Gaia’s Voice

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)

Nature Spirits

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.”

Gaia's voice through the western meadowlarkI 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…!”

Let Your Inner Light Shine

Inner Light ShineOne 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…”

Owls at Twilight

I’m a big fan of classic children’s fiction such as The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as modern children’s fiction such as Guardians of Ga’hoole by Kathryn Lasky and The Great Tree of Avalon by T.A. Barron. Owls at Twilight is the first children’s song I’ve written. Back in the 80’s, my sister, Camile, sent me a very short story written by her son, Michael, who was around five years old at the time. The pure imagination of his story inspired me to write a song, based upon it. He lived on a mountain in northern Idaho with his mom and dad, so he had a strong connection to the natural world around him.

After I recorded Owls at Twilight for my Older and Wiser project, I sent a copy of the cassette tape to my nephew, Michael, for a Christmas present. Here’s the rest of the story, according to my sister, who was a witness at the unveiling.

Michael’s Story

“It was Christmas Eve and we had been opening presents for some time. Michael was starting to fade out, so I figured we’d do the rest of them on Christmas Day. But, I wanted him to open one more present, your music tape. I had already listened to it before wrapping and had it cued up to his song, Owls at Twilight.

At the first words of the song, his eyes opened wide and he said “That’s my poem!!!”  Michael listened to the whole thing in rapt attention and then wanted to hear it again…and again.  I finally got him off to bed with the promise that it would still be there in the morning.  He played it many times on his little tape player.  It was the best gift you could have given him.  I still have the tape somewhere and can hear the song in my head.  It’s a wonderful reminder of when he was truly mine and we were connected heart and soul.  I miss that.”

Children’s Music

I would enjoy recording a whole album of music for kids with simple and intelligent lyrics about family, nature, learning about life, and FUN. Two of my favorite songwriters for kids are Raffi and Tom Chapin. I’ve been a big fan of Raffi for years. In my opinion, he is one of the best songwriters for kids, due to solid musical arrangements with talented musicians and his ability to weave tenderness with strength. Tom Chapin’s classic song, You’re Not the Boss of My Brain, strikes me as an anthem of truth and freedom for kids and sung by kids.

After writing Owls at Twilight, I was reminded of a whimsical song recorded by the Moody Blues called, Nice to Be Here.

Justin Hayward concertAnd, speaking of the Moody Blues, Dena and I heard Justin Hayward play a solo concert at the Crest Theater in Sacramento this week. He played a great show with a lot of old hits by the Moodies and a few newer tunes from his solo career.

I would like to someday create a music video around Owls at Twilight. I consider it to be a sweet lullaby for young kids to listen to while they drift off to sleep. I invite you to let that little boy or girl still living within you to enjoy this one.

To enjoy the recorded version of this song from my album, Older and Wiser, click here.

From Older and Wiser liner notes:

I really appreciated Christian’s effective keyboard coaching on this one. He really liked the sampled baritone sax and thought the bullfrog was hilarious, as it was placed in the course of the song. Pan pipes and keyboard saxophone rule! What a great blend of play with serious musical creativity. In case you’re wondering, the owl, bullfrog, and crickets heard on the song are all recordings of real critters.

Daddy’s Symphony

I wrote Daddy’s Symphony back in the mid 80’s. I was in the early stages of a productive songwriting period at that time in my life and had not yet written and recorded the songs that appear on my Older and Wiser release. I was renting out a small and sparsely furnished upstairs room in an old Victorian house located on the eastern edge of Midtown Sacramento. I still think of that room as the “writer’s attic.” I must have been having a nostalgic memory of my father playing classical piano music in our house when I was a kid. When you listen to this song, you will hear melodic excerpts from three different classical compositions. I was inspired to include those in the melody of the song in honor of my father’s love for classical music. If you really want to test your classical music prowess, see if you can guess all three pieces.

Daddy’s Symphony – My Dad’s Story

Dad and my brother Brad at the piano

Dad and my brother Brad at the piano

We had one baby grand piano in the house during my grade school years. It was a high school graduation gift from my grandmother to my father. I recall that my siblings and I were allowed to play the piano, as long as we were respectful and didn’t “bang the keys.” I taught myself how to play John Lennon’s song, Imagine, on that same piano. Later, in my high school years, my father purchased a second baby grand piano and both pianos lived in the front music room.

My father played various musical genres of piano music: classical, show tunes, popular, and liturgical (“church music”). He took piano lessons from his mother in his younger years up through high school. According to one family legend, he had aspirations to become a concert pianist. However, before he went into the Army during WWII, he had a calling to become a minister. In reminiscing about his young adult years, he did say something about not being able to support a family on music alone. I do know that after his military service, he obtained a double major in college; one major in Divinity and one in Music.

Daddys-Symphony in actionMy father was one busy guy between the music and the preaching! As the result of being a preacher’s kid and going to church on a regular basis, I wound up singing in church choirs since my father was both the minister and the choir director. From my choir experience, I learned how to sight read choral music. Best of all, I learned how to sing harmony in a group and that skill has come in handy over the years in singing with others and even singing my own back up vocals in the studio. Thank you, Dad!

He was a competent, proficient player and even taught a number of piano students over the years, both older and younger.  I remember him playing breezy, fun show tunes from musicals like Oklahoma and The Sound of Music.  He was a big Rodgers and Hammerstein fan like a lot of adults of that generation.  He could go from playing a tender song like, If I Loved You (from Carousel), to playing a rousing version of Gershwin’s, Rhapsody in Blue.  Most of all, I remember my father playing the standard version of a tune and then messing around on the keyboard, making up stuff – his own “Daddy’s Symphony”.  He was a big fan of Victor Borge, the great musical humorist and pianist and I think that showed up when my father would “improvise” at the keyboard.

This song also refers to my sister, Camile, who was the one that inspired me to begin playing guitar at 16 years old while I was recovering with a leg cast from a skiing accident and had nothing better to do.  Thank you, Sis! Along with the verse about my sister and I singing together, I wrote a verse about my son, Kabir, and I sharing our individual poetry with a group of fellow creative folks. He is a young, talented and upcoming writer and I’m very proud of him living his vision.  I also appreciate him continuing our family tradition of creative expression.

I encourage everyone to listen to and enjoy your own life’s “symphony”, whatever that might be for you.

Glass Boxes

This week’s house concert video is Glass Boxes, a song I was inspired to write after reading Ayn Rand’s classic and controversial book, The Fountainhead published in 1943.  I was inspired by her impression of architects and their impact on society. I recall being struck with Rand’s dramatic take on the necessity of the individual to follow their own creative vision and the struggle to maintain integrity while resisting conformity to society’s rules.  There’s nothing quite like a good underdog story to get the blood and the creative juices flowing.

GlassBoxesofSacramentoI used to call this song my ode to being a state worker (aka The State Worker’s Lament) and it’s dedicated to those brave souls who continue to work in the belly of the beast of government bureaucracy while dealing with the paradox of being a “civil servant.” At the time I wrote this song in the late ‘80s, I had only been working for the State of California for a few years. I was working for the California Department of Education in downtown Sacramento.  I would park on the other side of the Tower Bridge in an area that later became the Rivercats stadium and then proceed over the bridge and walk down Capitol Mall towards the state capitol building.  This gave me an on the ground opportunity to observe the architectural changes at work in the city.

If you want to check out the studio version of Glass Boxes, here’s the website page link:
http://meadowlarktunes.com/listen-and-buy/.   Just click on track five to listen to the tune.

To read studio notes regarding this song, click here.

House Concert Videos are Ready for You

Releasing House concert videos

house-concert-videos

In the last few months, I was finally able to edit all the music videos from my well received February 2015 house concert and they are now ready to share. There were a number of technical difficulties and frustrations with video editing and I’m grateful to Ed Etzel at Audio West Recording Studios for assisting me with the process of producing the best possible videos from the improperly recorded raw material.  Starting this week, I will release one house concert video per week with an accompanying blog post.

There are 21 videos in all.  I will intersperse goodies from my current studio project, In a Circle, (i.e., rough demo tracks, photos, videos, etc.), along the way.  As a reminder, all the folks who attended my 2015 house concert will receive a discount price for In a Circle when it’s available for sale.

I would appreciate it if you would leave comments on my YouTube wall after you’ve listened to the videos.  Please be aware that the audio balance between the vocals and the guitar on the videos is not the best, due to the limited number of mics being used during the performance.  Enjoy these all original, home-grown tunes and have fun singing along!  And, if you wish, share them with your friends.