Category Archives: Music

The Community Piano

Today’s guest post comes from Jacque

Several summers ago, probably 2011, but really I am not certain, someone with a community project grant placed a piano on the corner across the street from my office.

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The piano was painted light green with colorful patterns and a small mural. It provided intense community interest and activity, attracting people like a magnet attracts metal. There were players who were accomplished musicians playing a concerto from memory, church organists playing traditional Christian hymns, children playing chopsticks, and cool dudes noodling a bit of ragtime. I could hear music throughout the day. The old piano was tinny and out of tune, suffered relentless sun, and washed by watery downpours if someone did not cover it with the tarp connected to the backside.

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It was a difficult summer for me because I had chosen to continue my business despite a major problem and set back the year before. Re-organizing the business required working many hours as I transitioned to a new bookkeeper, a billing service, recruited some new therapists, and developed the structures the business required. Looking out my office window to the corner where the piano was positioned was a blessed relief to this drudgery.

To my delight, there is a new old piano on the corner again this summer.

This noon as I walked back to the office from eating my lunch, a girl was seated there, just noodling. I don’t know who thought of this idea of community pianos, but to whomever it is, thanks. It brings such a feeling of communal joy. When people are gathered around it like a campfire, listening to someone play or singing along, everyone smiles as they throw themselves into the experience. Though I may not know the name of the folks gathered there, we are part of the community in that musical moment.

We are communing.

We are community.

What gives you a sense of community?

A Late Great Morning Show Revival

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

At Blevins Book Club last weekend, a small pocket of us were reminiscing about some of our crusty old favorites from The Late Great Morning Show.  Most of us are still Radio Heartland devotees, but don’t hear the oldies but goodies as often as we’d like.

So it’s time for a LGMS revival!  If we pull together a list of titles, Mike will get them organized and we’ll have a rousing couple of hours of songs that elicit some of our great memories from over the years.  After we get the list to Mike, he’ll let us know the date and time.  No guarantee that he’ll be able to find all our titles and I’m assuming we’ll come up with way more titles that can fit into a couple of hours, but I think we should give it a shot.

I’ll start us off with two:  The Mary Ellen Carter by Stan Rogers and Canned Goods by Greg Brown.

What song do you miss from the LGMS?

A Song After the Binge

Header photo via NASA Ice / James Yungel

The hits just keep coming in the climate change parade. Most recently a new NASA study predicted that an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Scotland could collapse by 2020.

Favorite quote from the Washington Post story:

“What might happen is that for a few years, we will have the detachment of big icebergs from this remaining ice shelf, and then at one point, one very very warm summer, when you have lots of melting of the surface, the whole thing will just give way, and will shatter into thousands of smaller icebergs,” says the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ala Khazendar, lead author of the new study.

My understanding:  While the ice shelf is already in the water and its collapse alone won’t appreciably lift global water levels, it will open up the way for melting land-based glaciers to flow more easily into the sea.

That’s not good.

The ice shelf in question is called Larsen B, which immediately reminded me of this song about the unpleasant after-effects of an unfortunate and ill-advised binge.

We’re melting the Larsen B
with every added degree.
As tall icebergs fall into the foam.
Liquefy snow.
The glaciers let go.
Well, the ice shelf broke up
Submerging my home.

I hope that our fins evolve
As quick as the ice dissolve.
Antarctica wants to flow
over my home!
Soaking the loam.
That is the point of this poem, yeah yeah.
When the ice shelf broke up,
submerging my home.

Like ice cubes to a drunk
we’re hypnotized by each chunk
a prize, Scotland-sized, floating away.
Sea levels rise
You can predict the demise.
The ice shelf broke up
Submerging my home.

Add some lyrics or describe a night drinking with your grandfather.

The Pips Trip

Today is the birthday of Gladys Knight, a soulful singer whose name instantly conjures three more words – “… and the Pips.”

That may be a tough notion for any diva to accept, but if Wikipedia is to be believed, at one point in her early career the entire band carried the nickname of her Uncle,  James Woods.

And yes, that means she was just another Pip.

History could have led anywhere from there.  At least it didn’t turn into “The Pips – featuring Gladys Knight.”

Knight was born in Atlanta in 1944, and gave her home state perhaps the finest pop music theme song of all fifty contenders with this classic.

It sounds odd to say it this way, but the song was created with a different title – “Midnight Plane to Houston.”   Writer Jim Weatherly allowed the change to suit a singer who was actually named Houston – Cissy, Whitney’s mother.   Cissy Houston recorded it as “Midnight Train To Georgia” on her debut album as she tried to de-Pipify herself after singing backup for characters like Elvis and Aretha Franklin.

Why is it that hopping a late plane to Houston sounds excruciating, while catching an overnight train to Georgia is romantic?

One can only imagine what it was like to sing that song over and over and over and over and over again as it became a worldwide hit.  I hope somewhere along the way, Gladys Knight felt a powerful sense of affirmation. After all, having a trio of choreographed “yes men” sing your exact words moments after you say them to thousands of adoring fans is the very thing that leads many corporate CEO’s to strive for that corner office.

What would your backup group be called?

Stand By Me

It’s sad to say goodbye to Ben E. King, who died Thursday at the age of 76.

King, whose name at birth was really Benjamin Earl Nelson, made the song Stand By Me famous.

When I read that Stand By Me was a concept King had tucked away, almost forgotten until King was casually questioned by Leiber and Stoller at the end of a writing session about any other song ideas he might have, it’s a reminder of the lasting importance of small moments and that  “hits” often (always?) happen  for reasons that are beyond our control.

The story goes that Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler harbored a grudge against Stand By Me because hiring the orchestra turned out to be overly expensive.

Odd thought, given the enduring success of that original recording. We too often obsess over the momentary cost without considering the possible long-term payoff. Although it is weird to see King lip synching it here in a room that contains many more dancing-challenged white teenagers than orchestral string players.

The New York Times obituary included this King quote: “I still think my whole career was accidental. I didn’t pursue it. I feel like I’m cheating sometimes.”

But there’s no doubt King had true talent and a legitimate, lasting effect. Back in 2008 this tremendously impressive global rendition of Stand By Me was pieced together by the organization Playing for Change.

All of this came about because a guy with the unusual name of Lover Patterson was persistent about finding talent  in Harlem and kept returning to the luncheonette run by Ben E. King’s father, asking if there were any young guys around who could sing.

Turns out there was at least one.

Can you sing? 

 

Guitar Hero

Only in a society handicapped by racism and misogyny could someone like Elvis wind up being a bigger and better-remembered star than Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose birthday is today.

She was born in Cotton Plant Arkansas. They say her father could sing and her mother was a musician and preacher. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree and she was wowing them as a prodigy in Chicago by the time she was ten.

All that talent, stage time and encouragement led to something truly wonderful. Tharpe had dominating stage presence and ample skill. The voice and the phrasing catch you right away, but note the guitar solo here – she has serious chops.

Oddly, Tharpe is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though many who were inspired by her, including Johnny Cash, are.

But when I hear Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing and play the guitar and read about her precocious youth, it suddenly becomes easier to believe that certain people are put on Earth to do a particular thing, and when opportunity and talent align, it’s a sight (and sound) to behold.

What were you good at when you were very young?

The Galaxy Hillbillies

The discovery of a gigantic black hole from the dawn of time has me feeling a bit like that small town boy who thought his world was pretty huge, until he found out about New York City.

We’re such small potatoes, universe-wise, the only way I can get my head around it is through the lens of the literature of my youth – TV show theme songs.

So these scientists was lookin’ at a big black hole,
though goin’ to visit wasn’t anybody’s goal.
The one that they found – was as wide as it was tall …
It made everyone feel impossibly small.

A massive hole. In vast space. Texas trench.

It was further away than a lot they’d seen before
It was large as the sun plus a dozen billion more.
They said “this is bigger than an older hole should be,”
An’ they added it all up to another mystery.

Dawn of time. Ancient gas. Quasars.

What’s the biggest city you visited as a youth, and what effect did it have on you?