Monday, January 18, 2016

Simple is Hardest of All

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

I just released my new book, First 50, a collection of "simple" Irish tunes for flute and fiddle. (Yes, Download and Hard Copies available here!)

Turns out, "simple" is a tough nut to contemplate. For two years I went deep into high-quality traditional tunes that are also accessible to newer players...

...And after stripping each tune to its essential, non-ornamented elements and notating flute and fiddle versions with detailed style markings...

...And after recording the music with trusted colleagues and revising everything based on our work together...

...And after historical research (with the help of more trusted colleagues)...

...And after writing just a few trad-style tunes I couldn't find in the existing repertoire (when I needed, say, a pretty A waltz that doesn't go above a C#)

...And after testing, reworking, and, yes, scrapping a lot of my first, second, third and fourth drafts of the collection... I "finished" the book and put it out into the world, even though I could continue revising, revisiting, road testing for two more years.

So, this is what a first edition is. You just let go at some point. Of course, a music book can and perhaps should be revisited after some years in the field, as the hearts and minds of its early adopters weigh in and as the author continues to revisit the contents in workshops, lessons and online forums.

But still, the central thrust of any book becomes relatively fixed upon public launch. The main concept of my book here is that Irish traditional music is best approached with minimal and thoughtful attention to basic style before complicated repertoire or ornamentation come into play. This turned out to be a challenging mission to demonstrate! To teach simplicity, and to teach it simply, every single detail has import.

Like the Tiny House movement in which the ruthlessly edited contents and design of the space is what it is ALL about, a good, simple tune (or 50 of them) shines when the best notes and the most  pleasing bowings/breath marks are considered. Simple isn't easy. But it can spark joy, ease and deep inspiration.

Here's to sophisticated simplicity in 2016.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Let's Leap... Together!

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

It helps to have support. And when you're embarking on a big journey, it really helps to have friends hold your hand. Or let you walk ahead and tell you how much they believe in you.

And above and beyond that, it is a heavenly blessing to have informed, professional assistance when you really need it. Gold stars this week to DJ at Bodhi and Mind Yoga. He and the other Bodhi instructors offer free yoga to women in every stage of breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. What an inspiration. I wish anyone dealing with breast cancer plenty of light and inspiration.

Recently, DJ led a guided meditation to non cancer patients at Medford Square's Borealis Yoga. Once we were all tucked into our breath and full of light and scaling a mountaintop, he asked us to look into the face of the person at the top of the mountain. It was my dad! For the first time in a long time, I got to see him. I  really saw his face, saw him looking at me.

As DJ guided us to do, we then imagined ourselves walking with our partner. My dad and I walked (leaped) from there. It was a wash of bright, happy light, which was a nice vision after just having launched my music book, especially because my dad was a writer.

At the end of the class, DJ suggested we offer our practice to a friend. A flood of faces came into my heart. There are so many of us doing amazing things, and these efforts and accomplishments are only stronger when we share them.

So, I wished easy, inspired moments to just a few a few dear people. It's more fun--and it's easier--when we leap together:
  • To Hud as he heals
  • To Katie as she heads to Cape Breton for a week of recording
  • To Matt as he prepares to launch his new kid CD on Sat, Jan 30, 3pm at Club Passim
  • To Neil as he adds a solo show to his already stellar performance offerings--he'll be doing a solo opening set at Club Passim Sat Feb 20 Duo show at Club Passim
  • To my mom as she gets back on her feet (literally)--go ankle, go!
  • To Laura with her beautiful new video Three Little Words. She performs this co-write with Zach with, you guessed it, a bunch of friends.
  • To Emilie and the enlightened team at Borealis Yoga as they continue to build a generous, vibrant center for well-being in Medford Square
  • To Lindsay as she exceeds personal trainer expectations on the road to recovery

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

12 Unique Christmas Traditions

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

Like many modern age people, our families do not live close by. With parents and siblings in Pittsburgh, Madison, D.C. and Knoxville, we've struggled with how to do the holidays. After years of trying to alternate destinations each year, we've finally begun to make peace with just mailing gifts and calling/Skyping our families on Christmas... and investing in our local tribe and our own traditions.

Though this is a newer paradigm for us, I realize that throughout all our nomadic, inconsistent holiday approaches, we have established some long-standing traditions of our own. Here are 12 weird, wonderful rituals that color our Christmas:

1:
We get the oddest tree on the lot: Even during the Christmas travelling days, we always got a "Charlie Brown" tree. They are the funny ones. They're cheaper, too. We'd never discussed this preference with our son. But he gets it. This year he walked right up to the smallest tree. It's perfect.

2:
The very first Christmas music we listen to is always Tuck Andress' "Hymns, Carols and Songs About Snow." After 8 bars of Tuck's tasteful instro stylings of Winter Wonderland, the season has begun for us.

3:
Matt strings up blue lights outside our blue house. With them, all is calm, all is a little less bright and our Jewish brothers and sisters also like them.

4:
To prepare for our annual "Fine Winter's Night" concerts, of course we sing the songs at home to prepare. We've incorporated them into evening lullaby singing with our son, and he sings them with us now. Hearing a five year old sing my original song "Julius the Christmas Cat" cures what ails.

5:
We make and send a Christmas card. OK, this is actually a brand new tradition and one which I fought for years. "No, Matt Heaton, I do NOT want to have to make and then address/write on a bunch of cards. I have enough to do." Well, earlier this year we decided with our friends and Christmas card mentors (they send a legendary card each year), to go for it and have fun with it. I looked forward to it. I loved writing in all the cards. And my heart has grown two sizes bigger from accepting this tradition.

6:
My Pig ornament! I've had it since childhood. I love finding it in the ornament bin and finding a spot for it on the tree. My pig!

7:
I have a small wooden nativity set from my childhood in Nigeria. I store it in a ziploc bag, with each charactere wrapped in ancient toilet paper. I love unwrapping it! I love the old toilet paper, and I love the sweet little set. And now I unwrap it with my son, who also loves it and comments on the sheep with only one horn.


8:
During our brief stint in Boulder, our friends Jim and Vivian got us this set of four silver and gold ornaments. We've hung them above our kitchen sink every Christmas since.

9:
Midnight mass... at like, 5pm. With a church organist father, my husband grew up with the actual midnight tradition. Our beloved local church does an earlier service, so he doesn't get the childhood experience. But it's sweet nonetheless.

10:
We always get together with Thai friends near Christmas time for a big feast of curries. It's always delicious and hilarious. For the last couple of years, we've done this onChristmas eve (after "midnight" mass). Ringing in the Christmas with our Buddhist and Jewish pals--and lots of chili peppers--feels just right.

11:
Our formal festive routine doesn't officially start until "Christmas Monday." This small gathering started with our friends and former neighbors and will always be called Christmas Monday, even when we get together on a Wednesday.

12:
We host or attend at least one Irish house session. All of us Irish musicians living in Medford/Melrose do get together through the year (though not often, with all the kids/life demands). With an ease in work schedules, and with emphasis on family and gathering, it's especially sweet to play tunes around the holidays.

We didn't set out to make these traditions. They sneaked up on us. They are real, meaningful, weird and wonderful. This year our son had potato pancakes at school and loved them. So we will try a Christmas brunch with latkes. New tradition? Only time will tell.

Merry Christmas, gang. And thanks to so many of you who have reached out about the blog and asked me to start posting again! A sweet gift to me.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How NOT To Do it

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

As a parent, I'm responsible for my kid's health and emotional/intellectual well being. It takes a lot of organizing and energy. I understand the challenges will continue (grow) as he gets older. But there is a particular exhaustion and frustration that I have found with a 4+ year old, a dynamic human with great ideas and opinions who still needs a lot of hands on attention and assistance.

So my heart goes out to ANYone parenting a little kid. I don't assume that the kid throwing a fit in the grocery store has been mistreated in any way. And I appreciate all the great/inspired parenting out there (hey, Emily, I love turning the punitive Time Out into a supportive, empathetic "Simmer Down Corner").

On the rare occasions I witness truly crappy parenting, I'm vaguely appalled. But I'm also reminded that, in fact, I am bungling through this parenting thing with some shred of grace. Two particularly sour moments I just witnessed:

#1: Beach Mom
Mom sits in beach chair, 30 feet from shore.
Her child splashes everybody in sight.
Mom says nothing.
Child splashes an older kid who patiently moves away.
Child moves back to the older kid and splashes more.
Older kid moves away again, saying "all right, buddy, this is getting annoying."
Child moves back to older kid and splashes him and lots of other little kids.
Mom finally says (to the older kid), "You need to tell him if you don't want him to splash. Otherwise he will splash you. You need to learn how to communicate."

#2: Cursing Smoking Mom
Mom sits on front porch smoking.
5 children hang over the porch railing, giggling and teasing each other.
Mom tells them not to tease each other.
5 children hang a little farther over the porch railing.
Mom tells them they are being idiots and if they fall she will not help them.
The kids tell her they are bored and want to go to the park.
Mom tells them to quit their bitching, and asks why all they ever do is complain. (She actually says this in an uglier way, but I can't bear to write what she actually said to her kids.)

Can't win 'em all. But maybe we don't all lose quite this deeply every day...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Just Do It Badly

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights:

Yesterday I was chatting with my new friend Beth about blogging and balance. For those of us who value connecting and sharing, we want to impart something thoughtful and reasonably coherent when we blog. We want to honor our readers and use the blog platform in a useful way, instead of just adding noise.

And we are busy and have lots of things that can get in the way of posting regularly.

For me, sometimes I just do it, even if I don't have loads of time and fresh inspiration. I tell myself to Do It Badly, a particularly great mantra for me as I move into summer. I like to be productive. I like to do lots of good work. But I really do acknowledge that the warmer months inspire a different pace. It's good for me to shift. And it's especially important for me to respect the pace of those around me during the lazier days of summer.

Wishing you gentle days of inspiration around the Solstice! I, for one, will welcome moments of doing work with just a little less attachment and reach. The Do it Badly mandate rinses away some of my normal expectations of outcome. And sometimes this is what helps me just DO my work. And sometimes this is the best kind of work.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

We Are All in Pain Together

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights:

It was a heartbreaking drive home yesterday...

First, I witnessed a misplaced show of righteousness aka aggression. Two couples--late 50s, affluent white people--set out to cross Mass Ave. They were probably on their way to a nice meal out. They began their journey through the crosswalk. Oops: one car didn't quite yield appropriately and almost cut off the well-heeled pedestrians.

One of the women walkers yelled at the car, which had begun slowing, realizing the mistake. THEN one of the men approached the passenger's side of the car. Suddenly he was screaming at the people in the car and hitting their roof. The car began inching forward and the man ran after it! He keyed the side of their car as they drove away. Yikes!

At the next stoplight I pulled up alongside the scraped car and rolled down my window. Two elderly Chinese people looked at me and said, "sorry, we make mistake!!!" I asked them if they were all right, telling them I'd seen everything. They told me I was a good little girl and it will all be okay.

A mile down the road I saw a woman running. She looked strong and also really tired. I smiled, remembering that over the weekend I ran with my friend Paula. We'd decided to each run for 15 minutes at our own pace, then turn around and meet up. I ran a bit ahead--ooh, I really wanted to reach the zoo before turning around! It took me more like 16+ minutes. And now I had to turn around and make up my time. It was a real stretch, and I was tired by the end. I felt the running woman's pain... and I wished her a great finish to her run.

A few blocks later I saw another runner. She was waiting to cross the road and looked so strong and joyous. It took me a few moments before I noticed her one prosthetic leg. When the light changed and I watched her start up, I saw her uneven stride, not like the smooth Olympic running I'd seen with artificial limbs. But no strain or discomfort registered on her face. I hope to channel some of her power on my next run.

To cap off a real gut ripping commute, my friend Eric Merrill's version of "Boston Blue-Eyed Boy" came on during the final minutes of my drive home. The soundtrack to my sorrows this afternoon.

When I told my family about what I'd seen, my son grabbed a piece of paper and wrote D. "Mom, the guy who scratched the car TOTALLY gets a Demerit."

Yeah, we really don't win when we lash out. But it's hard not to vent and rage sometimes, when the world is getting us all down. Hang in there, gang. Let's do our best this week and aim for some gold stars...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Glorious 30 Day List

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

Happy May! At the start of this month, my family reviewed--and partially redeemed--our 30 Day List. This was an inventory of various stuff we had each expressed wanting or needing throughout the month, but had agreed to WAIT 30 days before acquiring.

You see, the month of April was all about clearing out excess. I orchestrated a thorough review of the contents of our home. And my husband Matt and I ended up donating or selling a lot of things that seemed redundant or no longer joyous.

After all this work, I was determined to be deeply thoughtful about new purchases. After all, it has become exciting to live with less, enjoying what we have and pining less for what we don't (a home with a driveway, walkable to a business district...)

We all decided on April 1 that anytime one of us had a yen for anything that is not essential, it would go on the 30 Day List. (We decided to not be stingy on groceries and to also allow wine/beer so we felt decadent and satisfied enough during this spending lockdown.)

And on May 1 we reviewed what we still really wanted on that list. Of course some of the stuff didn't seem as pressing/desirable. And we had the time and patience to make a budget for some of the A list items on the list.

Acquisition day was fun, especially because we got to purchase a few things we'd had to WAIT for. But it's not disappointing to have to wait another 30 days (or more) for some of the other items on the list. Now it's a game--and a pledge to be thoughtful and disciplined about our desires.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What's LEFT is What Matters

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

As some of you know, I've been gradually working through Marie Kondo's home 'sorting' program. It's a thorough approach of decluttering by category vs. room by room; so the purger is forced to confront, say, ALL her linens or ALL her papers, all at once. With possessions on comprehensive display, it's easy to see the need to be ruthless.

I love the mandate: if a thing doesn't 'spark joy' (even if it's simple joy of the usefulness of an item), it's out!

It takes time and effort to assemble each category. But so far, once I've tackled a category--edited and then decided how/where to keep my yes pile--the order and neatness has stuck, for me AND my family. It is clear for all of us to see where everything is supposed to go, so it's easy to put things back after using them.


 I am enjoying more home order, less stuff to clean/put away. But above all, the biggest payoff is how I am using and enjoying the good stuff that remains. I'm really LISTENING to many of my favorite recordings. Inspired by my favorite books that line the bookshelves, I'm spending more time reading new recommendations.

And I loved my friend Rachel's comment that she actually ENJOYS putting things away now.

Savoring my stuff is easier to do when I have less of it. A simple notion, of course. But it's one I've practiced more lately. And cleaning up, like Rachel commented, is more satisfying when everything has a purposeful home. (Also, Kondo has good ideas about how to store things--I follow the vertical folding exCEPT for this lovely stack of quilts that looked better folded horizontally.)

Here's to getting more out of life... with less.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pig Shoes and Lightning Shoes Bring Balance

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music.

Spring is here in New England. Nearly ALL of the snow has melted, the crocuses are up and baby animals are being born. It is ON.

We celebrated the fine weekend weather with a trip to Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, MA. Our son loved looking at the "puppies" (brand new kids in the goat field). We watched a momma sheep clean her newborn lamb. And we frolicked in the wood paths.

But the sun really came out for young Nigel when we came across tractor tire tracks. "Let's play in the MUD!!!" We weren't prepared with boots--in fact, Nige was wearing his beloved Lightning Shoes, which he did not want to 'spoil.' But we did have an extra pair of shoes in our bag. So we took off the dry socks and put the spare shoes on, rolled up the pants.

There was gleeful mucking in the mud with the 'Pig Shoes' for an hour. And then we used the last of our drinking water for a quick mud rinse, dried off wet little feet with our hands/jeans and changed Nigel back into his dry footwear.

This reminded me of my trek around Mt. Auburn cemetery (without a bag filled with kid gear). It was simple to make do and accommodate our kid's request to play in the mud. We ended the day running up and down the (steep! tiring!) lamb barn hill. And we all slept very, very well that night.

I am grateful for the season change. And I am mindful of the restorative power of getting outside right away,  of really building the habit and yen to be in the mud and in the woods right as it's warming up. When you've got a happy home set up with lots of engaging toys and great books, it can take time and effort to connect with the deep dirt.

So here's to balancing the intellectual/cultural interests and the indoor play with outdoor sojourns over the course of, say, a week. (i.e. EVERY DAY doesn't have to strike a perfect balance). Some days can be heavy on outside fun; and some days can be given over to involved indoor projects. A good reminder that our days are so profound and so very small picture, all at once!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Exercise is a Blast!

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

I can't wait for my run tomorrow! (Really.)

Now that it's Spring, I'm doing more running outside--with friends, in the woods. It's such a nice connection with people and with the season change.

After my accidental five mile solo trail run a few days ago (I got lost in the woods..), I realized that my motivation for exercising is evolving. What began as a concerted effort to schedule running and yoga each week in order to keep perspective and good humor has turned into a genuine enjoyment of sport!

I didn't always make time for exercise. Things would get in the way. But I found that building regular exercise times into my weekly schedule and then being public about my plans (telling friends, posting my schedule on our family whiteboard in the middle of the house) solidified the habit. I committed to a weekly yoga class--if I don't plan to attend, I have to send regrets. It's usually "easier" to just go.

As my fitness level rose, which was already a good feeling, I also found ways to make exercise more fun. Through the winter snow and ice, I hit the gym treadmill. And with a Netflix app and a couple of cliffhanger shows, it turned out this was a totally fine way to get in some entertainment, escapism and sweat.

My attitude about running in the cold shifted a bit, too. When the roads were clear but the temperatures were challenging, social running allowed me the feeling of banding together against the cold. We faced the discomfort together, which was supportive and powerful mental exercise.

Now that it's getting warmer and it is easier to schedule running meet-ups, getting exercise is a side benefit to what has become a truly uplifting habit. It's a reward to take time and just be in my body and in the world. It's a nice solo break. And it's fun and even easier with with friends. Who knew I was finding a fun pastime?!