Tag Archives: Not Poetry

What Sweeter Music

Traditions start as single activities.

A one time event makes an impression so that it is planned for again in order to recapture the excitement and joy of the first one. Nothing celebrates holidays like traditions.

I had the fortune of growing up in a musical family. Both my father and mother were music teachers and my two siblings and I had lives that were intrenched in music lessons, church choirs, band, piano, choir concerts, etc. No time of year was more filled with music than Christmastime.

At early ages, my sister and I would wear out the phonograph playing my father’s vinyl albums of the Robert Shaw Chorale “Hymns and Carols Vol. 1” and the Harry Simeone Chorale “The Little Drummer Boy.” I don’t remember the first time I heard them, I just remember listening to them every year. This grew into my own tradition of seeking out and purchasing a unique Christmas album each year. My collection on CD is extensive. ūüôā

When we were slightly older, perhaps tweens or so, my parents taught us a Christmas carol to sing for our relatives after we made the long car trip to Grandmother’s house – in 4 part harmony. It kept us engaged and perhaps kept us from fighting over spots in the back seat. Our first carol was an arrangement of Deck the Halls, followed in subsequent years by several Alfred Burt Carols. It became a tradition throughout our teens, with my oldest brother contributing the final carol we would rehearse and perform as a family unit (written in a fit of inspiration during his first year of teaching and sent to my parents as a Christmas card – much like the Burt carols).

A most memorable tradition began soon after we had moved to Arkansas in the early 1970’s. My father had become the choral music director at (then) Arkansas Polytechnic College, a place that at the time was known for its band program but never had much of a choir. I suspect that he decided that he wanted to give a grand Christmas program one year. Preparations would always begin the Friday/Saturday before the concert with the search for the appropriate Christmas tree to cut and bring into the main lobby, the crafting of decorations, and last minute rehearsals. The program grew each following year and would begin with small ensembles singing in a pre-concert venue around a Christmas tree.

Antiphonal brass and choirs would perform from the open balconies of the music department lobby. Processional pieces that involved brass and organ announced the start of the program. Unique stage decorations such as large evergreen wreaths of cedar and pine or a mock stained-glass window would adorn the center of the stage.

There were exciting new choir pieces and familiar favorites and the community came out in droves year after year.

My father passed away a few months ago, and these memories have been a comfort these past few weeks. I am fortunate to have a soundtrack for my memories of him, and much of it is Christmas music. Here is a top five (ok, six) list of Christmas musical moments influenced by my Dad.

1. O Come all ye Faithful (Robert Shaw Chorale)
2. Come Dear Children – Alfred Burt
3. Ríu Ríu, Chíu РAnonymous
4. XIV: The March of the Three Kings, from Hodie by Ralph Vaughan Williams (really this entire work, Hodie, is worth a listen)
5. His Yoke is Easy, from Messiah by George Frideric Handel

And finally, a moment of sweetness that expresses my father’s love of music greater than any song, poem, or piece that I could have written.

What Sweeter Music – by John Rutter

I encourage each of you to embrace your traditions, not only during this season of the year, but all year. It might be baking or going to events. It might be meals together or a hike in the woods. It could be singing or storytelling. It could be volunteering to help others. Watch them grow each year. Make something your own tradition and share it with ones you love.

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Images within this post are my own.

On birthdays, memories, and top 5 lists

This past week I celebrated another birthday.  It was a milestone, being number 55. This year events coincided that made the day just a day.   My wife recently had back surgery and is recovering at home (doing well, but still has pain).  My eldest son is busy with work projects and a new baby.  My youngest son lives elsewhere and had to work (though he did call and we had a great conversation).  Good friends had other family obligations or were traveling.  I worked all day.  In fact, this is one memory of my birthday that will go down as being one of the most unremarkable.  For that alone, I will probably always remember it.

I will count the small kindnesses/gestures along the way:¬† The balloons shared by coworkers who recently turned 55 this month and like to tease each other about who is older.¬† We now have a special club – and I will always get used balloons because of it.¬† The blueberry pie made for me by a family friend who was looking in on my wife as she recuperates.¬† The phone call from my youngest son to wish me a happy birthday. The adorable phone call from my parents singing “happy birthday” in different keys.¬† Note:¬† My parents are career musicians and are never off-key.¬† Greetings shared on social media (FB) from friends and family – far and wide- hoping that I had the greatest day – the best day. ¬† Yet, it was just a day, and I guess there is nothing wrong with that.

I reflected on past birthdays¬† and wondered what made a day the best day – the greatest day.¬† I’m not sure I have the answer, but I did dredge up some good memories of birthdays.

  1.  On my eleventh birthday, I received my first vinyl album as a gift from my parents.  It was Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles.  I had recently been introduced to their non-mop-top music by a school friend, and was immediately smitten with the lyrical genius of John Lennon on I am the Walrus.  It would be the first of many vinyl albums I would receive on my birthdays/Christmases.
  2.  On my 13th birthday, I had a sleepover party with 8 friends. I think this was my first and only sleepover birthday party. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers, played badminton, wiffle-ball and touch football, then roamed around the neighborhood after dark Рplaying  ghost in the graveyard.
  3. On my 27th birthday, I received my PhD.
  4. For my 40th birthday,  my wife purchased third base line tickets to a AAA baseball game in our city.  We went with some dear friends (one each of our children share a birthday) we had recently reconnected with.
  5.  On my 50th birthday, I was traveling in Germany with my eldest son and my father.  We were in Nuremburg on that day and visited Coburg Castle.  Facebook likes to remind me of that day every year and I smile.

There are memories of other birthdays,  but all the things that make days special are there in that list: meaningful gifts and gestures, landmark events, good food and fellowship, and exciting adventures in new places.

They are still just days Рthough,  and I hope you have a great one.

 

 

 

Clearing the Cobwebs

I haven’t had much time to write recently, and it’s been gnawing at me. Since I had a day off from work and nothing really pressing this morning, I thought I would do one of these posts just to test the connection between my brain and “the page.” I noticed that other writers/bloggers have been suffering the same issues lately: lack of inspiration, lack of time, low self-esteem. There is a common thread for writers that struggle. All writers struggle.

Someone has written/said that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when we can’t write. I agree with that, but it is an integral part of me – that I write. I’ve worked to forgive myself when I can’t write – when there is nothing appealing or I just don’t have time. One thing that still gets me though, is when I work hard and decide to submit something for publication – and I get the “I’m sorry, this is not for me” rejection. I’ve submitted poems 3 times in the last 5 months and all 3 were rejected with that same line. It is disheartening to read that multiple times, especially when you feel strongly about your craft. I hesitate to submit for publication anyway – mainly due to imposter-syndrome reasons, and this just sort of confirms my feelings about it.

Yeah, I’m kind of miffed. But I’ve now complained in writing, so I’ll move on.

Projects I’m planning

I play percussion in a community band.¬† Our percussion section aspires to do ensembles and things independently of the band itself.¬† I found instructions on how to make boom-whackers (a set of plastic tubes cut to different lengths that result in different pitches).¬† You can use any pipe material, but the cheapest thing apparently is to use golf bag tube inserts.¬† I ordered 28 tubes and will begin cutting them down this weekend.¬† Should be fun, and I can’t wait to hear the result.¬† Here’s a link for a boomwhacker performance of Bohemian Rhapsody.

What I’m Reading

I just finished The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber.¬† It took me a while (~10 months), as the book moves between and first person and third person narration that it is a bit disconcerting, and was difficult to stay focused.¬† I understand the reasoning – as it conveys the sense of the major plot device – moving between the present and the past via drug-assisted time travel.¬† I lost interest about half-way through the book and set it down for the better part of last year.¬† I still found the premise compelling, and picked it back up to finish.¬† If you’ve seen the Bradley Cooper movie, Limitless – this has similar plot ideas- though it relates to art and counterfeiting.¬† The art history was interesting, but the counterfeiting sub plot was not as well-mapped.¬† It also ended a bit too quickly, once I had accepted the premise and worked my way through the different narration styles.

I’ve moved on other novels:¬† The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett (which I like and am making real headway through) and still working on The Alienist by Caleb Carr (which I thought I would like better than I have so far, but not willing to give up on it yet).¬† I recently bought Sarum: The Novel of England, by Edward Rutherfurd.¬† I’ve read other books by Rutherfurd and liked them.

What I’m writing

Nothing much these days.¬† I’m collecting snippets of phrases and words, and hopefully something will get written soon.¬† As it stands now, I guess I’m on hiatus.

Thanks for reading.

Ireland, here or there

I recently traveled to Ireland with my son, and we experienced the wonderful scenery, the friendly people, the history, and the delicious food and drink that this island has to offer.¬† We flew into Dublin – and after an exciting time on Saint Patrick’s Day – we set off by rail to the western, more wild part of the country.¬† The scenes from the train changed from urban to countryside, as we made our way to Cork.¬† All the little village stops along the way were quaint and the conductor would announce the stop in both English and Gaelic, concluding with a thank you:

Thank you for riding Iarnr√≥d √Čireann. (Thank you for riding Irish Rail).

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To my ears, it sounded like he said, “Thank you for riding, here or there.

This thought resonated throughout the journey as we went by bus or shuttle to remote locations or simply walked through villages and towns in which we spent the night. There is something exciting and wonderful about rambling through the country-side and discovering new places.¬† Whether it was the colorful row how houses above Cobh harbor or the barren stones and sea/landscape of the Burren, forests near Killarney or the city street, Ireland offered what seemed like all possible combinations.¬† And these were accessible from points A and B or C or…Z

Just by what seemed a random direction, any number of beautiful sights and experiences could be found by wandering.

It is no wonder then, that the Irish poets and storytellers, or those that emigrated over the last couple of centuries, spoke and sang so fondly of this beautiful country.  It stands in stark contrast to the tragic history of conquest, famine, civil war and unrest that has plagued the people of Ireland over the centuries.  Both sadness and beauty erupting from the same surroundings is remarkable, and dare I say, poetic.  The countryside simply cries and laughs and inhales Рeverywhere you look.

Here or there.

 

Opened

I’m having serious writer problems.

Nothing inspires me to write at the moment.

For the past 6 years, I have had a run of productivity that was enjoyable and creative.¬† I looked forward to the times I could sit down and craft a poem or write a quick blog post.¬† There was the period in 2014 (while job hunting) that I put together a chapter book of poems and I wrote about everything from gardening tips to snippets about life.¬† Heck…I even wrote a short story earlier this year.¬† I once told myself that I would never write long pieces – I didn’t have the attention span.¬† I probably shouldn’t doubt my ability like that, or make a big deal about “can’t/won’t do” something.¬† The universe typically calls your bluff.

I’ve been reading more posts lately.¬† It seems that many of my past favorite blogs have faded as well, so I’ve been searching for new things to read – and I’ve found a few.

The Haunted Wordsmith
Some prolific output in short fiction by a talented writer and engaging posts.

O at the Edges 
Mr. Okaji writes poetry in eloquence and brevity. I’ve been following him for some time now, and I aspire to the ability he demonstrates (and frankly, the output of poetry he produces).

Derrick J Knight
A blog diary of sorts. Mr.Knight is recovering from knee surgery at the moment and writes about his day. He has a beautiful garden.

One of my favorite blog entry formats is the list.¬† Other people’s lists are ways to get me to open my mind again and thinking of my own. Perhaps it will get me back on the path of writing.

Thanks for reading.

//John

It’s a new year -let’s summarize the old one

2015 was a strange and pivotal year.

Early this year, I was unemployed, job searching, writing, baking, painting, and cooking. I worked on a chapter book of poems that I self-published on Amazon (Accidental Songs). It was a challenge, and I’ve still got a lot to learn. I hope to do another one soon.

In the spring, I became employed!  So I wrote less, baked and cooked less, had nothing to paint (all rooms were done). I planted tomatoes and a single pepper plant.  All did remarkably well!  Lots of pasta sauce and salsa during the summer!

I still managed to finish NaPoWriMo, then probably averaged about a post a week on my blog. ¬†In retrospect, I delved a lot more into rhyme and meter this year than in the past. ¬†I gained some new followers, some real, some not … ;). ¬†Thanks to all who discovered and followed my blog in 2015.

In the summer, my eldest son got married! ¬†Beautiful wedding. Wonderful time. ¬†Great daughter-in-law! ¬†Then they moved all the way across the country… ūüė¶

Then the rest of the year just flew by…

Things I would like to do as a writer(and not a writer) in 2016:

  1. Personally meet more blogging acquaintances. ¬†Something difficult to manage, given the global nature of the medium. ¬†But, we are human, and humans need social interaction. ¬†I’ve never personally met a single blogging-“friend”…
  2. Submit more poems for print publication – I’ve tried this, and was¬†sorely disappointed. ¬†But, I believe this is a valid goal for any writer. So I keep trying.
  3. Do another chapter book.  I enjoyed the process.  In the future, I would like to try a collaboration with another writer or illustrator.  How has this worked out for anybody?
  4. Attend/participate in a writing workshop. ¬†I did this in 2014, and really enjoyed it, but missed the one that was local this year – it wasn’t as well advertised – and I didn’t see the notice until too late. ¬†Anyone have any good/bad experiences with this they would like to share?
  5. See more baseball stadiums (I didn’t get to a single new park this year).
  6. Walk more, eat less, control my blood sugar better, be more attuned to people – be a better human being.

And that concludes 2015.  I wish you all a safe and happy New Year.

John

 

persistence

I have a confession.

I like jello.

It’s simple consistency and the ability to hold different flavors makes it the perfect dessert. Strawberry, lemon, cherry…lime is my favorite -by far. Green jello. It is easy to make: Just add warm water, mix, and let it set. It can be served up in little dessert cups, in larger pans and then cut into slabs or cubes. This delicacy is unique. It holds form. You can depend on it…mostly…to be the same every time you make it, only becoming distasteful when it is stale.

I recognize that this love for jello goes back to my childhood. During my hospital stays for various surgeries, the food was never a favorite – it was not consistent – nor was it the easiest to eat at the time. I don’t really remember the meals, but I remember the jello. Cool and soft, flavored, and easy to eat.

It is also versatile. You can mix it with other things to contribute that flavor. Mix with whipped white topping giving a fluffy fruit flavoring. Or mixed with fruit itself. Or as shots with liqueur. I’m not as much of a fan of jello salads, perhaps I feel the other ingredients overwhelm the flavor in the jello itself…which is funny, because gelatin is really only a medium to hold things together. The fact that jello is flavored is a bonus, I suppose.

I seem to appreciate that bonus, so I don’t really care for the desserts that “contain” jello.

When we eat at our favorite chinese buffet restaurant (the one that plays smooth jazz), I always check out the jello dessert on the salad table. My son looks at me with doubt, and says “You know you are always disappointed that the jello is stale.” This is true. Jello that is “old” develops that toughened layer on top where it has dried out over time. This ruins the trifecta of form, flavor, and texture. Nine times out of ten, I am disappointed. But I keep trying the jello. I’m persistent like that.

They don’t serve lime-flavored, though.

lime jello
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I recognize that my use of the term ‘jello’ may be implying that I endorse a particular product of gelatin dessert. Jello has become such a ubiquitous product that it’s identification is similar to kleenex ~tissue, coke~carbonated beverage, etc.