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the path back is the path forward


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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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noodling. [k.s. friday]

the art of noodling

we can never repeat it.  that piece we played together during a quiet moment in the service.  moments where notes suspended, combined with hearts and lingered in the air.  we noodled our way through it and, even just after it was over, we could not speak to how it was shaped or where it went.

it is my absolute joy to work with someone who can join me in this.  jim, our beloved guitarist, is a ready partner.  hand signals of the key, head nod count offs and we are on our way.  sometimes the noodling takes us to a more intense, busy place and sometimes it is the stuff of nirvana, peaceful, thoughtful serenity.  always it is rewarding for both of us; we share a smile when it’s done and know that the ethers now own that piece of music.  never to be repeated.

improvisation is a driving force – we play at least seven pieces of music every service.  with skeletal lead sheets we choose how to perform each one.  sometimes we liken our performance to ‘how it was done on the recording’ and sometimes we have our own agenda, working it into the style or feel we wish it to convey.  but, because we don’t simply read every note on the page (since they aren’t on the page), we know the performance of each piece will also never be repeated.  it is not likely that most realize we are drawing from deep inside, from knowledge or experience, from heart, when we play.  they likely think we are reading music that is all written out.  i don’t suppose it matters what they think as long as we deliver what we intend.  as long as we shape the service emotionally, for that is what the music is all about.

as a composer, my favorite moments, in addition to those sweet moments of harmony when we, with our respective instruments sing and can hear the lining up of the stars, are those moments of noodling.  we have no fear of what’s next.  we have no preconceived notion of where to go.  we just start.  and we follow where the music leads us.  it’s ephemeral.  it starts from the dust and returns to the dust.  and is never to be repeated.

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read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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“make hundreds.” [merely-a-thought monday]

make hundreds

when he said, “make hundreds”, he wasn’t referring to blogposts.  my sweet poppo was for-sure-analog and didn’t really even know what a blog was.  he was sending me off to school or work, calling after me to “make hundreds”, a tad bit of pressure for an A+ seeking student but taken with a bit of a grain of salt because my poppo said it with great love.  today starts the one-hundredth week of our blogposts in the melange and daddy-o would be impressed.  it’s one hundred weeks, after all.

clearly, in just a few short weeks it will be two full years.  two years that we have sat next to each other and written a post that was inspired by the same image, the same quote, the same painting or piece of music.  it has been a profound experience.  we have written on the raft with dogdog and babycat curled up next to us, on the beach, in the high mountains, in hotels and airbnbs, in coffeehouses, in relatives’ homes, in the noise of a city, in the quiet on island.  whether or not others are reading my words, i look forward to every single day of writing and am stunned to think that i probably have more in the way of written word now than songs.  is that possible?  (even at a mere 500 words a post it is somewhere around 250,000 words, about 3-4 novels worth.)  it is the best stuff of sitting up in the maple tree outside my growing-up-house on long island for hours on end, writing, writing, writing.

we sit at the starting gate with our inspiration of the day and then, without looking at what the other is writing, we expound on what we see or feel or think.  it’s ‘he said, she said.’  we’ve often thought about, and might just follow through, capturing them into a journal where the same image or quote could stimulate a third person’s writing.  a ‘he said, she said, you said’ book. having a prompt is the juicy stuff that makes it absolute fun.

my posts are often stories, emotional – perhaps poetic – glimpses into our life. david’s are more esoteric, more complex.  a friend of ours said she can tell the difference without even looking.  goodness!  i’m sure that is true.  when we share our writing with each other, reading aloud, i often wonder about the value of what i’ve said.  like recording an album, these are words ‘put out there’ for all to see and you and i both know that judgement is alive and well.  but i always bravely try to remember what our point is.

we wanted a place to put a variety-pack of endeavors, a place that our conglomerate artistries could live under some kind of umbrella.  that umbrella became our‘studio melange’ and we found we could offer our individual work (paintings and music) in addition to our cartoons (earlier on, the melange included chicken marsala and flawed cartoon) as well as the quotes we jotted down each week and the images i recorded on camera that we found pertinent or thought-provoking.  about a year along the line we changed the melange and added ‘merely-a-thought monday’ and ‘not-so-flawed wednesday’ in lieu of our cartoons.

if you pare our melange down you will find one overwhelming similarity.  hundreds upon hundreds of moments.  moments captured, moments written down, moments to remember, moments we’d sometimes rather forget, moments of confusion, moments of regret, moments of incredulousness, moments of fear, moments of scary honesty, moments of challenge, moments of pushing back, moments of questioning, moments of indescribable joy and moments of deep sorrow.  all of them moments of life, a reminder to grasp onto them and hold on dearly.  for that is what we have.  the ability to make moments.  the ability to make moments count.

make hundreds.

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

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laugh. [k.s. friday]

creativity is not always a serious thing.  songwriting isn’t always serious.  today we offer you the attempt we made on washington island to record our brilliant and profound song SITTING HERE IN THE SUN.  we understand, with 7 takes, if you can’t bear to watch it all.  and we understand if you are underwhelmed by the song (not to mention the angle of video recording) – when you finally get there.  but right now – at the very beginning of a new year and a new decade – we are thinking maybe the laughter is the most important song of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jaunt over to DAVID’S blogsite to see if he added anything esoteric to my meanderings

for real recordings, go to iTUNES: kerri sherwood here

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guide star. [d.r. thursday]

hotel art

last night we watched cnn’s broadcast movie about linda ronstadt “the sound of my voice”.  a star in every facet.  as we watched , we revisited times of our lives – times when the music we listened to was simpler, less engineered, less auto-tuned, less machinated, less acrobatic.  it was music of melody and harmony, stylistically less thickened by tracks of extraneous stuff.  it was indeed purer.  linda ronstadt, now in her 80s and dealing with the effects of parkinson’s, particularly on her voice, was a powerhouse raised in music, surrounded by music and who, with generosity, graced us all with her music for decades.  her voice goes on.

we are attracted to simpler.  simpler melodies minus the gymnastic riffs and with simpler production, simpler paintings with great depth or color or message.  we are analog; there’s no doubt about it.  and as we watched a john denver christmas in aspen the other day i found myself yearning for that simplicity, john denver’s voice – both his writing voice and singing voice – effortlessly clear.

the common thread of less is more.  it had impact on us, on our art forms.

when d was messing around in the studio recently he painted these very simple elements that often appear in his paintings:  a star, a flower, petals. it’s not natural for him to paint without a figure.  i imagine he was experimenting, paring down.  i would liken that to me recording a song on the ukulele.  it’s not natural for me to record without a piano.  but experimenting is good and paring down is an exercise.  especially in times of mostly-quiet easels and mostly-empty lyric sheets.

linda ronstadt’s story is one of unparalleled success and a great number of layers of experiment, a constant delve into another style of music, always paring it down to dedication to her absolute love of singing.

in the midst of all the layers, all the experimentation, all the paring down, all the silent canvases and hushed keys, we find our guide stars.  and we go on.

read DAVID’S thoughts this D.R. THURSDAY

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©️ 2019 david robinson, kerri sherwood

 

 

 


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rough cuts. [k.s. friday]

you're here songbox 2

rough cuts.  there are lots of them.  recorded on an iRiver or an iPhone so i don’t forget.  scraps of paper with lyrics and chord indications, rhythms jotted above the words, a few melodic notes scribbled in the margins or throughout the page.  songs that haven’t yet been recorded.  songs that may some day be recorded.  songs that will never be recorded.  rough cuts.

before the cantata i prepared for this holiday season i had carefully selected music – all contemporary pieces, all meaningful lyrics that i felt would resonate with those watching, making the experience touch their hearts.  but, as i mentioned in a past post, i’m pretty picky and there was this one song.  after playing around with it with the band, i deleted it from the line-up.  with a spot still to fill in-between narrative, i decided to write a new song to fill the slot.  this is the song i wrote –  YOU’RE HERE – and you can listen to a very rough cut of it recorded on my iPhone played on an out-of-tune church piano if you click here.

it’s been a long while since i recorded an album.  more time has passed than i ever thought possible.  i wonder which songs in my rough cut collection will make it onto the next album.  i wonder if there will be a next album.

in the meanwhile, i’ll keep paper by the piano and have my cellphone ready.  the iRiver is in the drawer, along with the microcassette recorder and a pile of cdr’s.  maybe the presence of at-the-ready songs will eventually tilt the earth and i’ll be back in the studio.  maybe people buying cds will come back into vogue.  maybe i will record on vinyl (again).  maybe it will all be virtual.  more to stream.  (note my tone of voice.)  maybe.

or maybe i’ll just put the piano at full stick, pull up a boom stand, throw on a mic and sing.

listen to the rough cut of YOU’RE HERE by clicking here or on the image just below:

you're here songbox cropped

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read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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YOU’RE HERE ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood


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joy. [k.s. friday]

joy songbox

the video from My Girl made me out and out cry.  it was just a little hello, sent from around a firepit in the high mountains after a long day of working.  and it was perfect timing.  to see her face and hear her voice was pure joy.

we walked and walked and walked.  miles from millenium park’s christmas tree and skating rinks, past beautiful ornate displays of lights and simple twinkling white branches.  in a rare opportunity linking my arm through My Boy’s as we strolled, i was filled with joy.  the loudspeaker music and dancing lights of the lincoln park zoo just echoed my delight.

as adults, the holidays carry a different set of qualities than they did as when we were children.  much pressure, oftentimes grief, maybe a slippery slope feeling of never-doing-enough, some disappointment, a measure of jealousy or envy perhaps as others-with-family-all-in-town gather together in big festive celebrations.  for those of us who work on christmas eve and christmas day, there is a yet another added layer.

we walked through the woods yesterday looking for the right branch laying on the ground.  we don’t yet have a christmas tree up.  we have other little trees – i have collected small trees through the years – but no true christmas tree.  each year in these last years, we have chosen that “tree” carefully, always something we found, something re-purposed into a christmas tree, something that had meaning.  there was the christmas-tree-on-a-stick – a christmas-tree-misfit – we cut down on the tree farm, a piece of the tree that fell into our backyard narrowly avoiding the house, a branch that had snapped off of our beloved tree out front, a star suspended over a straight trunk wrapped in lights to tease The Boy.

this year i thought about just going to a lot and purchasing a tree, thinking maybe, in the midst of the ending of a really tough year for many,  that might put me into the holiday spirit.  but i just couldn’t bring myself to do that.  we figured that the answer would become obvious, as it has done in the past years.  and it did. watching My Boy, clearly proud of the decorations of the neighborhoods north-of-downtown, agree with us about how simple, beautiful and truly elegant the white branches were, made up my mind.

last night we put the first coat of white spray paint on the two sets of branches we brought home.  we’ll finish coating them with paint later today and wrap them in white lights.  we’ll gently place silver ornaments as we play christmas music in the background.  i will miss My Girl and My Boy like crazy.  i will yearn for my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and sister and brother-in-law and nieces and nephew and all their families, david’s parents and extended family.  it isn’t the christmas of christmas-past.

but there still is magic.  those moments of joy – when everything else ceases to exist and joy eclipses it all.

download JOY on iTUNES or CDBaby

read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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JOY ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood