I wrote Moonlight during a very active period of songwriting back in the late 80’s. It’s one of the songs I included on my Older and Wiser album. I’ve always been fascinated by the moon; the way it appears and disappears each month. I like to make a game of tracking its movement about the night sky while reflecting the light of the sun down to us on Earth.
Poetry of Moonlight
I have appreciated poetry since I was young. There’s something mysterious about the flow of word imagery and the thoughts and feelings that are evoked in between the lines. I tried to create a certain feel with my song, Moonlight, through the interaction of lyrics and guitar chord structures. When I play it or listen to it, I experience a kind of nostalgia as in a pleasant daydream.
Speaking of the moon, I was a big Cat Stevens fan back in the 70’s and one of his best tunes is Moonshadow. I like the playful nature of the lyrics with the counterpoint between lighthearted and serious; the light and the dark.
I grew up hearing my father play classical tunes on the baby grand piano in the music room. One of my favorite classical piano pieces is the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, 1st Movement by Ludwig Van Beethoven. It’s also known as the Moonlight Sonata. I’ve always enjoyed the meditative moodiness of this piece, even though Beethoven didn’t compose it with the moon in mind.
I have learned that every day is a brand new day, full of possibility and promise. I sing this song as a positive affirmation to remind myself and others of this. I can re-start my day when it’s going sideways or not the way I would prefer.
It’s in the Genes
I have musical roots in my family with various relatives and ancestors playing piano, organ, violin, harp, guitar, flute, and clarinet. I’m also aware that there’s been a lot of singing in churches, along with on stage and around the campfire.
I’m happy to say that this tradition continues on with younger members of the McKitrick tribe. As I recall, during his long life, my father gave piano lessons to most of his grandchildren and even his great grandkids. My son played drums for awhile in grade school and piano and saxophone in his earlier college days. I have three nephews that all play guitar at differing levels of expertise.
It Started with a Jam
About five years ago during a family visit to the East coast, I had a jam session with my nephew, James. One fine morning, he and I descended to the music cave in his parents’ basement and plugged in the guitars. I was excited about the possibilities after talking with him on the phone about music and guitars since he had been in high school.
We played some old rock classics to get warmed up and he got to show off his chops on the fret board. Then, I just started jamming on rhythm guitar with a chord progression and James joined in. I got inspired and started singing about a “brand new day” and “walking outside to greet the day.” It felt like a ska tune in the style of an ‘80s band called The Police.
A Brand New Day on Short Rotation
Since the tune wouldn’t leave me alone, I had to finish the lyrics and have enjoyed playing it since then. I love the feel of it and it’s got a groove that just won’t quit. I’ve come to realize that the upbeat nature of Brand New Day’s lyrics also reminds me of a classic pop tune from the mid-80’s called Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves.
This one’s for you, James! “Just shake it off, ‘cause it’s a brand new day…”
I wrote Thread of Love in the early 2000’s. It was the first song I co-wrote with Doug Von Koss of the Noah Project. I had heard of Doug from a friend. Immediately, I began driving over to the San Francisco Bay area to join in the men’s singing circle. I have come to treasure my time with the men of the Noah Project. They gather twice a month at the Finnish Hall in Berkeley. What a blessing to have the opportunity to experience so many glorious evenings of singing and connecting with other men. It is a glorious “perfection-free zone,” as Doug likes to call it.
The Birth of Thread of Love
One Sunday evening in the smaller social room upstairs, I experienced one of those rare times when the magic was just right. Doug played the piano and led us in singing a song I had never heard before. It was based on a poem by William Stafford titled, “The Way It Is.”
The melody was from an old African-American spiritual, titled There is a Balm in Gilead which has been in the public domain since earlier last century.
I was so captivated and deeply moved that the short song stuck in my mind and heart. I sang it on the long drive home that night. Within a few days, I wrote a whole new song with melody and verses and the original piece as the chorus. I have grown very fond of this song over time and have shared it with a number of people since then. I really wanted to record it to share it with even more folks. However, I let it sit on the shelf because of my concern around copyright issues with Stafford’s poem and how to deal with that.
Dealing with Legalities
Earlier this year, I finally researched and discovered that William Stafford’s son, Kim Stafford, is a professor of literature at the Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Kim serves as literary executor for the Estate of William Stafford, so I contacted him to inquire about how to receive permission to publish my Thread of Love song. It contains a few lines from one of his father’s poems. I had a short conversation with him on the phone. He was very gracious and supportive. I recall that he said something to the effect that his father “liked to encourage folks in their creative endeavors.”
Kim told me to contact Fred Courtright whose business, The Permissions Company, is the rights agency for Graywolf Press. After a short wait, I received the official letter that granted me permission to publish Thread of Love. I extend my heartfelt thank you to Kim and Fred for helping to make it possible for me to record this song. Finally, I’ll be able to bring the message of this song to even more folks around the world.
Gratitude for Inspiration and Grace
I am very grateful to be recording Thread of Love in the studio this summer. It will be included on my new album, In a Circle. I will be honored to have some of William Stafford’s words in the mix, along with my own.
There is a thread of love we follow
It goes among things that change
There is thread of love we follow
When we hold on, we cannot get lost*
I moved to the Sacramento area in the fall of 1981. I wrote River City Trouble in the late 80’s. I was paying attention to the local and regional issues of the day and managed to include a veritable grab bag of those issues all together in one song.
I think this must be the most ambitious topical song I’ve written, so far. I don’t claim to be an expert, by any means, regarding these issues. As it is, I wound up writing a very topical song referring to:
2) The so-called “Water War” happening between northern and southern California.
3) The affect on the yearly salmon run as a result of more water being diverted from the Sacramento River and the Delta for agricultural use.
4) The growing number of homeless folks camping out on the riverbank of the Sacramento river.
5) And the large amount of agricultural pesticide run-off into the river that is provided to Sacramento residents for drinking, watering gardens, etc.
Whew, that’s quite a broadside ballad!
According to Merriam-Webster’s definition of Broadside Ballad:
“A descriptive or narrative verse or song mainly of the 16th and 17th centuries, commonly in a simple ballad form, on a popular theme (such as the celebration of an event or in praise of or attack upon a public figure), and sung or recited in public places or printed on broadsides for sale in the streets; also : a song in imitation of this”
I played a mean soprano recorder solo for this tune on track ten of the Older and Wiser album. I had been playing a lot of recorder in the mid to late 80’s. I’d play at home while jamming to some of my favorite recordings of the day. Examples include Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Ghost in the Machine by the Police, Paul Simon’s Graceland).
To read more about the album version of this tune, as provided in the copious liner notes, click here. You’ll find it listed after the Never Left Home song.
Gaia’s Voice is an original collaborative piece referring to the Goddess, Gaia.
I understand that Gaia was the ancient Greek Goddess of Earth. According to Hesiod’s Theogony of 700 BC, she was the ‘first to arise from chaos’. In the Homeric Hymn to Gaia of 500 BC, she was called ‘Mother of all, the oldest one, the foundation’. Apparently, Gaia even pre-dates Greek culture. In Hinduism, the Mother of all creation is called ‘Gayatri.’ In Sanskrit, Gaya means ‘Moving Song.’ The Gayatri Mantra was the first hymn to arise from the original seed sound of Om. (Source: gaiafoundation.org)
I am reminded by the Nature imagery in the lyrics of this song: All living beings are interconnected in the great web of life on Mother Earth. On my spiritual journey, I have learned that it’s very common in the many indigenous cultures on this planet to have animal spirit totems. Webster’s Dictionary defines a totem as:
“A natural object, usually an animal that serves as a distinctive, often venerated emblem or symbol; a means of personal or spiritual identity.”
I have had various animal Spirit names with Sacred Meadowlark being one of them.
Hear Gaia’s Voice as a meadowlark:
Sacred Singing Circle
Doug Von Koss, the artistic director of the Noah Project, has been leading this singing circle with folks in the San Francisco Bay area for about 20 years. It has been my great pleasure to join him and others in the circle for the last 16 years. We have sung beautiful chants and songs from various cultures in an acapella format.
My experience of being one of the Noah Project “brothers” reignited and deepened my passion for singing from the soul in community. I appreciate Doug’s invitation to everyone in the circle to find a harmony and sing in “a perfection-free zone.”
The Seed for Gaia’s Voice
A while back, I was singing in the Noah Project circle on a lovely Sunday evening in Berkeley. Doug introduced a new song to us that night that became the seed for a song I later titled, Gaia’s Voice.
I am a small green plant, I am a lake on the plain, I am alive, I am alive I am a flying bird, I am a diving fish, I am alive, I am alive
I was so inspired by this short piece that I was compelled to flesh it out. So, I wound up making it the chorus for a larger song that included verses and a bridge. I’ve had this experience before. When I hear a great short song, it just begs to be expanded on. I like to give it more elbow room in this big musical universe.
Gaia’s Voice is the second song that I’ve co-written with Doug, as the direct result of Noah Project inspiration. It will appear on my new album, In a Circle. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Doug and the men of the Noah Project. “I have had singing…!”
One of my great joys is collaborating with others to create something new. A few years ago, my wife and I were at an office warming party for our good friend, Darlene. One of our other good friends, Karene, had the idea for a new song and had written down a few phrases. She asked me if I would help her complete the song and I said “yes.” I pulled out my guitar to work out the chords for the melody and we brainstormed the rest of the lyrics. The resultant song came to be titled Let Your Inner Light Shine. We completed the song in time to share it with everyone else present at the party, as part of a blessing ceremony.
The chorus of this song has the repetitive nature of a chant with the title phrase being sung a number of times. I sang it at my house concert in early 2015 and the folks attending the concert readily joined in on the chorus. I like songs that are easy and inviting for others to join in and sing along. It helps to co-create a feeling of being in this life together, as part of something greater. When I was working on the song with Karene, I had the sense there was a spiritual connection between Let Your Inner Light Shine and the old classic, This Little Light of Mine.
Let Your Inner Light Shine This Little Light of Mine
When I did some research on this song, here’s what I found out. This Little Light of Mine was written in the 1920s as a song for children with music composed by pastor/music teacher, Harry Dixon Loes, and lyrics by writer/poet, Avis Burgeson Christiansen. It became a staple of Sunday School teaching across the U.S. In 1952. The Ward Singers were legendary pioneers of the modern gospel sound. They turned it into a ‘gospel’ song for adults. Soon after, Zilphia Horton adapted it further still. She taught it to Pete Seeger (as she did with We Shall Overcome) and other folk singers of the 1950s.
It became a Civil Rights anthem, and was generally assumed to be a symbolic old slave song from the south. As it turns out, This Little Light of Mine journeyed quite a distance to become a “crossover hit.” It moved from being a spiritual song for kids to an adult gospel tune to a Civil Rights classic.
Let Your Inner Light Shine takes the spiritual concept of This Little Light of Mine and expands on the idea of each individual shining forth their inner goodness to the world around them to bring more peace into the world. “All the time, let it shine…”