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.
“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.”
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.
And, 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.
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
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.
My 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.
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.
I 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.
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.