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“suffer gloriously.” [merely-a-thought monday]

suffer gloriously

when you watch extreme mountain climbing videos every night you are bound to find morsels of wisdom and inspiration.  chris, one of the denali climbers, tossed us this one:   “i think it’s important to learn how to suffer gloriously.”  he added he “tries to put a positive spin on all his suffering.”  chosen suffering, that is, for who would doubt that there would be suffering on a climb up the highest peak on the continent.  alternatively, his suffering yields reward, a summit, or, at the least, an attempted summit, traversing in elevations few have scaled.

in the early 1980s i taught music in the poorest school of a small county in florida.  z was one of my students – he was in first grade.  i know he suffered.  his home was not far from the school campus with buildings attached by covered walkways, my music shed tucked into a swampy corner, complete with 3″ banana spiders.

z was a student who needed a lot of extra attention.  he craved it.  given his grave family situation, i know his heart had to be heavy, but his smile was light-itself and he loved hugs and music class.  in that school, tucked into the middle of an impoverished neighborhood, where people spent days sitting on rotting porches waiting for the next day, there was much agonizing.  and, clearly, a hell of a lot of surrendered acceptance.  it was deeply inspiring to see children being glorious, even in the midst of hurting.

i heard somewhere along the passing years that z was in prison.  i shudder to think of all who might say it was inevitable.  he was truly stuck in a system that allowed very few to escape.  the ‘subs’, as the area was called, was a breeding ground for glorious suffering, proud faces lined with sweat and worry, ponderous minds sorting for ways to survive.

we went back there about five years ago, drove to what-is-now a fenced-in complex and no longer a neighborhood school so i could stare for a few minutes at the old shed in the swamp.  we drove around the neighborhood and stopped and got out to talk to a couple people rocking on a porch.  we talked about the old school and, with shining faces, they spoke with pride about attending it.  glorious faces.

when we pulled away, they went back to the chairs on the porch, under the collapsing portico away from the steamy sun and tucked into trees covered with spanish moss and yards of dry dusty dirt.  still suffering.

we drove away, a few moments of silence as i took it all in.  in my mind i hugged the little boy z used to be and wished for something better for him.  for a summit.

read DAVID’s thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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the organ bench. [k.s. friday]

organ pipes

no one else.  there was literally no one else i knew who took organ lessons.  eight years old and i was the only one.  everyone else i knew took piano lessons.  they went to the new local music store –munro music on larkfield road in east northport – and had lessons in itty studios downstairs and came back upstairs to pick out sheet music from a big wall featuring the latest hits and books of collected artists, written out for various levels of piano-playing ability.  me?  i went to mr. i-never-knew-if-he-even-had-a-first-name sexton’s house (now, think about the torture my peers had with that name) and took organ lessons in the addition adjacent to the garage.  there was no wall of sheet music, were no cool guitars hanging up begging to be purchased, no amplifiers or drums.  just that one organ.  no windy or ode to billie joe or i’m a believer easy piano for me.  it was beautiful dreamer and long, long ago.  and hymns.  lots of hymns.  but i had been asking for lessons since i was five and the little chord organ that was my grandmother’s was moved aside and a ‘real’ organ with two manuals (keyboards) and real pedals and cha-cha button settings was added to the corner of the dining room that was next to the kitchen and the living room.

when i was ten i tearfully played the pipe organ for my brother’s wedding, the processional as my sweet sister-in-law walked down the aisle to my big brother.  yesterday i was talking to john whelan, a master celtic accordionist the exact same age as me, and we talked about the first real gig we did.  his was at 12 and he actually got paid.  mine was this wedding and, for obvious reasons, payment was out of the question.  i got to wear a really pretty peach-colored party dress and white shoulder stole and wept my way through the difficult piece.

after some time, i somehow convinced my parents that they needed both an organ and a piano and they signed me up for piano lessons.  joan ostrander, the very chic music teacher, was my first piano teacher and i adored her.  she pushed me and i adored that too.  i spent long hours practicing on the piano bench with my dog missi sleeping underneath, my dad whistling in the background.

in years to come i studied with the teacher-of-all-teachers alan walker and was convinced that the piano and i were kindred.  i taught more piano lessons on long island (and later florida and even wisconsin) than i can remember, back then driving from one house to another, delighting in each student’s joy playing the piano and progress no matter the pace, hoping to emulate the teaching style of this amazingly kind man.  after lessons we talked life and ham radio and ate open-faced crunchy peanut butter sandwiches.  music is not just about music, you know.

during my undergrad, i studied piano in college with one of the professors but kept bringing in pieces of original music and kept veering off course from assigned large scale pieces, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

as no real surprise, i majored in music composition, the first (?) step toward living as an artist, the first step in a road that leads to here and now.  so much in-between.  the gigging composer music timeline is filled with albums, concerts, performances, cd sales, radio and tv, qvc appearances, barnes & noble and borders, listening wall placement, phone calls, yamaha, traveling, shipping and more shipping, recording labels, carrying boxes, standing in the rain on flatbed trucks playing and singing, driving, driving, driving, press releases, graphic design, writing, recording, supportive family and friends and coworkers and a person named hope hughes.

but that organ.  it has kept on re-appearing.  somehow it is one of the threads that has woven its way through my life.  there aren’t that many of us out here:  people who play the organ, who can finesse a chosen timbre through the pipes and who can actually play lines of bass notes on the pedals.  those lessons from the very beginning somehow set the stage for me to work for three decades already as a minister of music.  conducting choirs and handbells and ukulele bands and worship bands, choosing music for services and performing groups, leading and shaping worship and, yep, playing the organ…it has been a constant.  there are days that i will pull out all the stops and play as loud as the organ pipes will allow.  its bellowing echoes through the sanctuary and i giggle as i think of my ten year old self, sitting on an organ bench in williston park on long island and crying.

what would i have thought if i had known that fifty years later i would still be sitting on an organ bench?

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read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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