Sandman Serendipity

Teaching classroom guitar is a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because I get to share my musical-self’s greatest passion with a whole bunch of people at the same time.  It’s a curse for the same reason.

guitar class

This year I have 25 in my high school Guitar I class, and as is usual, I have some who are so eager to learn they are falling all over themselves; some who hoped the class would be taught by a begrudging (and ill-equipped) band/choir/orchestra director who didn’t care what they did with their 50 minutes of guitar every day; some who imagined it would be easy and who have already given up because it isn’t.

I make it my practice to hold Fridays as “forum” days during which students can bring in songs they are interested in learning and use class time, their peers, or their teacher to work on what has captured their ears and their imaginations.

The two most ambitious young men in my class have found each other and use their “Forum Fridays” to share what they are working on, and to teach those songs to each other.  Yesterday they had their heads together over the tabs that would capture their ambition for the period.

I watched, glowing with that teacherly pride when something you’d dreamed up does what you’d hoped it would, and then was astonished to hear a familiar pattern, played haltingly and cautiously, barely discernible; a broken chord, ascending, a major triad to the major seven.  A broken chord, descending, from the 6 and down through the same major triad…

They were making strange faces, shaking their heads in confusion.  “This doesn’t sound like Sandman.”

Hoping they had acquired the means to learn “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, they had, in fact, downloaded the guitar music for “Mr. Sandman.”  BIG difference.  Let’s have a listen.


What happened next could only be described as the power of the Muse.

Their delight was deep for the rest of the period.  They seemed not a bit disappointed, and dove right in to conquer the jazzy changes and the familiar arpeggios of “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream…”  Captivated is what they were, and for very different reasons they had first been captivated by the idea of learning “Enter Sandman.”  I don’t know who was more surprised by how much they liked Mr. Sandman; them, or me.

That was yesterday’s happy accident, a Sandman serendipity.  It made me smile inside then, and the smile continues now; a pretty little stone plopped into the middle of of the pond of my teacher soul, and I am grateful for the very surprising expanding rings of joy joy joy joy down in my heart.



Poison ivy.  Right foot.  I can feel it coming.

It was worth it.


We were helping new-comer Nathan pitch his tent at the Wolf Conservation Center of New York.  We were packing up our own tent following last night’s Sleepover with the Wolves, and he was moving in and scoping out a dry spot.  I was up in the greenery on the side of the trail attaching his rain fly, thinking, “Is this poison ivy?”

Answer?  Yes, I guess.

It was worth it, because this is a special place.  There are Gray Wolves, Red Wolves, and Mexican Gray Wolves here, and they are all endangered, and they occasionally erupt into a glorious chorus of howls.


We had pitched our tent in line with the others for the Sleepover with the Wolves experience, and discovered quickly that some wolves could be enticed into howling by a little sonic nudge from a human’s wanna-be-howl.  It was thrilling.  But, the over-night was largely silent, except for an uproar in the Red Wolf enclosure, where (my guess is) somewolf grabbed a tasty little four-footed night traveler of some kind, and the others wanted in on it.  With not enough to go around, it got nasty and snarly, and slightly scary.

Then, this morning, the Wolf Conservation Center hosted my brand-new presentation called CRY WOLF: The Amazing Story of Humanity’s Love/Hate Relationship with Canis Lupus, and I had an eager audience that included a gaggle of 5th-grade girls.  It was a birthday party.  It was probably the coolest birthday party in the universe, I figured, and I awarded the mom for her awesome departure from Disney Princess drivel.  The birthday girl quipped, “I hope we’ll get to hear the wolves howl!”

We Stand 1

We were a short walk up the hill and then on down the trail to the wolf enclosures; we were in their neck of the woods, but not right next door.

I opened my presentation with a beautiful tune called Forgiveness, written by Jan Michael Looking Wolf.  It’s a simple wood flute and guitar thing, and so lovely and expansive that closing your eyes and swaying to it is easy, and remarkably unselfconscious.  Forgiveness.  I played it on my wood flute to welcome in my audience, to set the tone, to open the spiritual space for wonder.  As the last note died, we heard…

…all the wolves, full-throated and lusty, ripe and rough and resonant, committed.  Howling.  It was almost high noon.  It was a full peal, in broad daylight.  Forgiveness.  With its sound and spirit, it reached up the hills and trails, inviting and encouraging these wolves to sing along and lend their hair-raising lupine amen.

I almost doubled over, gasping, “This is the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”



Listen to Jan Michael Looking Wolf’s beautiful song, “Forgiveness,” by clicking here.

Wounded Bird


A sound I know too well.  A bird just flew into the storm door.  Somehow, usually, miraculously (when this happens), they are unhurt.  And poof, they are gone.  Sometimes they leave their wing-prints on the glass, making strange art that shouldn’t be just Windexed-away.

But today was different.  The sparrow lay on the welcome mat, gasping, struggling, bright-eyed, beak agape and then closed, agape and then closed.  I cupped my hand around her tiny form and picked her up.

wounded bird

She was so wondrously made.  Even though she’s just a House Sparrow (the kind that flies around in the Home Depot or stalks your burrito bowl as you dine outdoors at Chipotle), she is beautiful.  The pattern of her flight feathers, the perfection in the arrangement of her buff belly feathers, the tawny hint of an eyebrow make her at once an object of my fascination and my sorrow.  I start to cry.  I extend her right wing and look; I am amazed. I extend her left wing, and marvel.

I cup her in both hands.  Is she breathing?  Is there bird CPR to be performed?  I pray.  Holy God and Master Creator, wake this beautiful thing of yours.  She should not die in my hands.  But she did.  A tiny smidge of bird blood appeared on my palm next to her beak.

There is no proper way to commit her to eternity, no words by which we return her small biomass back to the earth.  She’s simply not important enough.  Yet, today, when she died in my hands, she changed me, just for a moment.  She deserved something to acknowledge this: she was here.  She made me think; she made me look, for a moment, at my own small biomass and consider its import (or lack thereof), and my own fearfully and wonderfully made-ness.  She reminded me of the inherent vulnerabilities granted to those who receive the spark of life.

Once upon a time, I tried to commit to living radically in the present.  Ha.  But I think at this moment, I get it.

And I recall a song, a song I have loved for a long time.  It is by this song that I will hand her back to the puzzling God who promised that he had his eye on her; the same one who has his eye on me; the one whose ways are bigger than mine by a ga-jillion.  Listen by clicking on the link below.

Wounded Bird, Graham Nash (1971)


Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Curt says he is a baseball man. From what I know about my husband, I think this means he has been (quite literally) built by baseball.  He has played baseball his whole life.  He doesn’t brag about it, but if you ask him, he’ll tell you he was drafted by the Orioles in his sophomore year of college, and that he turned it down, wanting to graduate before going to the Bigs.  Firmly believing there would be another opportunity, it turned out there wasn’t (which personally would drive me crazy if something like that happened to me because I would plague myself forever with “what ifs”). It doesn’t drive him crazy.  He just smiles, and keeps playing baseball.ponce3

He pitches and plays second base for Team Q of the Ponce de Leon League here in the Washington DC region.

It’s a great name for a recreational baseball league, isn’t it?  Ponce de Leon – the intrepid explorer of legend who made it his life’s work to find the Fountain of Youth.  Newsflash – Ponce ol’ boy, that particular fountain is all about  baseball.




It’s Sunday morning, and the alarm on his side of the bed rings out at 7 a.m.  It’s a 9 o’clock game today at a field a good 30 miles from home.  He needs to get there a half-hour early, because he is the starting pitcher.  We’re both up and at ’em.  I love going along to watch his games.  I get to see my honey swing the bat.  I get to hear the other team moan when he connects with the ball and then it sails waaaayyyy out there, landing just inside the left field fence. I get to see him wind up before a sinking-and-away curveball that fakes-out the poor schlub at the plate.  I get to see him field a line drive to second and whip it to first for the out.

And I get to become giddy with school-girl baseball-jock crush-juice.


boys at the ballgame

Today, I am the crowd for Team Q.  Hold up – the crowd for Team Q also includes MacGuffin, the dog who sleeps at the foot of our bed every night (and who starts his antsy canine hum when Curt reaches into the closet and extracts his baseball jersey).  But, the opposition wins the crowd contest, because they have three youngsters playing with toy trucks in the dirt, and apparently, a wife-cum-manager in the dugout hollering out the batting order.  Being a part of this crowd makes me happy to my very toes, and I feel the ghost of Norman Rockwell nearby.


From the opposition’s dugout, number 12 yells, “Ashley, share your cookies with Heather!  You hear me?”  I fill MacGuffin’s Outward Hound travel bowl with water from my bottle.  I look down and draw little pictures in the sand-and-sunflower-seed-shell mix below my feet.  These sunflower seed shells were crunched in someone’s mouth for a salty roll on the tongue, split neatly in a well-placed crunch between upper and lower molars, and spat at the ground to become my media for this morning’s artwork.


At least half the thrill of going to a game is the permission it gives you to NOT do what needs to be done at home.  Laundry?  Pah.  Dusting, bathtub scrubbing, bill-paying?  Let ’em be.  There will be time for those things another day, along with pulling weeds and changing the oil. Today, lucky us, we have a game.


Not too long ago, our MLB home team played in an empty stadium because there had been riots in the streets of Baltimore overnight and it wasn’t safe for ticket-holders to attend the game.  The O’s played the White Sox, I guess, and even in a empty Camden Yards, they did the traditional seventh-inning stretch while the PA blared “Thank God, I’m A Country Boy.”  The O’s won, but this?  This was a shame on our town.




Curt pitches these.  Looking or swinging.  He can still throw crazy off-speed shit. Turn the tables, and mostly his at-bats are productive, but there are times he strikes out.  But hardly ever looking.

AT THE OLD BALL GAMEnorman-rockwell-100th-anniversary-baseball-1939

Why this adjective?  Why stand and sing and proclaim the game we are attending is the “old ball game”?  At its heart, I think it’s because baseball has the power to bring us into a part of something timeless, something elegant and noble and sensible, something with a history we can visualize as we imagine the face of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and the unknown mugs in a mildewy shoebox full of baseball cards.

babe cards

I think when we sing it, we say, “We are part of that time, right here in this time, and hallelujah, there is such a thing as time travel, and we can do it, and it’s right here, right now!”

Yes indeed, Mr. de Leon.  The fountain of youth?  It’s baseball.

How a Song About Church Jumped Up and Bit Me

“Take Me To Church?  OK, I guess you can do that one.”

As an incentive for behavior not commonly found in the average 6th-grade critter, I offer my choir a “Performance Day” when they’ve earned enough points.  Performance Day just means we sing karaoke all period.  The kids let me know in advance which songs they want to sing, I preview those songs for content, and away we go.  The requirement is that they get their song requests to me by 8 p.m. the night before Performance Day.  They choose sweet pop stuff, Anime stuff, TV Theme Show tunes, and country.  Lots of country.

little-einsteins-invitationkatyflatspon pon pon

With sad little puppy-dog eyes, one of my girls told me how she couldn’t get on the internet at her house last night so she couldn’t send me her song choice, and could she please please pretty please sing “Take Me To Church”?  That’s when I mumbled that first line up there at the top of the page.

I got the Youtube karaoke version of the song cued up, and we were live.  You need to know I’m not a huge fan of today’s mainstream popular music, and don’t listen to it on the radio, but I knew Hozier and had seen him perform “Take Me To Church” on a late night talk show or something, but it didn’t jump up and bite me until now.  I started squirming in the first verse.

Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
Fresh poison each week
“We were born sick,” you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me worship in the bedroom
The only heaven I’ll be sent to


I surreptitiously scan the room.  49 kids seem unaware or simply don’t care that the institutional church just got dissed (no big surprise there).  49 kids didn’t flinch at the “adult content” that just trotted past their ears (whew).  Maybe they didn’t get it.  After all, they are 6th graders.  But they love the chorus!  They all join in, singing heartily, and by the end of the first chorus, I was breathing easier, with Hozier and my darlings singing that lovely gentle trilogy of Amens.

take me to church

Second verse: YIKES (squared)!

If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice
To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse

This isn’t cleverly-concealed sexually inuendo-ed lyric writing like “I got a brand new pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key.”  This is straight-up (tee hee) lyric porn.

I remember being a 5th grader at William Byrne Elementary in Burnsville, Minnesota, and we had Friday afternoons reserved for “Do Your Own Thing.”  We had a variety of clubs we could choose from, and I strummed my very first guitar at “Do Your Own Thing.”  A very hip, very pretty young teacher was leading the guitar club, and she happily worked up the lyric sheets for whatever we wanted to play.  We did Snoopy Versus the Red Baron, In the Ghetto, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, and Cecelia (with the following lyrics: “Making love in the afternoon with Cecelia up in my bedroom…”)  By the next Friday afternoon, that very pretty young teacher appeared defeated, pale, and frightened, and told us we couldn’t play Cecelia anymore, and not to ask any questions.  My guess is, she was a whisker away from being fired for her part in putting that song in our hands. All of a sudden she and I have a lot in common, except that she was way younger and way prettier and way hipper than the old goofus who let them sing “Take Me To Church” on Performance Day.

Oh, but it seemed to slip right by them, these innocents, and now back safely to the chorus, they are singing at the top of their lungs AMEN AMEN AMEN.

I fully expect the arrival of a hatchet with my name on it.

After the bell rang and I turned into the hallway, I followed a gaggle of girls who were all huddled up and giggling suspiciously at a photo on a mobile phone.  A pale and limp middle school penis was the subject of the photograph, and I knew then and there we live in a very different time.  There’d be no hatchet for me.  But the owner of the phone had a nice visit with the principal.

It’s always bugged me how people insist they never listen to lyrics.  Today, it is how I will sleep peacefully tonight.

Music to Shop By, Music to Live By: Introducing the Curated Playlist

It’s a snowy Saturday in February, New York City.  We are in Manhattan, and we are shopping.  My daughter and her husband especially wanted to pop into Uniqlo, a relatively new clothing retailer with deep roots in Japan.  If you haven’t been to a Uniqlo, imagine it this way: as Ikea is to household furnishings, Uniqlo is to clothing.  Except way cooler.


This is the 5th Avenue store, one of five locations tucked into the crowded retail lane between Lexington Avenue and the Lower East Side.  This is a monstrous 90,000 square feet of shopping space, which Uniqlo calls their Global Flagship store. It’s the largest single-brand retail space in Manhattan. The music they play while we shop is a very important part of the Uniqlo experience, and believe me, they aren’t just tuned in to a random Pandora channel.

Music to shop by is big business.  I was curious about they music we heard while we were guests in this retail space.  An outfit called Activaire selects the music for the Uniqlo playlist.  But, they don’t just select the music; they curate it.  What do curators do?  They oversee and handle collections that belong to a cultural heritage, and they are content specialists of those collections.  According to the Activaire website, they went to great lengths to to “develop the brand sound…as expressed in (Uniqlo’s) ‘Made for All’ brand philosophy.”  They wanted to create an original audio brand reflective of Uniqlo’s values: “simple and essential yet universal, so people can freely combine them with their own unique styles, in any way they choose, every day of the year”. They wanted to create playlists that are “fluidly diverse, challenge conventional thinking, yet ultimately are accessible to everyone.”  And, they wanted shoppers to dance.

Activaire also serves some decidedly up-scale retailers.  Neiman Marcus is a completely different critter than Uniqlo, and I wondered how that curated playlist differed from the one at Uniqlo.  Activaire describes the Neiman Marcus playlist as “Classically Pretty and Unmistakably Cool”.  And, they have done their homework, collecting data to show they are good at what they do:

“During the launch period of the new playlist, Neiman Marcus experienced a 8.1% increase in sales, while the GDP experienced only a 2.1% incline.

Continuing to poke through their customer case study pages, I found they also have curated a playlist for Sprinkles, the first cupcake store with a cupcake ATM and a cupcake truck.  When Sprinkles asked for music to eat cupcakes by, Activaire responded with “a sugary mix of mainstream pop hits and undeniably upbeat tunes to tickle the fancy of any cupcake enthusiast.”  Think, “Sugar (ba ba ba ba  Bah Bahhh), Aw, honey honey…”

Fascinating stuff!  And here is my slightly tangential take-away.  This is how the world listens to music today: we are all curators of our own playlists, aren’t we?  Why shouldn’t retailers be the same?  And, if retailers are all curating playlists to say something about who they are and who they want to attract and serve, is this what we are really doing when we stack up our selected tunes under a heading for our enjoyment at any moment?  We are all making our own audio brand to suit our moods and our purposes.  It’s pretty cool that some people get paid to do this for major retailers, and it’s even cooler that the rest of us enjoy doing it for ourselves, making playlists for everything from working out to feeling romantic to cleaning the house.  And, we have access to the same tools as the professionals.  The very concept of the curated playlist means it’s an awesome time for music-lovers, and that’s all of us.

What do your curated playlists say about you?  How do your curated playlists reveal your values, your philosophies, your personality, your sensibilities, your brand?  Listen to your playlists with new ears, and hear what they say about you.

A Song Should Know Its Place (and Never Outlive Its Usefulness)

Sometimes my brain sort of hijacks me, and I slip into a random memory. Today, inexplicably, I was back at John Metcalf Junior High School in Mr. Peck’s Girls Choir, and he had just handed out a new octavo.  It said on the cover it was by Rodgers and Hammerstein.  That was promising!

I opened it and scanned to where the voice line started.

“I’m a girl and by me that’s only great,
I don’t mind that my silhouette is curvy,
that I walk with a sweet and girlish gait,
with my hips kind of swively and swervy.”

Let’s just say we girls staged a small mutiny, and the song never again saw the light of day.  Mr. Peck was speechless in the face of our defiance.  And you need to know – this was not about feminism.  This was about the slings and arrows of outrageous puberty.

Of course, Mr. Peck was a guy, and a grown-up.  He didn’t know that we junior high girls were agog at the changes we were undergoing.  He couldn’t know we were equal parts amazed and terrified as we slowly morphed away from our little girl bodies and into training bras.  He didn’t know we whispered together about who had gotten their periods and who was still waiting.  There was no way in hell we’d sing about the awesomeness of swively, swervy hips, or glory in the notion of being a female female living in the home of a brave and free male.  Seriously?  None of us had even had our first crush yet!

I’m prone to harsh criticism of cringe-worthy lyrics.  I’ll aim to unpack these and other monstrosities in a future post. It’ll be fun.

When I took a peek to see who had covered this song, I was surprised to see that two of my all-time favorite female vocalists, Peggy Lee and Doris Day, had each tackled it.  I guess in the pre-feminism mindset, this was light-hearted and harmless; campy and kitchy fun.  But then the 60s and 70s happened, and being ripe for the pickings, the song became oft-parodied (Roseanne Barr and Sarah Jessica Parker have both taken a whack at it) and highly useful for drag queens.  For farts and giggles, enjoy this version!  Long live Miss Piggy!

I was heartily disappointed that I couldn’t find ANYWHERE on the world-wide web a famously viral video of the Capitol Steps performing “I Enjoy Being Al Gore.”  Hmm.  Wonder why?

Anyway, back to the present and forty some years later, I myself am a general/vocal music teacher in a public school system, and fortunately don’t have to even contemplate using a song with a lyric content like this one.  We live in a time when, because so many students have gender identity issues, we can’t even say, “All the boys on this side, all the girls on that side.”  We’ve had training on this issue.  There certainly won’t be any singing about the joys of boy-ness or girl-ness.

In closing, I must acknowledge the intent and spirit behind Misters Rodgers and Hammerstein’s efforts; it’s true they wanted the character Linda Low to have an adventurous edge, and this song was meant to convey female confidence.  But, even in 1958, had Mistresses Rodgers and Hammerstein put their heads together on this lyric, I bet they’d have found other ways to convey that confidence, and it wouldn’t have been the curvey/swervy kind.


A song was born in 1938.

It was a collaboration between a music-writer and a lyrics-writer, as many songs are.

These gents were the musical movers and shakers of the day. Each had earned their stripes already with huge hits; “Georgia On My Mind” had already flowed from the pen of the music-writer, and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” had been a smash hit for the other, earning him an Academy Award for Best Song.

Seventy-six years later, I’m here to give Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser props for “Heart and Soul,” and to story-tell into and out of their long-lived creation.

hoagy frank

This week, I’ve taught “Heart and Soul” to my 8th grade General Music students. I have 15 electric pianos in my classroom, and we’ve had them all thrumming at once with this perky little duet. I taught them the song the same way I learned it some 45 years ago: by rote. They were eager to learn it, thanks to the I Pad Mini commercial that debuted in 2012 featuring two I Pad Minis playing, you guessed it, “Heart and Soul.” If it wasn’t in the ears of today’s American 13 year-old before then, it surely is now.

I showed them the YouTube video of a 1939 performance of “Heart and Soul” by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra, with the lovely and evening-gowned Bea Wain singing this oh-so-familiar and enchanting melody. They were astounded; because the song was so much older than they’d thought, because it had lyrics (who knew?), because the performance was in black and white, and because (they claimed) Bea Wain looked like Jennifer Lawrence.

I asked them why, in their nascent teen-aged opinions, a song from 1938 might end up in an I Pad Mini commercial in 2012, and for that matter, how it might end up in their brains and in their fingers in the General Music classroom at our humble but loveable middle school in suburban Baltimore. “Because it’s catchy, and it’s easy! Even WE can play it!” they chimed.

As a General Music teacher, they know and I know they are supposed to be able to translate the scary lines and the even scarier dots of standard notation into meaningful sounds. They know and I know we’d never conquer the complexities of playing a four-hands “Heart and Soul” in a week if they were bound to decoding the scary lines and even scarier dots. We might accomplish a two-hands “Merrily We Roll Along.” But which of these will stay with them, infuse them with a sense of accomplishment, give them something to show and tell, and empower them with something to teach to and play with a friend? Which will hum in their coolness-seeking psyches? Which will find a home in a little corner of their (right) brains as a big, “CHECK! I can do something with a piano!”

They didn’t decode standard notation, true enough. But I asked my old pal Claude what he thought about this. Here’s what he had to say.

“I love music passionately, and because I love it I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art, gushing forth, an open-air art, an art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea! It must never be shut in and become an academic art.” Claude Debussy, 1862-1918.

On a final note, I asked my students, “Which hit song from today do you think might have the longevity to be around in 76 years?”

With one voice, they replied, “None.”

To enjoy the 1939 performance of Heart and Soul by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra with Bea Wain, click here.

Music. Video. And crashing delicately northward through space and time.

During a night sleeping under the stars at Isle Royale National Park (a wilderness island in northwest Lake Superior), my husband and I were blessed to witness an hours-long aurora during the summer of 2013’s solar maximum. It began as a glowing green arc low on the horizon, and almost imperceptibly became the undulating shimmering curtains and spears of light one sees in the best photos of the Northern Lights.


On the dawn side of this night’s aurora, we witnessed something special, and spectacular. Sometimes, the physical forces at work on the dawn side of an aurora event cause those charged ions to scatter instead of stream in toward magnetic north. The enchantment was complete as we watched the auroral light zoom across the sky, quite literally at the speed of light. I wanted to give that enchantment a sound track made with strings and fingers, and composed a guitar duet, “Aurora,” as my offering.

But something else happened to “Aurora” when this kid, Alex, who is a Facebook friend I’ve never met, got hold of it. He’s a student at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, and handy with a camera. I have followed him because his photos blow the doors off my here-and-now and take me north with such clarity that I am alarmed to find myself almost smelling the up-northiness, almost feeling the crisp snap of an off-shore breeze.


Alex got hold of that tune, and now there is this space-and-time-defying piece on Youtube, of all places, to look at and listen to that absolutely transports me. Alex gathered his images, arranged them just so, and made “Aurora” tell a place. Like telling a story, in a way, but different.

I shared it with my friend Suzi Banks Baum, and she proclaimed it “heartbreaking.” She means that in a whole different way than you might be thinking. She means it like this: cracked open from the inside out, in an unexpectedly wonderful and totally freeing way, so that a thousand love-memoried episodes of moments and days of moments mash up and come crashing in and go galloping out all at the same time, in technicolor three-dimensional penta-sensory tripping. This is the territory of the great beyond, and for Suzi and me, it’s the way we know with certainty that there is a great spirit at work, and how we know what a privilege it is to sometimes be (even just barely) aware that you have been caressed by it. Heartbreaking. And that is a very good thing.

It’s the power of art, and there’s nothing like it in the universe. We who mess around with it, we best be careful, eh?

Click here to view Alex Maier’s “Mother Superior”.

Photos above by Alex Maier, Five Aces Media, and used with his permission. Visit his website at to learn more.

All I Really Need to Know about Songwriting I Learned from The Beatles

Robert Fulghum gave us a refreshingly clear lens through which we can look at our adult selves when his All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten came out in 1988.  He helped us think simply, elementally, and purely about the stuff of life.

I have attempted here to give songwriters a refreshingly clear lens through which we can look at our songwriter selves, to help us think simply, elementally, and purely about the stuff of our craft.

Didn’t we all learn it, one way or another, from the Beatles? the-beatles

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order of importance.

1.  Get to know your one four fives, but don’t settle for them.  Don’t be afraid to try an unexpected chord. It just might work.

2.  Write with a friend, and share the credit.John-Paul-


3.  Riffiness is next to godliness.  And, the best riffs and solos are the kind you can hum along with.

4.  It’s good to let some old-school spice add some flavor your new-school sound.  (Did you know George Harrison was a huge fan of rockabilly?  Or, how much they used basic blues patterns in their music?)

5.  Put your songwriting heroes on a pedestal. Learn their songs, learn their tricks and turns, just for fun.  (Paul and John learned a whole lot about songwriting from the music of Les Paul, Meredith Wilson, Arthur Alexander, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Elvis, Buck Owens, Carl Perkins, Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, and of course, the immortal Chuck Berry.)

buck owenschuckarthur

6.  The best melodies are notes in the chords, and the next-door neighbor notes that get you from one chord tone to the next.

7.  Songs about other people are interesting. Dead ones, weird ones, the ones you love, the ones who interest you for whatever reason, even if they came in through the bathroom window.Rigbyeleanor_rigby_grave

8.  Count syllables.  Balance syllable counts across verses.  Seriously.  Take a look at Yesterday.  No wonder it’s the most-covered song in the history of the universe.

9.  If you absolutely adore a song of someone else’s, identify what you love about it, and say to yourself, “Self, I want to write a song like that one.”  Then write it.

10.  Make your lyrics do tricks.  Turn a lyric upside down, inside out, around on itself, like, “I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me.”

11.  Write songs about stuff that everybody “gets.”  (“All you need is love” and “I get by with a little help from my friends” for example.  Who doesn’t get that, right?)

12.  Go ahead and be a little trippy, but take people with you!  Say, for instance, across the universe yellow submarinein a yellow submarine.

13.  Try new sounds, instruments, and textures in your songwriting.  These have a way of cracking open new wells of creativity.


14.  Write melodies with a vocal harmony in mind.  The third above or the sixth below always works best.

15.  Laugh and have fun while you’re doing your thing.  It’s infectious.beatles

Do you have some to add to this list?  Send ’em to me!  Let’s finish this together!