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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Welcome First

In a few weeks, my wife and I will fly to Arizona to spend the holidays with my daughter and son-in-law, who re-located to Southern California over the summer. In addition to spending time with them - along with our son-in-law's family, who are joining us - we'll visit the two National Parks located there and later connect with friends to celebrate the new year. That's a lot to look forward to but not the coolest part.  

This will be the first time in my seventy-four years that I'll not be spending Christmas eve and Christmas day in New Jersey. Though not 100% certain, this might also be the first time I'll be out of my beloved home state as a new year begins. (During my young adult full-time musician years, it's possible there was a New Year's Eve gig or two that put me elsewhere in the Tri-State area.

When I first realized a few weeks back the new ground being broken here, it caught me off guard. Being with my sisters and brother on Christmas eve or Christmas day - or both - has been a thread of love and continuity throughout my entire life. I'll miss them all. And the impossibility of a white Christmas and the weirdness of being in short sleeves outdoors this time of year also crossed my mind, briefly.

But the closer this particular first has gotten, the more welcome it has become. I'm grateful to be travelling as often as we do and pleased that cool new adventures continually present themselves. What first are you looking forward to? If you don't have one planned, why not start doing so today?  

Sunday, November 26, 2023

A Flickering Light

If you have a meditation practice - no matter how long you've had it - how has it helped you? How do you know it does? 

As a goal-oriented individual who has meditated faithfully for almost thirty-five years, these are not idle questions. I have continually mused about the benefits I derive from my practice - not to mention how to meaningfully measure those benefits - and I'm genuinely curious to hear any answers you have.

It's possible the time has now arrived for me to shift my focus away from those questions. In place of musing about benefits I derive via visiting myself on most days by sitting and paying attention to only my breathing, I've decided it's probably more useful to instead ask myself this: What is the downside to continuing to regularly meditate? How many of you with a practice - especially anyone as goal-oriented as me - have considered this?

I'm a bit chastened it's taken me so long to reach such an obvious formulation. Those of you with a regular practice might not be surprised to learn this self-evident insight came to me after returning from a recent meditation, not the first time I detected a flickering light under those circumstances. Might that be one of those benefits I've yearned to identify?     

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Key Learnings: Year 74

On my birthday every year since the inception of my blog in 2011, I've asked you to join me and reflect on one or more key things you've learned over the past year. Although reader response to this annual post has been muted, I'm grateful both for the things some of you have shared and also for comments you've made about a few of my key learnings over the past twelve years. 

* In my 74th year I learned a powerful lesson about compassion. One of the short videos used in some of the social justice workshops I co-facilitated this past year was my entry point for this key learning. Each time I watched that video I felt myself expanding as the narrator described what he calls the "angel that resides in all of us". How do we each activate that angel? Simple - take an action on behalf of someone else that has no possible payoff or benefit to you. In several of these workshops, it was clear to me that the message of that video had landed just as profoundly with one or more of the workshop participants as it had landed with me. 

* Good news should travel fast. In addition to being a key learning, hearing those words at an event centering on environmental stewardship was also healing for me. As the speaker emphasized how critical it is for environmentalists to share success stories, I immediately internalized her words. Then I decided it was time to commit to a search for promising environmental news any time I feel eco-grief.

Please consider sharing a key learning of yours with my readers and me.       

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Goal for Year 75

It's that time again, at least for me. Even if you're not beginning a new year of your life tomorrow like I am, why not join me here and declare a goal you'd like to achieve between now and next November 22? We can keep each other company as we mark progress. If you're feeling ambitious you can declare more than one goal. I'm sticking with one primarily because on November 22 over the past twelve years, I've had more success in those years when I've focused on a single thing.  

Remember: Make your goal specific & measurable, include at least one action step, keep it realistic, and state your time frame. Constructing a "SMART" goal greatly enhances the likelihood you'll reach it. 

Before my 75th birthday on November 23, 2024, I will participate in or initiate at least ten jam sessions as a way to ensure I can improvise confidently on any one of the 319 jazz standards I've memorized since November 2011. 

Wish me luck. And good luck with your goal, birthday aside.  


Saturday, November 18, 2023

Ooh Poo Pah Do

Today's challenge is for the musically hearty only. That said, I'm reasonably confident at least one old friend will throw his hat in the ring if he happens to read this post. This friend is ... 1.) the undisputed world's greatest non-musician music geek i.e., his insatiable lust has translated into a digital library with over 20,000 tunes and ... 2.) the person who first planted today's deranged notion in my head in May of 2022.  First, just a few, ahem, notes.

* I've limited the challenge to ten tunes even though I collected twenty-five over the eighteen months since my friend suggested a post like this. Consider yourself fortunate I limit the length of my blog posts. If you had any idea how many of my driving hours were occupied as I compiled a master list in my head, you might want to recommend medication. 

* For those who like keeping track, the scoring rubric for the challenge is at the bottom of the post. The song list itself is ordered by level of difficulty, easiest to most difficult. Only one recording artist is represented twice.  

* As always, using Google (etc.) is cheating. We're on the honor system here.  

Identify the artist who had the biggest hit with each of the following song titles. I've purposefully concatenated this ludicrous list to help you appreciate how pop songwriters have planted nonsensical ear worms into our heads for decades. Are you ready? 

Tutti Frutti - Da Do Ron Ron - Mony Mony - Da Doo Doo Doo Da Dah Dah Dah - Do Wah Diddy Diddy - Papa Ooo Mow Mow - Be Bop A Lula - Sha La La - Bony Moronie - Bim Bam Boom. 

Scoring Rubric: 1-3 correct = Congratulations, unlike me, you haven't wasted much precious brain space by allowing useless flotsam like this to reside in your memory. 4-7 correct = Caution, your conversations with others may be occasionally at risk. 8-10 correct = Danger, your social circle could soon end up being limited to just my geeky non-musician friend and me. Final caveat: If you noticed the song title preceding that list of lyrical gobbley-gook, or even worse, you know who recorded that one hit wonder, you're in serious trouble, socially.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Project Counterpoint

Care to join me in my latest project? After responding moments ago to a revealing e-mail from an old friend, I've decided that each time I find myself bemoaning one of my failures, flaws, or foibles - here on this blog, in an interaction with another person, or when alone with my thoughts - I'm going to pause and search for some counterpoint.

For most of my adult life, I suspect most people who have known me well would say I'm pretty adept at looking at myself critically. Which is exactly what happened when the naked vulnerability in my friend's e-mail touched me. Reflexively, I found myself pointing out my own flaws. I know an empathic response to someone else's pain is generally more helpful than problem solving or minimizing. But as I sent my response, I felt a tiny shift. Why is it easier for me to recall my failures, re-assure others by citing my flaws, use my foibles as examples of what not to do?

The counterpoint will be to search for successes and strengths, starting now. Instead of searching for even one more minute for a third "s" word to match the symmetry of the three "f" words that came to me while writing that e-mail, this moment I congratulate myself on the success I've had sustaining this blog for almost thirteen years and 2,300 posts as of November 11. Recalling that success today or some strength in the coming days if I'm wallowing in one of those "f" words is enough to get me started on this worthwhile project. I look forward to hearing from anyone who wants to join me. And, if you've got a third good "s" word for me, bring it on.         

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Thank You for Your Service

My closest connection to Veteran's Day is via my Dad who landed on Normandy during the second wave of D-Day. To this day, I get choked up even talking about the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. Watching that scene in the theater when the film was released, I was so overwrought I got out of my seat and walked into the lobby. I have never re-watched it. Imagining what my twenty-six-year-old Father experienced in that boat, on that beach, and over the hours he survived before feeling relatively safe, will always remain unfathomable to me. In every important respect, my Father was my hero and his status as a war veteran was a big part of my admiration for him. 

Yet somehow, knowing the little bit I did of my Dad's war history didn't automatically translate into a deep respect for veterans when I was a young man. Maybe it was because of when I came of age; Vietnam was raging, the streets were aflame, leaders who inspired were being gunned down. Maybe I was too immature. Maybe it was the fact that I didn't serve. But as I grew into a more reflective person, my reverence for the sacrifices of our veterans continually deepened.

I hope that reverence will continue to grow for as long as I live. I hope I will always be able to separate the mistakes our country makes, the demagogues we support, and the military misadventures old people dream up that get younger people killed, from those who proudly serve our country. All of them deserve no less. And I hope you'll join me today celebrating our veterans as well as applauding our President for his initiative to provide free nursing home coverage for any surviving veteran of WWII. If my Dad were still alive, he might have needed - and would have surely earned - that help.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Self-Discovery Via Writing

Author Joan Didion once remarked that she didn't know what she thought about something until she wrote about it. Since first being exposed to Didion's words, I have repeatedly found overwhelming evidence to support her remark, especially when it applies to my opinion of a book, film, or piece of music. 

Most recently, this happened while I wrote a book journal entry about Hotel Du Lac. Both at the halfway mark and immediately after finishing Anita Brookner's short 1984 novel, I scribbled brief impressions in my copy of what I'd read, a longstanding habit. And, as is also often the case, my wife asked me my opinion soon after I finished. My notes and my response to my wife's inquiry were decidedly lukewarm. Because even though I rammed through the book knowing I was in capable hands, while reading - and my first reaction after finishing - Brookner's miniature struck me as oh-so-British, i.e., a bit chilly.

But while writing a detailed entry in my book journal, I discovered several additional reasons that helped explain my unswerving involvement with the book, aside from Brookner's undeniable skill, which was apparent from the first page.

* Over its 183 pages, few readers will ever detect the presence of this gifted author. You are in the story from the outset. The universe Brookner creates is small but complete. 

* The third person narration provides perfect ballast for the letters the protagonist writes - but never sends - to her distant, estranged lover. The letters masterfully reveal what is in her heart, including things she will not reveal to the strangers who befriend her at the hotel.

* The slowly unfolding but skeletal back story of the protagonist's relationship with her deceased parents is a marvel of concision.

As further support of the wisdom of Joan Didion's remark, completing this blog post has pushed my esteem for Hotel Du Lac beyond what I had already captured in my book journal. What was the last instance when you wrote something that helped you better understand what you thought?              

Monday, November 6, 2023

Adventure in the Swiss Alps Ends with Mishap

Together, we were maneuvering the hairpin turns on a double black diamond trail in the Swiss Alps. As I masterfully handled the moguls while on a hair-raising turn that had foiled Olympic skiers in a recent trial for the winter games, I glanced over my shoulder and watched my wife tumble. The diagnosis? Broken kneecap. Ouch. She's now looking at a six-eight week stretch of limited mobility. Bummer.

Yeah, I made all that up. However, I'm encouraging my wife to explain away the immobilizing brace on her leg to anyone that asks using my exciting story. Because she is more honest and less flamboyant than me, I doubt she'll embrace the tall tale. But even if she doesn't, I plan to repeat it endlessly, if for no other reason than I was with her doing the hairpin turns before she fell. Tripping over a stool (i.e., the real story) vs. my glamorous tale? Sorry, no contest.

In the meanwhile, I recommend all of you strongly consider inventing your own tall tale for any future mishap that befalls you. And be sure to concoct your tale in advance to give yourself time to properly rehearse telling it. You don't want to hesitate or stumble on your words. Take it from me, your listeners will love it. Go on, tell me that first paragraph didn't grab you. I dare you.  

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Stay Tuned for More Good News

Although every music course I've developed and taught since 2014 has been memorable in its own right, the maiden voyage of my current course - Journey Through the Past: History Via Song - is destined to stand apart in my memory. And there's still one session remaining.  

First, fifteen of the seventeen participants have taken an earlier course of mine. One of the "new" students is someone I met years ago as a fellow volunteer at Meals on Wheels and who has since been to both my book club and my conversational salon. The other is a friend of two past students who are attending the class. There is no higher compliment than past students inviting their friends to attend one of my classes. 

Next, I learned at the first session that a few of the returning participants keep a notebook devoted to stuff learned in some of my previous classes. Catnip for my outsized ego.

But as must be the case, the most enduring memories I'm collecting are connected to the music. It's difficult to over-state how juiced I get when I can see a song deeply touching a participant. This is especially so when some piece of what I share about the craft of songwriting or the musicianship on a recording helps someone connect more meaningfully with a tune, a performance, or both. Icing on the cake are those times when a song that is new to a listener hits the mark in a big way. I've already had several moments of musical communion with different participants over the first two sessions.

I eagerly anticipate next Wednesday.