Last week, I thought I was going to write about being a more prolific writer in the winter, but a different post insisted on being written. Today, I have a snow day, the perfect time to write about winter writing.
As I was driving home from work after dark recently, watching the moon reflecting on the Hudson River and slowly rising over the Taconic Mountains, I recognized how many of my songs have those images in them. In a songwriting group I was in, some of my fellow songwriters commented on the recurring imagery in my songs, mostly involving nature and often the night sky. Although, the world is just as beautiful during the other three seasons, the beauty in winter is very dramatic from the spectacular night sky behind the bare tree branches to the stark grayscale colors and icy reflections. Although, I was born at the end of the summer, I seem to be drawn to that cold beauty. I also have a special fondness for the constellation Orion, and he comes around in the winter, appearing in many of my songs as well.
I’m not sure that’s the whole story, though. In the spring, summer and fall, I am busy with gardening, hiking, music festivals, travel and more. There’s not as much time for reflecting on life or nature. In the winter, I tend to hibernate more, reorganizing my physical space and my thoughts. I do love snowshoeing, but I can only do so much of that. There’s only indoor gardening to think about, so I have lots of time for the things I’ve neglected during the warmer weather. I tend to do more reading in the winter as well. I love curling up by the woodstove reading a good book. In addition, this home is the paradise I’ve been looking for my whole life. Why would I want to leave its warmth and comfort and venture out in the cold weather?
Every year though, I tell myself that I’m going to write songs for the other seasons and then never get around to it. I tried once to write a summer song and was told by that same group of songwriters that the music didn’t fit the lyrics. It was too somber for summertime. They were right, and it turned into a wonderful winter song, “It’s Gonna Be Cold Outside.” A few people have suggested that I put out a CD of songs for all seasons. That would be great if I had songs for every season, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon, and that’s okay with me. I am a big believer in giving myself assignments for my writing, but maybe not this topic just yet. It’s winter right now, and once again I’m feeling inspired by the cold and barrenness. So … maybe someday. But for now, I’ll enjoy my hibernation and write what comes. All of my upcoming shows will have some winter themed songs, some original and some covers. I hope you can come out and enjoy hearing them as much as I enjoy writing them and then playing them.
I have always loved this concept. That said, some sounds can overwhelm me pretty quickly. Although I don't mind and even thrive on repeating things during a practice or listening to the same song for days at a time, a repetitive white noise or something similar, drives me crazy after a while. Also, I have a very eclectic taste in music, liking everything to some degree. However, some genres of music can get tiresome for me after a while, too. So, what sounds do I like?
I like the sound of birds singing, the owls at night, running water, the wind, the ocean waves, and too many sounds in nature to name. I love the sound of laughter and, obviously I love the sound of singing, even out-of-key singing because it’s joyful. I honestly wish for a world where everyone can feel comfortable singing right out without worrying about bothering someone with the quality of their sound. Now, wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? That’s why I do the work I do sharing music with families. The children that grow up singing at home with their friends and family end up singing with their friends and families when their grown, passing on this love of music. I grew up in a family that sang. I can't imagine having not been surrounded by music when we visited family, rode in the car, went on walks and just around the house. It's a very magical thing that happens when we sing together, a sharing of one heart to another.
I have always loved carols and church music because it usually involves everyone joining in. I’ve never heard anyone in a church ask someone else to stop singing because they sang off-key. I can’t imagine Jesus, or any other of the important religious figures, would ask that someone not join in this joyous expression. I have a friend who goes to a church every Christmas Eve for the pomp and circumstance and the music. I have too many old issues around church to do that myself, but I get it! When I gave up Christmas and started celebrating the Winter Solstice, my new traditions included singing together around lit candles.
In this cold, dark snowy winter we’re having in the Northeast, I hope everyone is planning to sing together with your community. It’s really a very beautiful thing. I’ve always told anyone who says they can’t sing, “Of course you can. If you can talk, you can sing.” If we’re going to a performance, we certainly should expect a certain amount of expertise. But if we’re in a casual, social setting than I think anything goes when it comes to sharing music.
For many years, I ran a weekly then monthly music jam at my house in the Southend of Albany, NY. I began because I was just learning to play guitar and mandolin and knew that the best way to learn was to jump into the fire and start jamming. The folks who were just starting out often stayed toward the back of the room while the better players moved in closer. We had people of ages playing all types of music, and everyone was accepting and without expectations. The newer players kept getting better and better until they finally felt confident enough to move closer and play louder. I always insisted in going around the circle with everyone picking a song when it was their turn. For someone new, they got one chance to pass. This was an important part of the event because it helped boost confidence in the timider players and stopped the more aggressive players from “stealing the show.” Eventually, I moved out of that house and no longer had the large space needed.
I’ve also hosted many Open Mics both on the West Coast and the East Coast. It’s the same theory. You accept everyone regardless of their proficiency and help them develop their skills by providing that all-important space for them to perform. Similar to the jams, a good host has to have rules that they’re willing to enforce while still being encouraging. I always tried to check in with everyone at least twice during the night, when they signed up and after their set. We all want that encouragement and acknowledgement, even the seasoned performers, and we probably all feel a little shy and awkward.
Funny, I thought I was going to write about being a more prolific writer in the winter, but this came out instead. Maybe that will be next week’s blog post.
Holidays can be very stressful for some folks. I’m sure that’s why a lot of folks decide to not go home for holidays. A few years ago, I decided that I was completely done with drama. If I can’t diffuse a situation, I will walk out on any situation that involves me in drama. My life has been filled with it until I made that decision. Mostly, it was other people’s drama. I’m pretty easy-going unless pushed to the wall. Then, things can get very ugly very fast. That’s how it is with quiet people. You’re wise not to try to find out how far you can push us. I once walked out of a Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house because they would not stop pushing. I was on the verge of losing it, which is what they wanted, so I took my family and left.
As a child, I was surrounded by drama. My parents were very low-income, but my dad, although low paid, had a prestigious job and had to keep up appearances. He always had a good suit, a fairly new car, and Mom had to have new dresses for events they attended. Their friends were all middle-class lawyers, nurses, accountants and other types of executives. Because of their lack of money while living that middle-class lifestyle, they were stressed out and fought frequently. They also took their stressful conditions out on my brother and me.
Both of my parents had alcoholism in their families. My mom’s dad ended up dying in a gutter somewhere in Hempstead, L. I. after being homeless for years. She also had four Irish brothers who were rough and tumble working class alcoholics. My dad’s family were French-Canadian and were also hard drinkers, but it wasn’t as overt. However, at Dad’s family gatherings, as more and more alcohol was consumed, there was always at least one fist fight, usually between one of my uncles and a cousin close to his age. Another cousin, his sister, would faint when the fists started flying. So, we were always guaranteed two dramas at the same time. I’d learned how to be invisible by that time from the uncertainty and violence in my home and in school. I’m still quite good at not being noticed. People often think I’m a snob, but they don’t understand that I’m still frightened off easily. It’s hard to grow up not knowing when the violence will break out.
So, back to the present. There was the potential for a dramatic Thanksgiving this year due to unresolved issues in the extended family. I should explain. Once you are in my family, I consider you family for life. The caveat is, if you blow it repeatedly, I’m done. I believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, however there is a limit to my patience. That said, I arrived at Thanksgiving dinner secure in the knowledge that one of the two people feuding would not be attending. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to see both parties already there. Hoping that things would go off without a hitch, I greeted everyone and stuck close to the member of that duo that is my blood relation, hoping to diffuse any situations that might come up. Unfortunately, the other party was crafty and waited until anyone who might have put a stop to any inappropriate remarks was out of the room and stirred up the pot. Of course, I learned of it immediately but hadn’t witnessed it, so I was in a bind.
Every year, I ask everyone at the table what they’re thankful for. Mine this year was, after explaining my thoughts about family, “I am thankful that we can all come together as a family, despite any differences we may have and show each other kindness and understanding.” There was a brief uncomfortable silence. There wasn’t much else I could do at that time without creating more drama, but the offending person has crossed the line too many times and will not be invited back into the fold until I can see some kind of substantial change and an apology for trying to use a family gathering to further his agenda.
I love being the matriarch of the family!