Music has come in and out of my life for the whole of it. When I was a baby, my dad sang me old folk songs and ballads from the compilations of Carl Sandburg and Alan Lomax. In second grade I started piano for a total of about 4 years, and in third grade my class put on Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” and I learned every single song by heart, and still remember most of them. When I was in sixth grade I quit the piano and took up the violin with a few other sixth graders in my very very small school. My music teacher, Mr. Parrish, followed me into junior high, and then into high school, and I continued to be in the orchestra for many years. I never practiced outside of class, but could sight read well enough (and probably was one of Mr. Parrish’s favorites since I’d known him so long), so I was always seated within the first 5 chairs of the first violins. In junior high and high school I also learned the guitar and played music with a girlfriend (Peter, Paul and Mary, Dylan, and whatever else attracted us) . I started writing music in Australia, and putting the poetry of Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, and others to music. In college I decided to play music with my sister’s boyfriend, and he encouraged me to play fiddle with his mandolin, so I taught myself that. From then on, I played music whenever and wherever there was a reason to play, which meant I could be in a jag of writing songs because I’d just fallen in love, or because there were others around me who enjoyed playing and/or singing folk music. I played and sang at the nature centers, preschool and schools I worked at, and then I’d take a break for a long time. Sometimes my breaks were very long, and even though I continued to play for kids, it was not for myself. But I almost always knew I would come back to it sooner or later for my own personal enjoyment, because that’s who I am.
When I moved to California, I almost despaired of ever finding anyone to play music with again. Although my kids’ other mom and I played together for a while, when we split up, I couldn’t seem to find a place where I was comfortable. People didn’t sit around and sing together after potlucks the way they did in Pennsylvania. I went to a women’s music camp a couple of times, and that was sort of fun, but when I tried getting together with the locals to continue on, I didn’t really enjoy myself. So I stopped again for a long time. Until I met Sarita, and she was interested in playing some of the songs from my incredible and vast collection. And then you know what happened after that — we fell in love, and I started writing songs like crazy again, including the split-up song when she thought she could live without me. We actually played together so much that we had a feature at the Freight and Salvage open mic night in Berkeley, and played little performances for friends called “House Concerts.”
Cancer kind of stopped me in my tracks with regard to music. I couldn’t hold the instruments comfortably, and I was in survival mode. Only when I had to increase the air I could hold in my lungs to pass a test so that I could have the bone marrow transplant, did we decide that playing harmonica might help me, and I played along with Sarita and the guitar as much as I could. During the whole transplant ordeal, I managed to write one song, my cancer song called, “The Cancer Song/It’s All About Love”. Otherwise, all quiet on the music front.
Two years later came the Songwriting Course from Coursera, and I decided to give it a go again. It was followed by the Introduction to Guitar course, which made me pick up the beautiful little Martin that we’d gotten when I could not hold the larger but exquisite Gibson that Sarita had bought for me when we were first together. And once again I was on my way, having learned to put my songs on Garage Band, and subsequently on Soundcloud so that I wouldn’t forget how they went, and so that I could share them with my family and friends. (I had already forgotten many of the tunes of songs I’d written many years ago, frustrating, but since they weren’t the greatest songs, not too too frustrating!)
Then we came to spend this summer at our future home in New Mexico, and my time and energy and mindspace really got me writing, just about one song a week. My goal is to try something new with each song, and I have succeeded in doing that. Sometimes it’s just repeating a line, or holding a word over several notes, or using two chords only, or writing songs for particular people. In my most recent song, I’ve used only seventh chords, in fact I’ve used all the sevenths that I know, just because I never hardly play them, and I wanted to experiment. Well, I found a rhythm I liked, found 3 different progressions that suited me, and finally put words to them, very fast words actually. Quite different from the ballads and tunes I’ve previously written. Fun, really fun. I could play this song a million times (as I could and do every song I write when it’s just completed). It’s called “The Seventh Song/All for Money” and I’ll add it on the blog when I get it recorded.
But just as good as all this, is that we also have found some people to play with in this wonderful, incredible place. Casual, let’s each introduce a song, there may be more fiddles than guitars who cares, we are doing this for fun people. I can play in my self- taught ways, I can make mistakes, I can play by ear or I can read the music if there is some and I don’t know the song, I can hum in harmony (or not) if I don’t know the words, and strum my guitar with my fingers (and not the uncomfortable pick), I can even introduce one of my favorite old timey songs or one of the songs I have written and the guys are willing to listen and try it. I can pick up the fiddle after 3 1/2 years and still play acceptably well and best of all, we have been invited back! For over 20 years I’ve lived in California, and not found this, and yet here in this small village (where I am obviously supposed to live), we find it with so much ease.
Well, yet another reason to go back to CA and continue writing, seek out and bring my incredible song collection (in about 4 big plastic tubs), and get back to playing my fiddle and mandolin (as well as continuing to learn barre chords on the guitar). Oh yes, and maybe even buy a new piano that I could bring here more easily than the one I have in California. Just think, I may get to keep music for myself and for enjoying with others, without ever having to sing or play for kids again –except maybe the grandchild. Heaven.
Here’s a song about playing music and all our instruments with Sarita when we were falling in love.