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Well, It’s One Louder, Isn’t It?

(Drum roll, with cymbal crash…)

I’m very thrilled to introduce the inaugural issue of GO 211, the Accessible Music Project’s newsletter.

Enjoy. Please share!

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If I Could Read Her Mind… Independence Day 2015

Alice and I packed up the guitar and the little Crate TX50 p.a. and headed for Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall this morning. Haven’t looked at the mall from that perspective in a while.

We picked a good spot in that a few crowds formed, listened, and dissipated as the morning went on.  At one point a nicely dressed lady, probably in her mid- or late-60’s sat down on one of those huge cast iron flowerpots to listen. I don’t recall what song I was finishing when she arrived, but she was clearly dialed in to it. I played “If I Had A Boat” by Lyle Lovett, which she seemed to recognize. She clapped, and stayed seated.

I slipped the capo down a fret, checked the tuning and went right into “The Apologist” by R.E.M. – an intensely powerful song, and even more so when presented at a relaxed tempo with just one guitar and clear enunciation of the lyrics. It’s one of those songs that reaches people in this age bracket and older in ways that seem counter-intuitive; impossible even.  She applauded, got up and came over to drop some coins into the guitar case and pet Alice.

“That’s really beautiful,” she said. “I hear a little Lightfoot in your voice.  He was…” and her lip started to quiver a bit “…my husband’s favorite.”

I moved the capo back up to the second fret, allowed the tuning to be close enough, and began to strum “If You Could Read My Mind”.

“He’s gone now,” she continued,”but we loved to listen to Gordon Lightfoot.” Lost in her story she didn’t recognize what I was playing, and I listened and strummed the opening over and over.  She went on to tell me about where they had seen him once – out west somewhere, in a huge thunderstorming downpour that she said had frightened her, but didn’t seem to faze Gordon at all, up there on stage. She finished.

“Thanks again,” she said, turning and beginning to walk away.

If you could read my mind, love….

She froze, then spun; her jaw dropped into a gasp and she walked back to her flowerpot. She sat down, eyes closed, head thrown back, hand over her heart. The veil of time fell for her, and though her body stayed on that planter, she and what she was hearing were gone, I hope back to that concert out west.

When I finished she took a second to come back to this plane. She dug into her billfold then approached Alice and me again.  Her hand offered a worn photograph – wallet-sized, with that softly mottled blue backdrop; like those not too small prints that your grandmother always wanted when school pictures came out each year.

Big smile. “Here’s my hippie husband.”  Clean cut guy, in a suit. Late 50’s, max.

“I lost him in…”, and the lip started again. “…1994. And I still cry.”

That’s the year I began bringing music to nursing homes.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Do you have a card?”

“Yes, ma’am. There in the case – see them?” And she took one.

“Ma’am? Do you see those cd’s there, by Alice?”  She did. “One of those is for you. Please…”

She couldn’t speak, and some tears slipped from where she’d been willing them to remain for too long.

She looked at me and smiled, held the cd to her heart, and made her way around the mike stand.  We hugged. Alice made jealous noises.

She bent down, petted Alice, managed a soft “Thank you”, and walked away to “Losing My Religion”.

Happy 4th, everyone. Enjoy the freedom to be precisely who and what you choose to be in every whisper of every waking hour.

Gramps Oliver – a silent musical

MUSICIANS NEEDED FOR “GRAMPS OLIVER”, A NEW MUSICAL ABOUT AN OLD MAN IN AN AMERICAN NURSING HOME

Gramps Oliver’s indigent family leaves him on the steps of a nursing home.

Mr. Bumble is the music professional at the nursing home. He feeds the old codgers a steady diet of one song daily. The same song, every day. It’s an old song because they are old people.  They’re always hungry for music.

One day, Gramps Oliver and several codgers draw lots to see who’s going to have to ask for extra music. Gramps Oliver draws short, which leads to the famous line: ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

Mr. Bumble is like ‘More? He wants more gruel?’ and his face gets red and he’s about to break into song.

But Gramps Oliver says “No sir. Please sir, I want some more music.”

“Bwaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha! No one gets more music here!”

Mr. Bumble then offers 5 pounds for anyone who will take Gramps Oliver away from the nursing home.

Some stuff happens and then Gramps Oliver ends up running away to Nashville where he meets The Old Fartful Dodger and his merry musical gang. Revived by the rhythmic diet Gramps Oliver becomes one of the best wheelchair pickpockets around.

This Flower Is Scorched

The Cedars: April 3, 2015

“But the one I love is the divine, and the simple prop is the song…”

Seniors are an ever more influential market demographic. In addition to traditional life demands such as food, shelter and clothing seniors bring to market an increased need for things therapeutic.

Suppliers of countless goods and services profitably respond to the reduced mobility of seniors and their trend towards community housing by making their goods and services more accessible. Accessibility is lucrative in the aging marketplace.

But our popular musicians don’t seem to be much interested in professionally making music more accessible to seniors. I’ve known this for the past dozen or more years, but recently I’m realizing how deep and broad the taboo runs.

It’s not just musicians – the media supports this notion, as do many senior facilities. It’s held that musicians should volunteer – they should not find profitable ways to include seniors in their performance schedules. This is due to the unexamined idea that the seniors or the facility will have to buy tickets. That’s silly.

Sponsorship foots most of the bill for just about every bit of entertainment in America. And I have successfully demonstrated for 17 years that business sponsors will enthusiastically support entrepreneurial musicians who carry their marketing message to seniors, the generations they influence, and their caretakers in such a unique, dynamic fashion. And musicians like R.E.M., Billy Joel and Dolly Parton will provide in-kind support, and patrons will step up.

I’ve also refused for twenty years to acknowledge the popular stereotype that old people are musically stuck in the past. So today’s set list looked a lot like this…

Country Feedback (REM)
Let Me In (REM)
Walk Away Renee (Left Banke)
Invocazione (orig)
Perfection of Mays (Tom Proutt)
Hello (L. Richie)

…and this triggered a request for another love song, by a gentleman who has a new love, and I said “Okay, wait until the end.” And I went on with…

Turn the Page (Bob Seger, by request)

As I got to the second verse of that last song, about the “same old clichés, is that a woman or a man?”, I had these glimpses of frightened people in places like Indiana muttering their trendy version of that same old cliché today. I hope I’m wrong. But just in case, I played…

Hallelujah (L. Cohen)

…and then I began to strum the final song and I said “I want to make sure you understand, because people think this is a breakup song, and people think when it says “a simple prop to occupy my time” that he means the one he used to love, and that sounds awful.”

Everyone agreed. I went on.

“But the one I love is the divine, and the simple prop is the song…” and their eyes began to light; heads nodded and knowing smiles agreed with the analysis “…because that is what he does with his time, is writes songs to the one he loves – while he is here – separated from the one he loves. And so when another prop comes along, that’s just another love song to the divine.” I made that up but I like it, and they applauded, and I closed with a particularly fiery rendition of…

The One I Love (REM)

Seniors are artistically worthy. Musicians need to get with the times and make music more accessible to them, for profit. It’s easy and lucrative, and music will reduce their need for doctors and drugs. Stop feigning charity, because the result is that they are ignored totally and we end up with today’s paradox: Audiences starved for music by self-proclaimed starving artists.

Audience Equality: The Challenge of Music, America, and the Marketplace

What you get is the refreshing opportunity for a breath of fresh air from a little band of rebels who spring up and utter something like the American Declaration of Independence. And this yields the opportunity to stare down every imaginable threat in defense of this dream of individual equality. Even the threat associated with going against the professional grain of American music in the early 21st century…

The opportunity and challenge of equality is simple. You begin by seeing yourself equal to every human that you can imagine, from the most highly accomplished to the least accomplished. That’s the vision part. Then you express and experience that vision in every encounter as you go about your day. That’s the practical part.

Challenging indeed, to see yourself equally equal to Presidents and homeless people; equally equal to those you serve and those who serve you; to those you care for and those you rather don’t. It sounds almost ridiculously impossible. But that’s the opportunity of America and in one sense it’s actually very easy to witness in real-time because we are all equal in a most fundamental, undeniable sense – we are all I.

That’s not a Roman numeral one, it’s the letter “I”. Clearly you are I because you express yourself from the I-perspective, and you experience your life from the I-perspective. Everyone does. You cannot possibly have the experience of being other than I, nor can you express yourself as other than I. Nobody can. And so suddenly, wonderfully, there is tangible, inescapable truth to the philosophical observation that there is no other. Not only inescapable, but practical and actionable.

So the simple truth is that everyone is wandering the earth dreaming “The Dream of Just As I Am”. If there’s a common dream of humanity it has quite a bit to do with being accepted and listened to, loved and allowed to be “Just As I Am”; just as we be in the ongoing moments of human interaction that comprise a life.

That’s it. It’s all about you, really. There’s no need to project the opportunity of equality onto the globe and fret over whether 7 billion people have the same amount of stuff. Play your part. Simply move out into your world every day and see everyone as your equal in this simple, profound sense of equality. And as a professional bring this vision with you and treat everyone as equals in the marketplace.

If you can’t see yourself equal to everyone at every turn then you don’t really believe that we are all created equal in this life and we are all equally valid creators of our lives. Equality to you, like most Americans and musicians, is a goal because you do not hold the truth of individual equality to be self-evident. It’s okay. I understand because my vision has been thus blurred in the past. It can even appear justifiable to argue for inequality.

But that is a very dangerous argument because if you do not recognize meaningful individual equality then you do not recognize that you and your fellow citizens “…have been endowed with equal right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. The whole individual freedom thing screeches to a halt and the world is not a very fun place to be. And when, like hundreds of years ago, the world is a big place where people are not being regarded as equals and treated with due respect you get… you get… oh dear, this is a little funny. What you get is the refreshing opportunity for a breath of fresh air from a little band of rebels who spring up and utter something like the American Declaration of Independence. And this yields the opportunity to stare down every imaginable threat in defense of this dream of individual equality. Even the threat associated with going against the professional grain of American music in the early 21st century.

Perhaps you will be in that rebellious little band. 

Set Lists – Raleigh, NC – 01/09/2015

Alice and I visited two Community Venues(tm) in Raleigh, NC on Friday January 9th. We met some wonderful people at both places. Alice was a hit, as always. She hung out with a very nice lady at Sunrise, and halfway through the show the lady moved to the floor to sit with Alice for the remainder of the set. It was clear they both enjoyed their time together!

Here are the set lists.

Atria – Oakridge

Will the Circle Be Unbroken (traditional)
Fall On Me (REM)
Breakfast With You (original)
One Stage Before (Al Stewart)
I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash)
Invocazione (original)
All I Have to Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers)
Jolene (Dolly Parton)
One Choice Thing (original)
If I Had A Boat (Lyle Lovett)
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
Swing Low Sweet Chariot (traditional)

Sunrise at North Hills

Will the Circle Be Unbroken (traditional)
Fall On Me (REM)
Breakfast With You (original)
One Stage Before (Al Stewart)
I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash)
Invocazione (original)
All I Have to Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers)
Jolene (Dolly Parton)
The Apologist (REM)
If I Had A Boat (Lyle Lovett)
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
Swing Low Sweet Chariot (traditional)

Timmy Deane and I

Oh me… Oh my… there we were… the King and I.
Just a couple of regular guys we were having the time of our lives.

That’s my line. I should be singing that lyric. I’m at the front of the room, playing the
guitar. I’m the one with the amplifier and the microphone. But… it’s Timmy Deane
singing, from the third row. Timmy Deane is singing loudly and frankly I find myself
unable to sing just this second, relieved that Timmy can carry the entire chorus.

You probably don’t know Timmy Deane. Timmy Deane is twenty-couple years old. Dark hair, thin face… hell, he’s thin all over. He wouldn’t be so thin and he would stand pretty tall if he could ever get out of that wheelchair. But he’s strapped in.

Timmy Deane is quadriplegic. He’s developmentally disabled, and I’ve never heard him
say a thing, but I know he can make sounds. He laughs, and I know he likes music and
loves Elvis. The King and I is a song about seeing Elvis at the airport and the laundromat
and the bowling alley, and it’s Timmy’s favorite song from my repertoire.

It’s not popular, not a song you’d ever hear on the radio. I’ve never met anyone that has
heard it prior to hearing me play it, which I’ve done here once a month, for the last three
months. This is exactly the fourth time Timmy Deane has ever heard this song, and here he is singing the chorus fully through as loudly and clearly as a lead singer. His enunciation is impressive, his timing flawless.

I should be singing the second verse now, only I can’t recall the words so I continue
strumming the C-minor chord where Timmy left me hanging. Timmy Deane has knocked
me for a loop; snatched the rug fully out from under a host of notions about people and
music, ability and disability and life itself.

It’s air conditioned here but I find myself heat-stricken by an adrenalin near-overdose. It
feels great in an uneasy way – in that way that things feel great when they are great but
you’re not sure that you are really entitled to feel this great. Like driving a Porsche
undetected at triple digit speeds down the Blue Ridge Parkway, or winning the lottery.
Like an inmate set free.

I notice now that about half of Timmy’s friends in the audience are looking at him, some
turned fully around in their chairs. Most of the staff members present are also staring at
Timmy, and then I notice Christine, the director, is smiling at me. I notice it peripherally,
for I’m not about to make eye contact with anyone just yet. I will cry if I do.

Cm…. Cm…

…and I draw a long, slow breath of this rarified air deep into my lungs. It
works. I recall the line and pick up where Timmy Deane left off.

I saw Elvis Presley… and John Belushi..

Therapy Dogs: Music to the Hands and the Heart

You’ve said it before yourself, that therapy dogs bring their own sort of music; therapy dogs are music to the hands and hearts of those they touch. And you were right. Remember?

A few weeks ago Alice’s buddy Hannah Bannanah Puddin at Natural Pet Essentials (NPE) in Charlottesville started up the Holiday Pet Food Drive. NPE takes donations of pet food for the dogs and cats at Ring Dog Rescue and Caring for Creatures.

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Here at SongSharing we were busy building awareness for the website and our continuing efforts to Make Music More Accessible ™, and so Alice, who is wise beyond her ears, comes to me with this brilliant idea…

Let’s do a win-win thing with Hannah Bannanah, dad.

“What did you have in mind, Alice?”

Let’s donate $1 per LIKE that they bring to our SongSharing facebook page.

“That sounds easy enough. You think we’ll be able to raise much money, though?”

Yup! Especially if we offer to double it to $2 per like if they get us 100.

“I like it, but we have to keep the budget in mind, Alice.”

I know. So we put a lid on the ol’ cookie jar, so to speak. We can cap it at $200. That’s an awful lot of kibble for the hungry pups, and all her people have to do is visit our page and click a button. What could be easier? She was right, but I did have one reservation.

“The thing is, Alice, Natural Pet does pet related stuff. We do music related stuff. How do they tie in? People like to be able to make a connection when it comes to this sort of thing. What interest would pet lovers have in an organization focused on Making Music More Accessible?” There may not be any dumb questions, but I was about to be schooled.

Excuse me? Who hangs out in the guitar case at Community Venues? Who greets everyone after the shows? Who’s the most adorable part of the act?

“Guitar case? You. Greeter? You.” I grinned. “But most adorable, that would be…”

Soft grrrr…. Don’t even try it, dad. You’ve said it before yourself, that therapy dogs bring their own sort of music; therapy dogs are music to the hands and hearts of those they touch. And you were right. Remember?

It had slipped my mind. I did say that.

SongSharing was founded in 1994, and Alice joined in 2006, not long after we rescued each other. It was clear from her first concert that she elevated the impact. Months later, when we were writing songs for It’s Time That Time Was Overthrown, I said that.

That’s your tie-in, dad. Wise… wise beyond her ears. I handed her a cookie.

And we’ve got another way to help with our music, dad, if we get 100 LIKES.

“Yes?”

We’ll donate some copies of It’s Time That Time Was Overthrown, since my picture is in there, and that story about the day that Arlo and Quincy and all those marvelous MadCo Agility people drove down to Horizon House and put on that big agility demo! It’s a perfect tie-in, and Hannah Bannanah can offer them up to help bring in some more donations.

God, I love this dog.

You talk about music to the hands and hearts… They still talk about that day, and it was… how does that work? Dog years and people years? It was like 49 years ago or something, for me.

“Yes, exactly. Seven people years ago. 2007, in the summer. They do still talk about it.”

And then our friends from Horizon House came to the Misty Mountain MadCo wedding, and folks from the Cedars. And this fall the MadCo people put on a demo at The Cedars. It all ties in, Dad. It’s all music, the dogs and everything.

Yesterday we dropped by NPE with ten copies of It’s Time That Time Was Overthrown and left them with Miss Hannah. We’re not sure what she has in mind, but we hope it will inspire some folks to donate to the Holiday Pet Food Drive. Ten warm-hearted souls will get a copy for themselves, or perhaps they can give it as a gift to someone special in their lives this holiday season.

**

Here’s a link to some songs from It’s Time That Time Was Overthrown – any of the songs with the image below are from the cd, which features ten songs that Alice and I co-wrote. It also includes cover versions of REM’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It and Dolly Parton’s Jolene – both REM and Dolly have shown their support for SongSharing over the years. gregallenmusic2

And if you want to help feed some wonderful dogs who did nothing to deserve the fate that has become them, then please stop by or contact Natural Pet Essentials right away and make a donation. Hannah will let you know what the deal is if you want a cd. Thank you for helping us all close out 2014 and ring in the New Year with a woof and a song!

Natural Pet Essentials is located at 3440 Seminole Trail – Suite 105/106, in Charlottesville. Their phone number is 434-979-9779. Ask for Hannah Bannanah Puddin.

npe 2014 donation

Would You Like Fries With Your Oil Change, Ma’am?

…imagine that Exxon thought that they were in the “petroleum business”, since petroleum is the resource they work with. And so imagine that Exxon eventually gets to a place where there are so many petroleum extractors bringing petroleum to the petroleum business that the price falls drastically. What would the Exxon people do? Well of course they would all learn suggestive selling, and you’d walk into a fast food restaurant and the Exxon people behind the counter would say “Would you like fries with that?”

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Here’s the thing.

The thing is that musicians have no clue what business they’re really in. I have yet to meet a musician that understands the market demand that music supplies; the consumer desire that music fulfills.

And that explains a lot about what we have going on today, where musicians believe that music is undervalued by consumers. But it’s not. If it was undervalued it wouldn’t be everywhere in the marketplace. Everywhere you turn there’s music, and you can bet your sweet bippy that someone somewhere is capitalizing upon that in America.

And musicians know this of course. They complain about it. They are well aware that this vague, miasmic thing called “the music business” is making gobs of money from their music. And musicians do not like that. And I understand.

Here’s an analogy I came up with earlier this fall. We all know that Exxon is quite good at extracting a resource from the ground. That resource is petroleum. And we know that Exxon is very good at crafting this resource into certain forms that consumers desire – gasoline, motor oil, diesel fuel, home heating oils, etc.

But imagine that Exxon did not know what business they were really in. Imagine that Exxon thought that they are in the “petroleum business”, since petroleum is the resource they work with. This is analogous to musicians thinking that they are in the music business since music is their resource. And so imagine that Exxon eventually gets to a place where there are so many petroleum extractors bringing petroleum to the petroleum business that the price falls drastically. That’s Economics 101 – if demand grows very slowly or remains about the same or declines, and supply rises and rises and rises, then prices fall.

So, further imagine that Exxon really wants to be noticed, and really wants to be a petroleum star, so they begin giving their petroleum away for free in hopes of getting noticed. You know, musicians call it exposure. One of the funniest things I’ve heard from a musician who misunderstood what I was saying in a presentation in Atlanta a few years ago, thought I was telling the group to do things for free so they would get exposure. And he said to me, in a very defiant tone, “You can die from exposure.” And the group laughed and laughed, and so did I, albeit not for the same reason. But that’s another story…

So Exxon is giving away all of this resource that they have worked for years to develop and craft, and they watch while the petroleum business rakes in gobs and gobs of money from their petroleum, and they get a mere pittance, if that. What would the Exxon people do?

Well of course they would learn suggestive selling, and you’d walk into a fast food restaurant and the Exxon people behind the counter would say “Would you like fries with that?” And they’d keep on digging up petroleum and doing things with it, in hopes of getting their break one day, but their main source of income would be from the day job they hate – perhaps even from two jobs they hate.

Musicians should be able to relate to this. Because this is precisely what musicians are doing, in droves. Hordes. And it really sucks because musicians have been gifted, at birth, with their natural resource. They don’t even have to dig it out of the ground, or cut it down with a chainsaw, or grow it in a field before they can take it to market. It just flows out of them. They can’t stop it, which is why it is so frustrating to not know what to do with it in a lucrative, rewarding life sense.

I mean, sure, they have to craft it before they take it to market – they have to develop and refine the resource, and that is work in a sense. The labor of love sense. But for crying out loud, musicians are blessed with one of the most highly utilized resources in the American marketplace, and they give it away to other people who understand its true value. Then they bitch. And starve. And learn suggestive selling…

Herein lies the key. Musicians, most of them, simply do not understand the true value of music. And since they do not understand they have a very naïve notion that the valuation problem is with consumers in the marketplace. So you get what we have today, and have had for eons – musicians who want everyone else to change. They want consumers to pay up because “Dammit, music is valuable, and you should pay me. Dammit.”

Well, music is valuable. And it should be glaringly obvious that American consumers value it and pay lots and lots of money for it, year in and year out; decade in and decade out. I mean, music is everywhere. You can’t get away from it. It’s in stores and on tv shows and on the radio and on elevators and beaming down from satellites and…. Need I go on?

It’s clearly of great value or it would not permeate the market as it does. The “music business” sells music to just about every single aspect of the $18 trillion American economy.

Because the “music business” has a much more clear idea of the demand that music supplies. And of course they don’t tell you. It’s proprietary knowledge. “Figure it out, sucker…” That’s where they’re coming from. And as long as musicians buy into the illusion that music is not valued by American consumers, the “music business” will happily take their resource for free, sit and cry into a beer with them about how bad things are, and then drive home in their Benz chuckling.

Well, the true value of music is, quite simply, what I teach. I don’t really teach it, I just remind musicians. Because they know what it is, at some cellular level, and I have remembered and crafted a very rewarding musical life around this ‘remembering’.

And sometimes I’m pretty certain I am the only one in America who knows. The only one on the musician’s side of the “music business” I mean. It’s a scary, giddy sort of sensation at times, being in this position. But it’s fun. Mostly…

So I’m writing about it, and a couple years ago I put together a very simple, easily grasped program for musicians interested in evolving with an evolving marketplace. BnW Alice Oval cropped I’m not sure how many that encompasses, because so many seem to want to stay stuck in that place where the rest of the world needs to change – and damn well ought to – to make the musicians happy; to honor their true value.

Which has some validity, I suppose, except in the marketplace. In the marketplace that’s bullshit. People don’t buy too much stuff because they feel sorry for the purveyor. They buy stuff that they value.

That, dear musician friends, is Economics 101, and you know it. Because that is precisely what you buy – stuff that you value enough to pay for.

So, when and if you and your professional cohorts would like a little insight, drop me a line. Alice and I would love to meet you and talk to you, and help you build rewarding, lucrative professional careers wherein your art comes first – wherein you put the music first, relentlessly and without apology, then stand astounded as the money follows.

Until next time…

A Reflection on 20 Years of Making Music More Accessible

I wondered how different these past two decades would have been if just 50% of the musicians in our area had dropped by 3 or 4 times a year for a 50 minute show. You know, bring your guitar, sit down, play, leave. No big deal.

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Today Alice and I visited Charlottesville Health and Rehabilitation for one of our two monthly performance visits. This is the place where it all began for me in 1994. It was known as Heritage Hall then. I was working with the fine folks at Lakeland Tours (now known as WorldStrides) in those days and the community outreach committee organized a holiday party for the residents. The mom and aunt of my pal and co-worker Nedra shared a room at Heritage Hall then, so that’s how we ended up choosing that facility for the event, which was a continuation of their Make A Difference Day efforts that year.

In those days I had a pretty regular acoustic gig at a little coffee shop called Blackstone’s, so I had become known around the office as the music guy. The outreach committee had groups of Lakeland workers doing various things – some of them were making cookies and other goodies, some of them were making little ornaments that they could hang on the door of every resident at Heritage Hall, some of them were making and wrapping gifts for the residents, and so on. They brought me a list of office folks that either played an instrument or liked to sing and asked me to coordinate the music effort. So I printed up chord charts to a handful of Christmas songs that we would present, made up an agreeable schedule of rehearsals that would take place in one of the conference rooms at Lakeland, and things got underway.

One of the fun memories of the whole thing was the fact that one of the company Vice Presidents was part of the group – a good natured chap who I had gone toe to toe and face to face with a few times over the years on various points of differing managerial and administrative philosophy. Now here I was, making sure he got his part right for a few weeks. (Whuttup Jim? ;*)

So the holiday party came and went, and our little group of performers did a most wonderful job with our part of the deal. I have to tell you it was an incredibly moving experience for me, being the softie that I am. After the formal concert in the dining hall a few of us went room to room and sang a song here and there for folks who couldn’t get out of their beds.

When 1995 dawned Nedra came to ask if I would – or should I say insist that I would – continue bringing music to her mom and aunt Alice, and after plenty of attempts to wiggle out of it, I began to visit them weekly, on Wednesdays at lunchtime. I honestly believed that I didn’t know a doggone thing that two ladies in their 70’s or so would want to hear, since I played some original songs and covered bands like REM and KISS and the Beatles, and folks like Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot. How naïve of me.

Within a few weeks folks were coming to Alice and Clara’s room to listen – one or two at first, then five, then eight or ten. Soon they were spilling out into the hallway, creating an obvious safety hazard – if something happened and medical staff needed to reach someone in that room, precious time would be lost getting past the crowd.

That’s when Iris, the Activities Director, asked me if I would begin to stage a regular show in the dining hall on Wednesday evenings for anyone that wanted to attend. And the rest, as the French say, is histoire. I’ve been doing two shows a month there for most of the past twenty years.

So today… today Alice and I were there. I bet I’ve played more than 200 shows in that facility, which is pretty noteworthy I suppose. But there’s something even more noteworthy, something that makes me a little proud and at the same time rips my heart out.

There, today, at a table in the front row sat a lady who was at that very first show in December of 1994. Today, at Charlottesville Health and Rehab are two people, actually, who were at that first show. They don’t attend very often these days so it was a bittersweet delight to see her there, to be in her presence and share the joy and power of music with her.

It thrills my heart to know that I have brought this little speck of light to her for twenty years.

But it kills me to think that in some ways I’ve let those folks down, because I spent one of the past two decades trying to get Charlottesville’s “thriving music scene” to embrace the simple idea of Audience Inclusion ™. I built a non-profit that at its peak received in-kind support from REM, Billy Joel and Dolly Parton. International performers like Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, David Wilcox, Greg Howard, Dave Crossland, Zoe Mulford, Slaid Cleaves and Andrew McKnight played shows at area senior and nursing homes when I asked them. A very dedicated small group of local musicians including Tom Proutt, Thomas Gunn, Julie Goldman, and The Rusticators from Staunton played many a show in an effort to help make SongSharing successful.

But it never truly caught on here – in fact it was pretty steadfastly shut out by our, uhhh, our uhhhh… geez, I’m trying to be nice here… our uhhh… well you know… the people who sing about love and peace and getting along and taking care of each other and changing the world and all that. The people who played benefit after benefit for Katrina and tsunami and earthquake victims while they kept telling me they didn’t have time.

I don’t really like to harp on that era in such negative light, but I bring it up because here we are 20 years later, and I am not aware of anyone from our thriving music scene that includes these audiences in their musical vision. And as I played music today I could not get away from the painful little jab in my heart that comes from thinking about what it must be like to live in a nursing home for 20 years in a town like Charlottesville and be systematically excluded from the joy and healing power of music that so many could so easily bring.

I wondered how different these past two decades would have been if just 50% of the musicians in our area had dropped by 3 or 4 times a year for a 50 minute show. You know, bring your guitar, sit down, play, leave. No big deal.

But of course to the residents it is a big deal. Huge. Because recognition and inclusion are healing things that bring joy. And sharing your gift with your fellow beings is a sign of recognition – the recognition that these folks too are part of the community, even if they can’t drive a trendy car to the trendy bar and buy trendy beers. It’s a recognition of their humanity, and of the contribution that they have made to bringing this world precisely where it is today.

And while some might think the world’s a mess and they need to get out there and sing songs to “fix it up”, in one sense that’s bullshit. It’s bullshit because this world is also a place where musicians have unprecedented access to so many things – nice guitars, nice cars, nice venues, nice roads between their nice home and the nice venue, nice restaurants and nice radio stations and these people are a big part of why this world is so nice in so many way, and… and… do you see? Am I making sense here? How can they not see?

Or is it me? Maybe I’m crazy to think that people who sing about giving a shit might one day actually live their lyrics and act as though they give a shit. Maybe I’m nuts to think that the people who sing about what the rest of the world should do to change things, might actually start doing those things themselves. Maybe these musicians justifiably roll their eyes behind my back when I say that this is serious music, and when I call them Community Venues ™ and label the shows concerts. Maybe I’m just crazy to play for old people and sick people and disabled people.

Maybe….

No. No I’m not crazy. But I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was not more successful, for the sake of the residents.

And mostly I’m sorry for so many musicians. I’m sorry they’re in such a dark place, struggling to find the light. I’m sorry they’re struggling as they chase a vision so far away and so much later, while the success their heart seeks is right here, right now. I’m sorry they drive past it every day.

Happy Holidays, from Alice and me! _MG_9835