimmers every so subtly and takes on a different vibrancy.

I cringe and shake my head when I mess up a warm up exercise, when my fledgling efforts to improvise end up in a convulsing heap on her studio floor.  There are no mistakes in music.  Only time.

As an adult, how do I learn how to play?  I think it’s more accurate to say we have to remember how to play.

And I begin to learn to be patient with melody.  I begin to learn to be patient with story.  And miracle of miracles, I begin to learn to be patient with myself.

Slowly, sometimes painfully so, I am learning the lesson of the painter and the guitarist and the photographer and the voice coach who harbours them in her studio.  Because art, like life itself, is a gift, and gratitude seems the only response my heart is capable of offering.