Anne Smith :: Blog for August 2012


Hi, Everybody….

I don't have any particular theme in mind as I start to write August's blog. Yet themes are important, especially in jazz, where improvisations can take you off the beaten path. If you don't have a theme-(melody), it's easy to get lost, and you might not find your way back!

Marc and I had the pleasure of hearing jazz pianist Lynne Arriale in a solo performance at The Arts Garage in Delray Beach on July 28th. Her devotion to melody is legendary, and as a singer, I am in love with her lyrical lines. Besides her serious piano skills, her charismatic personality makes her a fantastic entertainer. I particularly enjoyed her arrangement of The Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black". I have always loved strong melodies, something I can hum, after the show is over. Interesting, but had you asked me if, before I heard her arrangement, I liked "Paint it Black", I would have answered "it's okay"….my opinion being based on the psychotic and depressing lyrics, which, in my imagination, always suggested the reflections of a serial killer. Remove the lyrics and there is a funky, Turkish-ish (?!) melody winding around itself, haunting and beautiful enough to stand on its own. I did ask Lynne at intermission if lyrics ever interfered with her ability to improvise. I have difficulty escaping the rhythm of the lyric, the meter of the lyric, when I try to take a solo. She gave me a very thoughtful and studious answer-I think I've processed it, but my piano skills may not be up to her explanation. I can name so many other great musicians whose interpretations of familiar songs tell me that they must know and feel the lyrics to the songs they are playing, so lyrics must be as important as melody, no? If you doubt me, check out Pat Metheny's rendition of "Alfie" from his June 2011 release, "What's it All About?" Breathtaking! It's also his first album that has no original material-but yet, on each one of the songs, all of them with great melodies, he casts his renowned spell, and it becomes uniquely his.

Consider the perspective of my newest friend, Ava, age 3. She easily identifies themes from any Disney movie, as well as the character who performs the song. She doesn't know all the lyrics yet, but she doesn't need to. The melody is what brings a sparkle to her eyes. To her, lyrics are secondary but also an important part of improvising, as she does when she sings ,"The itsy bitsy eyeball went up the water-spout", anticipating, (and getting) a big laugh. Smart child.

Lest I get into a chicken-or -the-egg discussion, I won't say what starts my process of songwriting: it may be an eye-catching headline in the news, the title of a painting, or a melody that somehow repeats and repeats in my ear, looking for a message to deliver. All I know is, once I put lyrics with a melody, it's very hard to separate them, kind of like a scrambled egg.

Speaking of chickens and eggs and such, one of my recent delights is feeding some little baby ducks that were orphaned in the neighborhood. At first, we noticed a mother duck with 9 little ones. Soon after, there were only 7 little ducks with mama. One day, 5 baby ducks showed up in the driveway, with no mother. For two weeks, they wandered around, tumbling up to us, peeping and begging for food. They would come charging out of the bushes when I was walking Luke in the morning, and follow us home. I started feeding them and my neighbors joined in…at any given time of the day, I might find one of them crouched behind a shrub with a loaf of bread, taking pictures of the ducklings…At the time of this writing, only 3 have survived and as I fed them this afternoon, I noticed that they are molting and getting their tail feathers. They're taller, thinner, not as chubby and fluffy as they were when I first noticed them, but so cute!! Have you ever seen a baby duck yawn? I love the slurpy sound they make when they drink from the water dish and filter out the Ezekiel cereal I put in it. (Yes, I am competing for their affection by offering a costlier alternative to the Publix white bread that my neighbors feed them. Is that so bad?) Hey, it's a tough world out there for them. Blazing hot sun, raccoons, red-necks, alligators, snakes, feral cats, hawks, herons…motor vehicles…landscapers with weed whackers, dogs in the backyards that they pass through, fertilizers, pesticides….why not give them a head start with some nutritious cereal?

Luke continues to thrive on the raw diet…I weighed him last week at the vet's. office and he has lost about 5 lbs. which is fantastic. He looks lean, sleek, and has great energy, calm but alert. Yes, that is a baby skunk he is snuggled up with, but don't worry, my love of wildlife doesn't extend to allowing a real skunk into my home. Luke stole it from a bag of things I was saving for my sister's terrier, and when he swaggered out of my office clutching it in his mouth, Marc and I didn't have the heart to take it away.

So….I'm reading this over and asking, "What's it all About"?…this life….my life…my love of music, of lyrics, of a 3-year old's innocence, baby ducks, and my tough-looking dog, curled up with his little stuffed toy skunk…."is it just for the moment we live? Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind?
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, what will you lend on an old golden rule?" I can't get away from the lyric!!

I can't get away from human tragedy and suffering, either. Just this past week, a cherished resident and school nurse from my hometown, Betsy Bristol, lost her exuberant young life to cancer after a hard and very painful struggle. In the same week, 2 family men were instantly killed here in nearby Davie, by a hit and run driver while they were out cycling on a route they had ridden on together for 25 years. On the global front, CNN reported that an international child pornography ring has been busted, involving 14 countries, and over 72 sex offenders. This ring was under investigation since December of 2009. Some of the victims were as young as 19 days old. Yes-you read that right. To know that the investigators had to keep watching and waiting until they had enough evidence to crack it open, all these years, while little ones suffered unbelievable damage to their bodies and souls….how those investigators must have suffered as well…and the families of all those involved….
" I look inside myself and see my heart is black ……I have to turn my head until my darkness goes" Suddenly, the lyric jumps into my head and describes the effect that this kind of horror has on my heart. That's what a song can do. That's what poetry, dance, art, and music does. It bypasses the intellect, the wanting to know why, and it touches you, stays with you, sustains and heals you. I bless and thank every one who is struggling to create and express those ideas and emotions that are so hard to articulate.

I'm listening to Lynne Arriale's album "Convergence" and she is playing, "Here Comes the Sun" with such tenderness! It's a fitting benediction at the closing of my blog.
"Sun, sun, sun, here it comes." Whatever you do, don't let sadness and despair eclipse your spirit. Life is beautiful.

Until Next Time xoxox

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