Thursday, May 31, 2007

Barely One Step Ahead of the Blues

I don't know about you all but I'm feeling more than a pinch at the pump. It's more like a chokehold. If you're in the oil refinery business, chances are you don't feel it. But if you're at the other end of the petro food chain, operating a gas station, chances are you're about to shut your doors.

And if you're somewhere in between, like just an ordinary single mom at the grocery store, you're definitely thinking about everything that goes in your basket. And everything at the store costs more because it takes more to get it to the store. Hormone-free milk for $3.39 a gallon, or organic milk $3 for a half gallon? Or, regular, RGH-packed mllk for a sale price of $2.25? How badly do I want my daughter to look like a normal 13 year old in seven years?

Last night it cost me $35 to fill up my tank. If I'm lucky and very careful, that will last me almost a week. But that's if I don't add extra trips. My last fill up was Sunday, but I had to fill up again tonight because of a couple extra trips to Cleveland. I was actually ON "e" when I rolled into my local BP (stands for Big Pinch) station.

Living simply is sort of my norm, but in the last few months I've tried to take it more seriously, and not because of gas prices. My life is easier when I ramp down and realize just how little I need. I try to run the dishwasher just once a week, and do just two loads of laundry a week, and I make all the loads as large as I can. I hate putting laundry away, so why do it any more than I have to! And unless there is something critical, I limit my own time on the computer in the evening, and keep the damn thing off otherwise while I practice, walk, read, or hang out with friends. The side effect of this has been good. Last month, we sheared our electric bill down to a mere $26. But air conditioning season is around the corner. It's unlikely that our new windows, to replace the 25 year old originals that are practically falling out of the frames, will suppress all our energy costs. But it will help some, which helps overall.

And hey, I'm lucky! I'm buying new windows! What about the folks who have NO OPTIONS. Hell, how about people who have NO WINDOWS? I feel the pinch. It's real. But it's way more real for some, especially for folks at the poverty line who have no access to public transportation routes to get them to their jobs, and have to pay per gallon nearly what they get paid per hour. This is a huge problem in Cleveland, and no matter how many studies are done, no one has fixed it yet.

There's been a lot of back and forth this week with some good friends about the state of things and why Americans are burying their heads over the war and this and that. A lot of it really does have to do with being overwhelmed with day to day survival. Even though I try to do what I can, I'm always looking over my shoulder or watching the sky for the other shoe. For most of us everyday, we're just One Step Ahead of the Blues.

And that's the name of this Rhonda Vincent tune I love to sing. It's from the Ragin Live cd released a couple of years ago. If I play my cards right and eat cereal a few nights a week for dinner -- with regular milk -- we'll be able to catch Rhonda at the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer ( concert in Columbus, OH July 27 and 28. We can write off 90% of the ticket on our taxes (and so can you!), and I'll be closer to Rhonda's size 2! Now there's a win-win all around.

Sometimes, a pinch can be a good motivator. ;-)

One Step Ahead of the Blues

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Afterthoughts and a Call to Action

I want to draw your attention to two really good articles about Memorial Day and then ask you to do something.

The first article you can find on my good friend Shameless’s blog, Shameless Agitator. It really is worth the effort to write to her to get the log-in information (readers who have been following the comments on an earlier post will note that she has now gone password protected). That information is She's expecting to hear from you if you haven't already contacted her.

The second is Connie Schultz’s column from today’s edition of The Plain Dealer. Schultz, who is married to Ohio Representative Sherrod Brown, eloquently points out the dichotomy between the extent of the conflict in Iraq and the fact that for the most part, Americans really don’t know the extent of what’s happening, how much it costs, or what troops really are facing. If they did, those little “Support Our Troops” you see riding around on the backs of cars would translate into action.

Schultz points out how different things were in World War II, a war in which Shameless’s grandfather, Benny Cook, served. Those were different times. Americans willingly rationed everything from butter to gasoline so that troops could get what they needed. We knew what we were fighting for. And the rest of the world knew, too. Everyone was all in, and when V-E and V-J came, albeit the latter at the cost of nuclear annihilation, it was over. Treaties were signed, everyone moved on and a new world order evolved, which ultimately over years of other conflicts about communism saw the demise of that ideology in the Soviet Union.

Iraq is not that kind of conflict. I don’t think there is a point to it, actually. It’s just a messy, bloody, and insanely expensive fight over religion and money and oil. It is not a "just" war over anything. Hitler was one kind of enemy. He would have taken over all of Europe and obliterated the Jewish race. The mission to remove him and stop Germany was clear, compelling -- and accomplished.

Nobody I know, and likely nobody I would stop on the street to ask, knows what the hell we're doing in Iraq. Wasn't ol Osama Been Hidin from Afghanistan? Whatever happened to him? But to the tune of Two Billion Plus, we're now stuck in Iraq, supposedly to do what? Stabilize a nation which we helped destabilize with this war that started out in Afghanistan, and install a Little US Government?

And where, exactly, is that money going if the armed forces on the ground in the Middle East have to fashion their own protective gear out of whatever they can find lying around? Would you tell your teenage driver, "Son, we have to be able to take the Millinses out to dinner next Thursday, so we can't afford to fix the seatbelt in your car. Just whip something up."

Something is clearly very wrong. Look, I hate this war. But I don't hate the warriors. I don't know who signed up for what or why they signed up. All I know is that they're there, in the belly of hell, and at least some of them over there believe they're doing something to save my ass. So why the hell don't they have what they need? Who the hell is responsible for, you know, let's say, helmets. For TWO BILLION BUCKS, I’d say every soldier, not just the officers, should have pretty much the best damn helmet available. But they don’t. Why? That's the question the American public isn’t asking. Why?

Today, Cindy Sheehan announced that she’s done. After trying in vain to lead America away from war, on her boy’s birthday, she’s going home, back to try to lead a normal life. She threw an anti-war party, and nobody came. Instead, people started arguing over what the best right way was to do something. So, everybody got busy with all kinds of talking and nobody did anything, and the war still rages on. And her son is still dead. Do you blame her for quitting? I didn't do anything.

Let’s face it. Iraq is no threat to American democracy. George Bush and His Big Band of Bozos is the greatest threat to American democracy since this country was founded. And he’s not making much of a case for democracy in other parts of the world, either. And to be brutally honest, as long as we sit back and let this all go on, neither are we.

Blueberry artfully points out that Memorial Day got its start during the Civil War. So how about this. See how fast you can write a letter to your Senator or Representative. You should be able to do it in the time it takes to play a wartime fiddle tune.

It doesn't count if you don't know who your Congress-Sheeple are:

Find your Rep at

and your Senator at

Your letter doesn't have to be long. Soldier's Joy runs about a minute and a half. You don't need much more than that to say, "Where are the helmets?" or "How exactly are you going to spend my $2.8 million? My daughter-in-law needs a good daycare. My dad needs health insurance. My son's school needs a new roof."

Ready? Go!
(Soldier's Joy performed by the Rice Brothers--Larry, Tony, Ron, and Wyatt)

If you get done early, visit these and other Web sites for more ideas on advancing the end of war: (yes, you know it, you know Iran is next)

It's time to start a conversation with the people representing us. Silence is agreement. If you don't agree, say so, while we still have the chance.

Monday, May 28, 2007

For Those Doing the Remembering

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ripple Effect

There should be more days like this, when the to-do list gets tossed and time is spent with friends.

This afternoon I had the chance to do just that. I sat by the lake with a good friend, watching and listening to the waves, watching families play in the sand, watching boats go by, and talking about music and life and everything in between. These kinds of unplanned "breaks" cause a little ripple effect, helping us to chill out, touch base, regain perspective.

We all have our little rough patches in life, and having friends that walk and talk with us now and then is sometimes all that we need. I'm glad for the folks who are there for me, and glad to be there for folks who need someone to listen, walk, watch the ripples, or sometimes, be the one to toss the pebble in the otherwise still waters.

by Robert Hunter

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come thru the music,
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

Its a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they're better left unsung.
I dont know, dont really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

But if you fall you fall alone,
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

After the Party's Over

It's nearly 2:30 in the morning. I just spend an invigorating evening with folks from the family enterprise I work for, enjoying the opening night of the last play of the season at Cleveland's Karamu House, the oldest professional black theatre in the country. The play was "King Headley II" by the late August Wilson. It was superb.

Afterwards a large group gathered at Nighttown to celebrate.

At some point in the course of the three-hour heady and intense play, I thought back briefly to That Last One who, this time a year ago, I hadn't even met. Now, it's like we never did, except for a lesson or two I learned.

I'm hoping that's what it will be like when we're all done suffering through this nightmare we call The Bush Fadministration. Like, it never happend except for the things we learned.

This tune and vid by the Indigo Girls sums it up pretty well. I posted the tune on the blog a while back. It's beautiful and has become one of my faves, but I must say I love seeing this tongue in cheek video representation.

Enjoy your Holiday Weekend. I hope it's as memorable as mine has already been.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Border-ing On Cranky

You may have seen on the news that there's been a run on Mexican illegals up here in Northeast Ohio.

Some fella was pinching poor Mexican families to the tune of $2,000 per human piece of cargo in exchange for a lovely piece of floor in exquisite Painesville, Ohio and local environs.

Now, I happen to be in the business of human capital, but, not that kind. That's a little different. Taking advantage of human desperation? Hm, lemme think. Nope, I don't like it one bit. And I think people like that, who take money from desperate human beings and then treat them worse than cattle, ought to be punished.

I do believe that anyone working in this country should do so with full protection of health care and human rights. Of course, it would be great if any of us had those, so this whole big ruckus over illegal immigration is really an OPPORTUNITY for American corporations to step up and improve work standards and conditions for all employees.

Sure they will.

I don't have a Stanford MBA, but, let me get this straight. It's ok for American companies to offshore everything from customer support to car parts, but, if people want to come into this country, not to lounge, but to work, we send them home. So, it's ok to send American jobs someplace else to people who don't speak English, but not ok to give them to people who don't yet speak English here in America.


How about we try something new.

1) American corporations stop using workers at every level to advance the bottom line so that senior executives can build their Golden Parachutes. I'm intrigued by the Cerberus approach: bye bye shareholders. Let companies be built and run by people who know how to run companies and lead people.

2) So that I can keep one hardworking illegal immigrant in this country, likely a man or woman who is already doing the work of ten fat lazy Americans, as a good corporate citizen, I will agree to accept responsibility for financing and facilitating my worker's visa application, education, and other documents. In return I will send ten fat lazy Americans to Mexico, where they will learn Spanish (after all, if they want to work in another country they'd better learn to speak the language, right?), work, cook, interact with their families and communities, dodge bullets, save their hard-earned cash of $30 week or whatever they get, and hope they're not rounded up and brought back to the U.S.

I think that's fair, don't you?


Robert Earl Keen
The man outside he works for me, his name is Mariano
He cuts and trims the grass for me he makes the flowers bloom
He says that he comes from a place not far from Guanajuato
Thats two days on a bus from here, a lifetime from this room.

I fix his meals and talk to him in my old broken spanish
He points at things and tells me names of things I can't recall
Sometimes I just can't but help but wonder who this man is
And if when he is gone will he'll remember me at all

I watch him close he works just like a piston in an engine
He only stops to take a drink and smoke a cigarette
When the day is ended, I look outside my window
There on the horizon, Mariano's silhouette

He sits upon a stone in a south-easterly direction
I know my charts I know that he is thinking of his home
I've never been the sort to say I'm in to intuition
But I swear I see the faces of the ones he calls his own

Their skin is brown as potters clay, their eyes void of expression
Their hair is black as widow's dreams, their dreams are all but gone
They're ancient as a vision of a sacrificial virgin
Innocent as crying from a baby being born

They hover 'round a dying flame and pray for his protection
Their prayers are all but answered by his letters in the mail
He sends them colored figures that he cuts from strips of paper
And all his weekly wages, saving nothing for himself

It's been a while since I have seen the face of Mariano
The border guards they came one day and took him far away
I hope that he is safe down there at home in Guanajuato
I worry though I read there's revolution every day

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Waltz with Me

Ok, this is the third attempt at sharing this incredible moment with you. The Band, Emmylou, and life is perfect! From The Last Waltz.

Monday, May 21, 2007

There's Gonna Be An Uprising

Where will you be this June 1-2?

The Biscuit Burners
One Way Rider
Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain
Southern Missouri Bluegrass w/Valerie Mayfield
Jesse McReynolds and The Virginia Boys
Blind Corn Liquor Pickers
Fritts Family Band
Irongrass Trio
Blueground Undergrass
Larry Keel and Natural Bridge
County Line II
Hit & Run Bluegrass
Just Bluegrass
Avett Brothers
Rock Island Plow Company
Woodbox Gang
String Therapy
Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time
Larry Keel's Bluegrass Jam
Great American Taxi
Two High String Band
Darrell Scott
John Cowan Band
Sam Bush


Friday, May 18, 2007

Nothin' but Time

There is a mystery delivery waiting for me at my local post office. It requires my signature. I don't think it's lottery winnings.

I'm an ordinary person. I get up, go to work, work some more, take care of my kids, maybe get to the occasional concert here and there, play tunes with a friend or two now and then. My car has 120,000 miles on it. I'm not running for president. I didn't send anyone to war. I paid all my taxes. I almost have enough saved for the new windows my place needs.

So, what could possibly be in the envelope on the other side of town?

I guess I just have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

Just a big wall of time.

This is one of my favorite Bill Monroe tunes sung by some of my favorite people. I'm enjoying it while I still can, and hope you will too.

Wherever you are, enjoy all you have--your children, your lover, your kitchen, your cozy beds, whatever critters live with you, your work, your garden, your favorite things to do.

Your life.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Rubber and the Road

I am one of the most spoiled people I know.

I spent the last two days on the road in Rochester NY, an interesting blend of urban decay and quaint Americana. Out of the last nine months, I'd say all told I've spent a total of maybe 10 days on the road for my job. I just got home from another external meeting, an annual meeting for a client organization.

There are people who spend four out of five days every week on the road, musicians notwithstanding.

How in the blazes do they do it? Here I am, just exhausted and trying to figure out what ONE thing I can get done tonight here at home, and there are lots of people who don't even know where home IS.

But, I know, it's a choice.

The experience I had over the last couple of days solidified the reality that spending more time on the road will not only become a reality, but, as I try to carve out my own path and grow professionally while bringing greater business to the family enterprise I work for, it will become a necessity.

Most of it, no doubt, will be enjoyable. Music and people are my passion, and so taking the rubber to the road on behalf of that combination is hardly a sacrifice.

Some of it will be tiresome and difficult. There's some of that in every life, and mine just has had a lot less of not getting things done at home, not sleeping in my own bed, not having to cram my laundry all into one night.

By the end of this week, the person who has brought me along on the classical music recruiting side of the house will have been out of town four out of five days, and next week and the week after, two out of five. So I think this song really fits her life more than mine at the moment.

Sam Bush, like most musicians who are trying to make a living doing what they love, is on the road most of the time. Here's a song that tells it like it is.

You listen, while I go try to find the top of my dining room table under the mail and just feel glad I'm off the road tonight.

from Sam Bush's Laps in Seven, Sugar Hill 2006

Sunday, May 13, 2007

All In A Mother's Day

In the middle of the whirlwind and on the heels of a week totally not mine, I spent the afternoon with my two great kids.

I have a daughter and son who are six years apart. They are truly wonderful people of their own. They're funny, smart, and they have big hearts well beyond the size of a lot of grownups.

When you leave a marriage, and you have children, you can't help but feel you're ruining their lives. Then again, most of us with kids feel that any decision we make will be blamed for that. Nonetheless, rather than make a big stink and get a lawyer (a really, really stupid move which I later corrected at least to the benefit of the children), I got my own small place, signed the papers, and away we went into the land of singleparenthood.

For the most part, it seems they've adjusted fairly well. At times though, because I work for a very tiny firm and don't have the luxuries of lots of time off or a big salary, I feel that I'm disappointing them. I've made us a pretty nice home, and I'm proud of the fact that I was able to give them some space of their own. We can't afford to travel much, but we do take advantage of a lot of the cultural organizations we have locally, so we're never bored! And sometimes we love to just hang out and play games ourselves or in the company of other friends and family.

I hope they remember these times. We may not enjoy the vast real estate of other families or even what they have at their Dad's, but our little corner is at least a place to call home and we make the most of it. I'll always worry that in the end, our mass consumption culture, their abundant exposure to media, and other families' emphasis on maintaining the status quo will make the life I'm trying to give them look like purgatory.

This is really a love song, but as I took the only evening walk I'm likely to get this week, it came on and I realized how it reminded me of the way I feel about making things better for them. I know that every mother feels this, no matter how secure she may be.

To all the women who are mothers, especially single ones, I hope your day was filled with rich moments and reminders that all you are doing is worth it. To all the women I know who are not moms, thank you for being the kind of loving, nurturing, wonderful people I'm glad I have in my life.

Here's to no more Hard Times.

Tell me you love me
These days I need you more then ever before
Don't give up on me.
Nobody else - could ever love you more - than I - do
We all need someone.
Someone to believe in - this life that we are sharing
That's all love and trust.
If it takes a lifetime - I will never stop my trying
There's a better life for us.
Hard times can hold us down forever
Hard times are gonna fade away.
Hard times we can let them stop us darlin'
There will be a better day.
There will be a better day.

High as the wild birds fly - wild and free that's how I dream
I got to keep on dreaming
We can have - what we cannot see tomorrow
On a highest mountain.
On a highest mountain - we can watch those wild bird fly
We can drift away.
Find our own new sky - as long as you are with me
I'll never stop dreaming.
Hard times won't hold us down forever
Hard times are gonna fade away.
Hard times we can let them stop us darlin'
There will be a better day.
There will be a better day.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Best Medicine (Ain't Always Bluegrass!)

Last night I went out for a few hours with some friends I hadn't seen in a pretty long while. I also made a couple of new friends, and we all had a great time. Most everyone had been dealing with some critical issue of one kind or another. Yet the weight of all our human problems sure was lessened with an evening full of laughter. This evening I'm heading out again to steal some time for my soul, play a tune or two with a friend and enjoy a laugh at the world.

There are few things I enjoy more than a good hearty laugh. Although I take many things quite seriously, laughter comes rather easily if you dare to see the humor in just about everything. I'm never afraid to laugh at the irony of life, at the absurdity of certain events, the genius of children -- mercy, they can be so much smarter than grownups! -- or dare I say the missteps of our socalled fearless world leaders. (Well, let's face it, if we can't laugh, we'll have to give up altogether.)

Life and the world around us has so much grief and heartache. Most of us spend more than enough time thinking about those things in our lives that trouble us, and forget to enjoy the funny, sunny side of life.

Just up the river from my hometown is Steubenville, Ohio, which gave us one of the greatest entertainers of all time, Dean Martin. This terrific sketch has as little to do with bluegrass as he does, but I figured, hey, it's Saturday night. And if you find that little tune at the end as catchy as I do, you can always pick up your fiddle or banjo and try it bluegrass style.


Thursday, May 10, 2007


Yes, it's the Stray Cats. Yes, that is a banjo in Brian Setzer's arms. Yes, he's a damn fine banjo player. And yes, it's Shady Grove.

My ass is completely kicked with astonishment.

It's 1989.
Do you know where your big hair is? Must be with Shady Grove!


New Song Long Time Gone

My first ever festival experience was the New Song Festival back in 2003. It's a festival for new song writers, held over near Harper's Ferry WV. It was quite an experience, being face to face with some pretty significant talent and unknowns who every day manage to put themselves through an artistic struggle.

I was also fortunate because Darrell SCott, Tim O'Brien, and Vance Gilbert all did workshops so my brain and my ears got a real workout.

New Song was my first immersion into the acoustic world during which I thought, "I need to do something with this."

I haven't been able to get back to New Song. I went with a friend who now also appears to be a long time gone, probably just as well.

Anyway, this is one of my fave songs. The recording he did with Tim is a great version of this tune, but as you can see, Darrell holds up just fine on his own. I hope you'll take the opportunity to hear him if you get a chance.

Meanwhile, enjoy. My day is a long time gone and it's time I got some rest.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This Just In...War STILL On.

Thanks a lot, George. Thanks for embroiling our great nation in an unwinnable, unnecessary tussle with countries that have been fighting for thousands of years WITHOUT OUR HELP. Thanks for your frequent use of the word, "CRUSADE," a real popular word with the Middle East going back to, um, OH, The Crusades. Thanks for poaching young American men and women from poor urban and rural communities and sending them overseas so that if they come back and have enough limbs they can get that college degree you promised them. Thanks for the costliest war in our history behind World War II.

Thanks for NOTHING.

Click here to listen to Dirk Powell's recording of Poor Soldier while you scan these likely already outdated stats. The ticker below is just US GIs. We will never, ever be able to accurately pinpoint the number of casualties on all sides, including the long-term damage done to the Iraqi people, what's left of them, anyway.

American Military Casualties in Iraq

Since war began (3/19/03):
3378 total
2770 in combat
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03) (the list)
3239 total
2662 in combat
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03):
Footnote: How long ago was this? I hadn't even moved out of my X's house yet.
2913 total
2464 in combat
Since Handover (6/29/04):
2519 total
2137 in combat
Since Election (1/31/05):
1941 total
1874 in combat

Sources: DoD, CentCom, MNF, and

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Love You Can't See

A few weeks back I was introduced to a powerful but simple tune by Leon Payne, a blind man who wrote a good many songs back in his heyday in the 1940s. It's called The Selfishness in Man, and has been recorded by Bobby Osborn, Ricky Scaggs, and the great George Jones. It's also on the latest Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver recording featuring the memorable tenor voice of Jamie Daley, who is leaving Quicksilver at the end of the year.

The kids and I spent part of the day with X's family, as his grandmother passed away last week. His family was sizeable; Grandma was one of ten children. The best story I can remember is that her brothers had a contract out on her future husband, and I clarified today that it was for no other reason than that he was from the M family. That's it. That was enough.

Now, indeed that was a long time ago, but if my X's grandma and her sweetheart Joe had not thwarted the dirty plan, my children would not be who they are today.

So here's to working around all those prejudices of "just because." Look at the world. What a mess. It's amazing that any of us can cultivate love and make a family happen with the demands of life and the pitfalls of our psyches, let alone war, taxes, and Shrub making our country the enemy of the world. In today's world it's damn near a miracle sometimes. And when love is created and found, it needs to be shared and spread, as quickly as possible given the state of things.

I'm always emboldened by the real love stories of friends and family. I've even come across a few bloggers who's family ties have touched my heart. There is a sweetness that I can appreciate and am very grateful for, to know that this love is out there somewhere in the world. That's how it should be. Love is a binding agent, it helps to heal whatever it touches, beyond the two or more people generating it.

Listening to the first few lines of this song very clearly, remember that Leon Payne was blind. He reached beyond that to give us this song and give us his certain kind of love.

And I have a certain kind of love for many of you out there. Some I don't know well at all, and some I know better than I realize, and there are those in between. I am grateful for the ways you've touched me, and it helps me to stretch beyond my own selfishness to do whatever I do every day. Special thanks today Joe and Ann Mattoni, for being part of my life and for your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren--my own children--who became a part of my life, and for all the ways they have influenced me in part to help me become who I am.

The Selfishness of Man

I saw a little beam of sunlight
Steal across a purple sky
And bend down to kiss a rosebud
Oh it made me want to cry
To think that I had been permitted
To see a part of nature's plan oh
There's nothing that stands out more
Than the selfishness in man

Little children painting pictures
Of the birds and apple trees oh
Why can't the grownup people
Have the faith of one of these?
And to think those tiny fingers
Might become a killer's hands oh
There's nothing that stands out more
Than the selfishness in man

Why can't we see the folly
Or the uselessness of hate?
Love could lead to understanding
Maybe it's not too late

Then perhaps in his great wisdom
We might learn to understand
Then there'd be no shame nor sorrow
And no selfishness in man
Then there'd be no shame nor sorrow
And no selfishness in man

Friday, May 04, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Hindemith

Last night my son joined me for an all-Hindemith program performed by the Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic at Severance Hall, home of The Cleveland Orchestra. Our firm had worked on the recruiting of CMU's new head of the School of Music in the College of Fine Arts. I felt this was a tremendous opportunity to experience first hand the reason we did that particular search, which was not easy but which was very rewarding.

I was not surprised by the talent represented on that hallowed stage last night. And it really was a privilege for me to be able to listen and watch these students express so much depth in their playing. My son really enjoyed the concert and it was a nice plus to be able to share it with him. He was pretty baffled at the difference between this student orchestra and the one at his school, but I reminded him that these kids practice many hours a day.

I know this blog is mostly about bluegrass. But the same side of me that loves the structure and form of bluegrass loves the side I grew up in, classical music. Music performance, history, or theory can be a vital part of education, as can any art form, if our public policy makers would just be able to see the enormous benefits of studying the arts. Arts education teases out different parts of our brains that help the other parts all work better as a whole. We are whole people.

I'll share here an excerpt from Hindemith's Mathis de Maler, which was performed last night. The title refers to two different works by Hindemith; one was an opera and the other this symphonic piece, both composed in 1933-34. I found this particular movement quite beautiful, and I was deeply moved by the depth and passion in these young players.

It's all music. It's all good.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

For Great Grandma, Ann

Tonight my kids lost their great grandmother. My former father-in-law has lost his wife and mother in a span of just over four weeks.

When I met Ann, she was already losing some of her mobility, but she and my ex's grandfather always insisted on hosting large holiday meals at long tables in the basement of their tiny Toledo home. It was wacky and loud but also very special, and I remember most of those moments quite clearly.

Several years ago, Ann was moved into an assisted living facility. Her husband died in 2000, before our daughter was born. She had Parkinson's disease and had been suffering health and memory losses all these years.

But at one point in her life, a point my former sibs-in-law remember, she was quite feisty. After all, it ran in the family. I once heard that her family had a contract out on her future husband. Now that's tough!

Anyway, I feel so sad for my X's family to have been hit again with a loss, even one that was as long expected as this one. But I'm glad they will be together and help each other in remembering Ann. My heart goes out to them.

This is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, written and sung by Greg Brown, a man who loved his grandma. I only knew my mother's mother, and she was a bit like Ella Mae. Here's to our grandmothers, who looked on us knowing someday we'd be sitting here without them, reaching back for their wisdom and orneriness while seeing our own grandkids in the eyes of our children.

Ella Mae

Ella Mae - the redwings returned today
A little rain fell in the morning
The afternoon was clear
An' that song you loved to hear
Was filling up the fence row where the birds all go
To talk over their long journey and sing.

Ella Mae - all the gifts you gave
Tremble in my life like a startled deer
You gave me my Pa
Who is in me as you are
And the southern piney hills
The clear water and the running rills
That tumbled through the lives of us all.

Six big men and one big strong woman
You and little Granpa David raised up there
They all had families
We all come back to see you
You hugged us all in turn
Cocked you head and said we'd grown
And touched us with your hands
That smelled like bread

Ella Mae - it's a clear warm summer's day
The young birds are trying out their wings
Ah it's something to see them try
To get up there and fly
And my own child is bound to do the same
Today she learned three birds' names.

Ella Mae - I can see you plain as day
Sailing out like a ship to your garden
In your old wide-brim straw hat
With a long handled hoe in your hand.
Pausing at the gate I see you look south to the pond
A long time quiet smile on your face.

Ella Mae - when your David went away
After cutting brush all day long
Well, your life just slowly closed
Like a worn out autumn rose
You could not find the bread
You could not make your lonesome bed
Or really do a thing but rise and go.

Ella Mae - the redwings left today
Passing in a long cloud of wings
They're headed down your way
They'll be there in a couple of days
They'll sing that song you loved
As they fly above
Your resting place by David in the pines.