In late August 2018, I completed the final stage of a four plus year musical project. Yes, it was the auspicious occasion of the album release party for my latest album, In This Circle. Wow, what an event it was! There was even a full moon that evening which lent a nice touch to the proceedings. During the week leading up to the party, I was visualizing myself nearing the end of running a long marathon, as I could hear folks at the finish line cheering and encouraging me to bring it on home.
About 40 folks showed up on a Saturday night to celebrate the accomplishment with me and enjoy some great live music. Of course, that crowd count doesn’t include the musicians and singers who appeared on stage with me, the sound tech, the videographer, and that guy at the ticket/CD table (my son, Kabir). Dena organized and whipped up a bountiful table of delicious refreshments and beverages which helped put the “party” in album release party and created a most festive celebration. I don’t think anyone went home hungry that night!
Looking for Space
The release party was held at the Friends Meeting Hall in East Sacramento in their main meeting room. The octagonal shape of the room has nice acoustics and there’s plenty of natural light coming through various windows and one skylight. Those were two of the reasons that I chose the venue. Another reason was all the great energy that has been imbued in that space by the folks attending the Dances of Universal Peace (DUP) held there twice every month. You can find out more about the Dances here.
Of course, every week the members of Sacramento Friends Meeting gather in that same room in silence to commune with the divine presence in their midst. So, that grounding energy pervades the space as well and is reflected to all who cross the threshold.
I’m With the Band…
The core band line up for the evening included myself on guitar and vocals, Tom Charlesworth on keyboard, and Bruce O’Brien on bass, violin and flute. We were joined by Dena on ukulele and vocals, David Clark on mouth harp, and Jon Merriman on guitar. All the musicians and vocalists that performed at the album release party, also appear on In This Circle as studio personnel, along with other guest musicians and vocalists. I really appreciate my fellow creatives showing up to give of their time and talent and co-create with me to manifest my musical vision. Well done everyone; you were all a part of something unique and special! For more information about the album’s line up of musicians and singers, click here to read the liner notes on my blog.
Set One, Set Two
I, and the other musicians, played two sets that evening with an intermission. The first set of music consisted of all twelve tracks from In This Circle with modified arrangements for live performance. Some of my favorite musical moments were David Clark and I rocking the house with No Changing the Truth and Gaia’s Voice. Another special part of the first set was sharing my tender family ballad, Daddy’s Symphony, with the audience. One of my good friends came up to me at the intermission to let me know that tune really moved him, as the father of his own son.
The second set included a few Souls Journey tunes sung and played with Dena and Bruce, other original tunes of mine in solo and duet settings, and a handful of Spirit-sized tunes for good measure. One of the highlights of set two was my duet with Jon Merriman playing lead guitar on Four Corners, one of my classic ballads dedicated to Mother Earth. Another crowd pleaser was The Blah Blah Song, a tune written by Dena. Every time we sing the first chorus on that song, we get a good laugh from the folks in the audience. It seems to strike a chord of familiarity in a simple, understated way. We ended the evening with everyone joining hands in a large circle around the room to sing a DUP classic, May All Beings Be Well.
Props for Completing the Journey
Wow, what a journey it has been to complete In This Circle! And, I could not have done it without a lot of fellow collaborators working with me. Right here, I must give special props and appreciation to my main creative collaborator and wife, Dena. Without her, there would be no beautiful album artwork and design and no spiffy newly refreshed and redesigned website. She went way beyond the regular call of duty in loving support of my creative expression and I am truly humbled by her most gracious giveaway. Thank you, Dena! My other big collaborator on In This Circle was my engineer, Ed Etzel, owner of Audio West. Ed, you make me sound good and bring a special depth to my musical creations. I appreciate you!
All in all, it was an amazing expression of living my vision and purpose in life and I felt blessed, supported, and appreciated. Thank you to everyone who helped make this a very memorable experience!
For those of you who were unable to attend, the event was videotaped and I will be sharing some of that content on both my website and YouTube channel after editing has been completed. As always, stay tuned!
I’ve had some new musical adventures since my last Notes from the Meadow edition was published in late August.
1) Successful and fun volunteering with summer camp for kids. (see my post elsewhere in this Notes edition).
2) Playing music for Friend Aid, a local event in support of a good friend.
3) More track mixing in the studio; moving me closer to releasing my new album.
4) Sharing my new version of a song inspired by the poetry of Rumi with Coleman Barks, a well-known American poet. As one of the translators of Rumi’s poetry, Mr. Barks has even given me permission to record the song.
Album Release Postponed
During this past summer, I had planned to release In a Circle by late September and then have an album release concert in mid- October. However, after putting myself through the mental/emotional meat grinder for a month or so, I realized that I was NOT having fun and NOT enjoying the process. Therefore, I made a healthy choice for myself to “stop the madness” and slow down the process. Consequently, I cancelled the October concert date and my new album release date will be Spring 2018.
Music Survey Results
Recently, I sent out a one question survey to the Notes subscribers and my other musical supporters. I wanted to find out what media format folks preferred to use for listening to my forthcoming album. So far, I have not been surprised to discover that only a few more folks prefer the media choice of playing a CD over that of accessing my music via a download card. At the same time, a small number of folks would prefer to listen to my new album via a thumb drive. Overall, it appears that half the folks still play CD’s and the other half prefer to download music for their listening enjoyment. Apparently, the music industry continues to be reshaped, due to changes in technology and information access.
This summer, I was a volunteer out at Soil Born Farms. Since the early 2000’s, it’s been an urban working farm providing quality organic produce and agricultural education for the community. Also, the farm has a weekly summer camp program for grade school kids. Since I retired in 2015, I’ve been open and curious about the idea of participating in some form of service in community.
The Farms’ summer camp program is held at their American River Ranch location in Rancho Cordova. I had been reading about it for a number of years in the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op newsletter. And, I resonated with the idea of helping city kids connect with the natural world in a fun, non-academic environment.
Young Man’s Vision
When I was a younger man in my early twenties, I was a teacher’s assistant at a preschool in Denver, Colorado. Through that experience, I learned how to just be and connect with kids. A few years later, I met a single mother and became a father to her preschool aged daughter. My favorite time with my young step daughter was making up stories for her at nap time. Both of these experiences with young children gave me the inspiration to become a Waldorf school teacher. At the time, I had the vision to create a healthy, supportive connection with children and guide them in a good way during their magical years of early childhood.
After moving to California in the late 70’s with my wife and now two kids (my son was less than a month old), I had planned to enter a Waldorf teacher’s training program. I thought I was ready to live and fulfill my earlier vision. However, due to life circumstances at the time, my vision sadly did not come to fruition.
Apparently, the seed of that vision has remained dormant within me all these years. So, I was pleasantly surprised to have that vision germinate and begin to flower for me this summer at Soil Born Farms.
Helping out at Summer Camp
In early June, I had an informal interview with Alyssa Kassner, Youth Education Coordinator at Soil Born Farms. She kindly explained the general flow of each day with the kids and shared about being flexible with the activities of summer camp. This was going to be a new experience for me. I must admit I felt the butterflies of fear within. During the interview, I was asked if I would be willing to bring my guitar and play some songs for the kids. And, that was the turning point for me. So, in the spirit of Meadowlark, I happily agreed to try it out and see where it led me. In the following days, I learned there were to be two different camp focuses – Farm Camp and Nature Camp.
During the course of each week’s camp, different groups of kids came and went. All of the kids were encouraged to create a Nature name to use at camp and to make a name tag to wear and carry in the spirit of that animal or plant. It was fun to see the various Nature names kids (and the adult staff) came up with: California Poppy, Serious Scrub Jay, and Fox. Here’s the name tag I made and wore for all of the camps.
Imagination at Play
After the kids arrived each morning, I enjoyed throwing the ball with them and blowing and catching soap bubbles. And, then there were fairy castles and villages. Wow, I had no idea building fairy castles was so much fun and so much work! This was some serious business. 😉 The power of young folks’ imagination is such a blessing. It still amazes me how the joy of simple play with young folks connects me with my own little boy within.
Singing in the Sacred Circle
There is a circle of big trees on the farm sheltering a large circle of tree sections aptly named, the Sacred Circle. After the kids arrived for camp and played for a bit, we would head over to the Sacred Circle for singing. This is where the musical spirit of Meadowlark really sang out. The kids chose handmade shaker gourds or clapper sticks to play. And, they were encouraged to take turns leading the circle in their own rhythms.
As previously mentioned, one morning I was helping the kids build fairy castles and villages. I was being useful by collecting acorn caps and white quartz rocks to bring to the young architects. While searching for these materials, I was inspired to create a fairy castle song. Later, in the Sacred Circle, I shared the song with everyone. It was such a gift to see kids expressing their joy through singing during our time in the circle. And, the dancing was a delightful surprise!
Connecting with the Land
Most mornings, I arrived early before the kids arrived. During those times, I was able to connect with the spirit of the land and my deeper self. I appreciated observing the birds flying about in the trees and bushes, the farmers out in the field rows working, and feeling the fresh morning air of a new day. It became my summer morning meditation.
And, speaking of meditation, one of my favorite activities during Farm Camp involved each person (kids and staff) finding a quiet place away from others. That quiet place became their own personal “sit spot.” Also, each person took a handmade Nature Journal with them to either write or draw in. The intention of the “sit spot” was for individuals to connect with nature and themselves. I think this is a great way to introduce kids to the idea of slowing down and listening within and without. When it was time for the “sit spot”, I gravitated towards sitting in the Sacred Circle alone. Here are some pages from my own Nature Journal.
The River is Flowing
This year, Nature Camp was added to Soil Born Farms’ summer program. It’s an opportunity for the kids to spend time off-site by exploring the American River Parkway which includes the American River Bike Trail. We also took time to explore and wade in Cordova Creek which feeds into the American River. To help create a connection with water, I shared river songs in the Sacred Circle with the kids before hiking to the river. As a group, we took a few pleasant one mile hikes to Riverbend Park where we played games and just spent time hanging out with nature.
During one of those nature “hang outs”, one of the boys actually climbed a tree and caught a lizard. He was a happy lad, as he had fun showing off that lizard before letting it go. Also, some of the other kids had fun singing their own version of Down by the Bay while on the trail, there and back again. Such a powerful way to express the joy of being alive while connecting with the natural world!
I really enjoyed my time with the kids and the staff at the farm as a volunteer for their Farm and Nature camps. And, I was honored to be included as an elder in the group. The experience helped make my summer special and I look forward to volunteering again next year. I’m glad I was able to have fun AND be of service to the kids.
More Adventures Await
On the last day of camp, I heard about Roots and Wings, a home school class opportunity for students at the farm that takes place every other Friday from fall through spring. I think it just might be a good way for me to stay connected with the folks on the farm and the spirit of the land, as well another volunteer opportunity.
Soil Born Farms – Check It Out
Now, if you still haven’t been out to Soil Born Farms, what are you waiting for? Go check it out and be sure to visit their farm stand that’s open every Saturday from 8 am to 12:30 pm until November 18th.
I have appreciated and enjoyed the poetry of Rumi since the mid 1990’s. At that point in time, Coleman Barks, an American poet, published his second collection of Rumi’s poetry. In that same year, Bill Moyers interviewed Barks on his PBS series, The Language of Life.
Those events combined produced two unexpected results. First, Rumi became one of the most favorite poets in America, over 700 years after his death. Second, Coleman Barks became the world’s best known translator of Rumi’s work and has been credited with popularizing the writings of Rumi in American culture.
All Things are the Divine
Rumi (aka Jelaluddin Rumi) was born in the 13th century in present day Afghanistan to Persian speaking parents. He was a theologian and follower of Islam’s mystical tradition of Sufism and remains one of the foremost poets in Islamic culture and history. He founded the Mevlevi Dervish Order, also known as the whirling dervishes, and wrote thousands of poems, many of them ecstatic expressions of the Sufi notion that all things can be seen as manifestations of the divine.
The writings of Rumi are read today in various parts of the world and have been widely translated into many different languages. Therefore, the influence of his universal poetry and prose transcends national borders and ethnic divisions.
Coleman Barks path to Rumi’s mystical poetry turns out to be a fascinating story in itself. In the mid 1970’s, Mr. Barks was attending Robert Bly’s annual Great Mother conference. Bly is a fellow American poet and writer. Also, along with being one of the founders of the men’s mytho-poetic movement, he is known for his versions of poetry written by Kabir, a well-known Indian mystic poet from the 15th century.
Release the Poems from their Cages
As Barks put it, “At that point he (Bly) had been reading translations of Rumi, and he had a stack of these that he gave to me, and he said in his Lutheran Minnesota accent, “These poems need to be released from their cages.” And so I began doing that, just on my own for seven years.” In 1984, Barks published his first collection of Rumi’s poetry, Open Secret: Versions of Rumi. About ten years later, he published another collection of Rumi’s poetry and wound up in the spotlight which gained a newfound appreciation for Rumi’s universal message of connecting with the Divine through the heart.
To Coin a Phrase
Until recently, I thought that Barks had actually translated the works of Rumi. However, that turns out not to be the case. Apparently, he paraphrased Rumi’s poetry into more contemporary language, based upon translations by Rumi scholars. To be honest, I don’t mind the paraphrasing and contemporizing of Rumi because it has made his work much more accessible to myself as a modern poet and songwriter. I am happy to have been inspired by Bark’s versions of Rumi’s work, as they have connected me more deeply with the Divine Mystery.
Found in Second Translation
Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Coleman explaining more of his “translation” process.
I was surprised to learn that you don’t speak Persian. How do you “translate” Rumi’s work, then?
I depend upon scholarly translations and living scholars to give me word-for-word translations, and then I work with the English, trying to be as faithful as possible to the images that come through the words and the spiritual information coming through those images. But I don’t try to reproduce any of the musicality of the Persian. I translate it into American free verse.
So the word “translator” doesn’t exactly describe what you do?
It’s often called a second translation. Someone brings it from the source language sort of halfway to a literal translation and then someone else takes it from that stage to a poem in the English language. Scholarly translations don’t try to do that.
How did you get involved in working with Rumi’s poetry?
Every day I would sit with A.J. Arberry’s translations trying to feel the interior of the poems and to rephrase them. I never thought of publishing them. I just let them pile up. And seven years later, I showed some to Kabir Helminski up at Threshold Books in Putnam, Vt., and he published a little book called “Open Secret,” which won the Pushcart Writers Choice award. That little book has sold more copies every year since 1984.
Great Night of Rumi
For the past eighteen years, Dale Zola has co-produced with her husband, Dan, spoken word events called The Great Night of Rumi and The Great Night of Soul Poetry. In 1999, she also released an album of songs that were musical interpretations of Rumi’s poetry, as “translated” by Coleman Barks. The album’s title is The Breeze at Dawn.
Come, Come Whoever You Are
Around 2005, Dena and I attended a Great Night of Rumi in Sebastopol and that’s where I first heard songs from the album, as performed live. I was so moved by the music that night I had to buy the CD. My favorite track on the album is titled, Come, Come Whoever You Are. One line of the song sums it all up for me; “Though you have broken your vows a thousand times, come, come again, come…”
Here’s another great tune from Dale Zola’s beautiful album, The Breeze at Dawn. It’s titled, What is the Soul?
One Inspired Tune Deserves Another
After hearing Come, Come Whoever You Are and carrying it around in my heart for over ten years, I was finally compelled to write a new song with Dale’s song as the chorus. I created the verses based on versions by Coleman Barks of a few different Rumi poems. I’m grateful for my willingness to listen to inspiration when it calls me.
To hear a demo recording of my new song, click here.
May you always enjoy your own connection to the Beloved.
After taking a break, I was back in the studio this month for more mixing of my album, In a Circle. Wow, it’s been a long journey since I started recording the first vocal and guitar tracks in the studio! At this point, I’m now nearly complete with the process.
To put it simply, mixing an album is all about getting a good blend of instruments and vocals. So, the final goal is to have the most important tracks of each song (in my case, it’s usually the vocals) easy to hear amongst the instrument tracks (guitar, drums, etc.) To hear one of my latest mixes, click below.
Artist Spotlight: Colin Hay
Colin goes Cubano
Colin Hay gets the Meadowlark spotlight this week because I heard him in concert this week at The Crest, my favorite live music venue in Sacramento. However, the surprise of the night was having a young Cuban artist, San Miguel Perez, opening the show with his band. Apparently, San Miguel is considered one of the best Cuban tres and guitar players. Also, he’s a singer, percussionist, and composer, as well as part of the New Generation of the Buena Vista Social Club.
Here’s an original song that he played with Colin at The Crest. For me, there’s something inspiring about witnessing both older and younger artists working and playing together. If you like this music, check out San Miguel’s website.
I Want My MTV
If you’re an 80’s music fan, you may remember Colin as the front man and lead vocalist for one of the popular bands of that time, Men at Work. Also, he was their principal songwriter. In the early days of MTV, their music videos helped make them popular in the U.S. Here’s one of their hit tunes from back in the day, Who Can It Be Now?
I Come From a Land Down Under
Even though, Colin lived in Australia from the age of 14 years old until 1989, he was born in Scotland. In 1981, Men at Work’s first album, Business as Usual, produced three hits. Their second album, Cargo, was released in 1983 and produced three more hits. Finally, by the time their third album, Two Hearts, was released in 1985, the band was falling apart and, sadly, the hits stopped coming.
After Men at Work disbanded in 1985, Colin lived in Australia for a few more years before relocating to Los Angeles in 1989. Since 1987, he’s been working away as a solo artist with 13 albums released. Here’s a great song from his album, Going Somewhere, released in 2005. In this video, the female vocalist singing with him on stage is his wife, Cecilia Noel.
Keep on, Keepin’ On
In March 2017, Colin’s latest album, Fierce Mercy, was released, so he’s out on tour again at 64 years old. After many years of living in the States, he became a U.S. citizen in 2016. It’s good to see an artist continuing their work, even after the glittery fame train has come and gone. To me, it’s proof that the life of an artist is ongoing with or without the spotlight. As proof, here’s a song off his new album that he played at the concert this week. Thank you for all the great tunes over the years, Colin. Good on you, mate!