Category Archives: Music

Creative Juice #75

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Creative Juice #75

First dose of Creative Juice for the New Year!

#ALCGC2017 Final Check-In

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#ALCGC2017 Final Check-In

Happy New Year! Time to track our progress in the year past, and set our goals for the year to come.

I mentioned in my recent article about goal-setting that the smartest thing I did in 2017 was schedule all the tasks I wanted to do. Here is how it worked (changed slightly from what I thought on January 1 last year):

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  • Every morning at breakfast: read a chapter of the Bible and reflect on it in my Bible journal.
  • Sunday—rewrite and submit old pieces in my file cabinet.
  • Monday through Thursday—work on blog posts.
  • Friday and Saturday—work on The Unicornologist and The God of Paradox.
  • Odd numbered days—write a poem.
  • Even numbered days—make a small piece of art or work on a larger one.
  • Every evening that I’m home—practice piano for an hour and either recorder or guitar for an hour.
  • Tuesday nights and Wednesday mornings: folk dancing.
  • Once a week: go on an “artist date” to fill up on beauty and inspiration.typewriter

Here’s what worked and what didn’t:

  • I’m happy that reading a chapter of scripture has become an almost daily habit, one I want to continue the rest of my life.
  • I rewrote several old pieces from 20 years ago. I actually sold one. I sent a few picture book manuscripts out to agents; no nibbles, so I’m working on rewriting them again as flash fiction. I entered a couple of contests; no wins, but I did get one encouraging consideration for publication that ultimately didn’t happen.
  • Last Saturday I posted my year-end review for ARHtistic License. I would love to cut back working on the blog to only three days a week, but I can’t seem to manage it. I used to work on the blog for as many days as it took me to be scheduled four weeks out, but often that was five or six days a week, leaving very little time for other writing projects. Working four days a week, I’m only about two weeks ahead, which I’m just not okay with. I may need to cut back my daily expectations for my blog, but I don’t know how. (Suggestions welcome.) I also submitted some guest posts to A Writer’s Path to help new readers discover ARHtistic License.frustrated-writer-2
  • I’ve made progress on The Unicornologist, and even thought it was finished at one point, but my beta readers convinced me it’s not. I started entering it into Scrivener, and I used a template that K.M. Weiland devised, which is showing me where the manuscript has structural problems. I think I need to go on a writer’s retreat just so I can concentrate on that manuscript for a few days without interruptions.
  • I also thought I was pretty much finished with my Bible study guide, The God of Paradox. Just for fun, I asked my Bible study group if they’d like to give it a dry run, and they agreed. Boy, am I glad. Seeing my guide from the vantage point of a group leader is an education in itself. Writing Bible lessons and actually leading them are two totally experiences, and the flaws in my manuscript are revealing themselves. I’m making changes as we go along, but when we’re finished with the run-through, I think the study guide will need a pretty serious rewrite.
  • I wrote a lot of poems this year, though not one every other day as planned. However, I’ve written enough poems in the last two years to choose the 33 best ones and enter them in a chapbook contest.
  • I made a lot of little artworks this year, many of them Zentangles (though, again, not one every other day). The December ones were mostly Christmas themed. If you missed them, you can see them here.Mom's piano
  • During December I practiced lots of Christmas carols on piano—one of my favorite holiday traditions.
  • The fingertips on my left hand are now calloused from regular guitar practice, but they are still sore by the end of an hour. I am slowly improving.
  • While practicing the ensembles in the back of my recorder book, I became disheartened, because I had no one to play with. I can’t be the only person who longs to play with others but doesn’t have an outlet. I looked on YouTube to see if anyone had posted recordings of the duets so I could play along. I found one video where one person played one part one time through. It was something, but didn’t go far enough for my needs. So the idea of a special project was born: recording videos of me playing each part of the duets two times through, to give recorder students (and me) an opportunity to practice duets with a virtual partner. Someday I’ll describe my incredibly long learning process for making videos, but for now, I (somewhat sheepishly) present Episode 1 of Playing Recorder Duets with Mrs. Huelsenbeck:
  • I danced almost every Tuesday night and most Wednesday mornings through October, when I landed on my foot off-balance and injured it. A few weeks later I tried dancing again, and paid for it with a week of pain. A few weeks after that my foot felt better, so I danced again, but this time I aggravated a hip problem, and suffered for another two weeks. It’s clear I need to see an orthopedist, and I have an appointment for the end of February <sigh>.
  • I planned to go on an “artist date” every week, but I didn’t. It was more like once every three months. FAIL. For 2018, I’m going to pencil a specific location into my calendar every month, as close as possible to the first day of the month.Oil_painting_palette wikipedia

I’m pleased that I made progress on most of my goals, even if I didn’t finish one of my big projects or secure an agent. For 2018 I’m planning on continuing as I had been, with the tweaks I’ve mentioned.

For the last two years, I’ve offered a challenge for readers to post their creative goals, record their progress, and share in the comments. The response has been mostly silence. So, this year, although I personally will take the time to reflect on my goals and progress at regular intervals, I won’t burden you by posting monthly updates.

I wish you the best possible 2018, full of inspiration and completed creative endeavors. Happy New Year!

Guest Post: Family Singing at Christmas by Betty Mason Arthurs

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Guest Post: Family Singing at Christmas by Betty Mason Arthurs

Thank you to Betty Mason Arthurs for this caroling story.

Doing Life Together

Photo by Jeff Weese Photo by Jeff Weese

Family Singing at Christmas

by

Betty Mason Arthurs

Memories of my family and our love of music and singing together, now that my parents and one brother are gone, help to overcome my sorrow of missing them at Christmastime and bring me joy. I share a memory from Christmas Eve long ago.

My family stomped their boots on the porch of the old, two-story nursing home. Soft-colored lights and garland adorned the porch railing and reflected off the powdery snow in the early evening. Through the front windows I caught a glimpse of red and green crepe paper streamers draped over the staircase railing and the small Christmas tree in the foyer. It was Christmas Eve.

Giggling with excitement, I pushed open the heavy oak door. “Come on. The nurses are expecting us.” I urged my family forward and shut out the frigid air in Albion…

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Favorite Songs of the Season

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Favorite Songs of the Season

You know those $5 bins of CDs they have at Walmart? I always take a peek in the Christmas bin in case there’s a gem in there I don’t have yet.

This year I treated myself to Sarah McLachlin’s The Classic Christmas Album, and I am obsessed with it. I’ve listened to it every day since mid-November. It is so good, and it is not your typical Christmas album, though there are many classics on it. It’s her more unusual choices that blow me away. Her version of Prayer of St. Francis moves me to tears, as does her rendition of River, Joni Mitchell’s haunting and depressing winter song (can’t really call it a Christmas song).

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I’ve written about my favorite Christmas CDs before, and I don’t want to repeat, but there are a couple I could add to the list, as well as the Sarah McLachlan one.

About 20 years ago I was wandering around the mall at Christmas time (Remember malls? That same mall is dead now. Sigh.) and a gift store was beautifully decorated for the holidays, and the most beautiful music was playing—hammered dulcimer, mandolin, fiddle, recorder, harp. I commented on it, and the salesperson showed me the CD they were playing, which I promptly bought: Colonial Holiday. My husband spins wool into yarn on a spinning wheel, and he likes to spin with this CD playing.

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Speaking of instruments you don’t hear every day, how about handbells? The Magic of the Bells was recorded in 1996 by the French ringers known as Les Sonneurs. It contains some carols and other stuff, like a couple of Lennon/McCartney songs.

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And, yes, this is repeating, but I absolutely love Mary, Did You Know from Pentatonix’s That’s Christmas to Me:

I used to be an elementary general music teacher, and every year we would have a winter concert, and I would cram in as many Kwanzaa, Channukah, winter and generic holiday songs, and Christmas carols as I could. My ten most favorite carols (most going back to my own childhood) are:

  1. O Holy Night (I had a Jewish principal who requested it every year. “Can we do the one that goes, ‘Fall on your knees…?’”)
  2. Breath of Heaven
  3. I Saw Three Ships
  4. O Come, O Come Emmanuel (technically an Advent song)
  5. Carol of the Bells
  6. Coventry Carol
  7. We Three Kings
  8. Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella
  9. Joy to the World (technically a Second Coming song)
  10. Silent Night

What about you? Is there special music you like to listen to (or sing) during the holidays? What are your favorite carols? Share in the comments below.

Review of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

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Review of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

In New Jersey among people of my generation, Bruce Springsteen is sort of a patron saint. I grew up in Rumson, where Bruce bought a house after he achieved rock star status (although our family lived in a modest home, not one of the mansions in Springsteen’s neighborhood; Bruce recently sold the house). The cover of Born to Run makes me homesick.

His description of his activities on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 (after watching the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on television), resonates with familiarity for me.

In the late afternoon, I drove to the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge. There, usually, on a clear day the Twin Towers struck two tiny vertical lines on the horizon at the bridge’s apex.  Today, torrents of smoke lifted from the end of Manhattan Island, a mere fifteen miles away by boat. I stopped in at my local beach and walked to the water’s edge, looking north; a thin gray line of smoke, dust and ash spread out due east over the water line. It appeared like the smudged edge of a hard blue sheet folding and resting upon the autumn Atlantic.

I sat for a while, alone, the September beach empty beneath the eerie quiet of silent skies. We live along a very busy air corridor. Planes are constantly flying just off the Eastern Seaboard on their way to Kennedy and Newark airports, and the low buzz of airplane engine is as much a part of the sound tapestry at the Shore as are the gently crashing waves. Not today. All air traffic grounded (pp. 439-440).

My brother, Bill, still lives in the house we grew up in, and from time to time sees Bruce in places like Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank. Bill has a wonderful story about a very nice thing Bruce did for a friend of his—but it’s not my story to tell.

I’ve actually never seen Bruce perform in person. When I was in high school, my then-boyfriend promised to take me to see him at the Inkwell, but never delivered. (Needless to say, he’s not the one I married.)

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Photo by Bill Ebbesen

Springsteen’s autobiography tops 500 pages, and it took seven years, off and on, to write. I wouldn’t call it a literary masterpiece, but he’s a songwriter, not a professional author. Other than Chapter 7, “The Big Bang (Have You Heard the News…)”, about the impact that seeing Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show had on him, which has way too many CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation points!!, the book was engaging enough that when I sat down intending to read for 30 minutes, an hour passed before I looked up.

I folded over quite a few page corners as I read, so rather than tell you the story of Springsteen’s life, I’ll share some excerpts that especially touched me.

I had the opportunity to sing “The Times They Are A-Changin’” for Bob [Dylan] when he received the Kennedy Center Honors. We were alone together for a brief moment walking down a back stairwell when he thanked me for being there and said, “If there’s anything I can ever do for you…” I thought, “Are you kidding me?” and answered, “It’s already been done.” As a young musician, that’s where I wanted to go. I wanted to be a voice that reflected experience and the world I lived in (p. 167).

On this night, my problem is that during a performance I am in and out of myself for a while in a most unpleasant way. Inside, multiple personalities are fighting to take turns at the microphone while I’m struggling to reach the “f*ck it” point, that wonderful and necessary place where you set fire to your insecurities, put your head down and just go. Right now, I can feel myself caring too much, thinking too much about…what I’m thinking about. My good friend Peter Wolf, the great front man from the J. Geils Band, once said, “The strangest thing you can do onstage is think about what you’re doing.” He was right, and I’m doing the strangest thing you can do onstage RIGHT NOW! It’s like one moment, your life feels threatened: your little house of cards, the performance “self” you’ve built so carefully, so meticulously, your mask, your costume, your disguise, your dream self, is in danger of coming apart, of tumbling down. The next, you’re towering, soaring, deeply immersed in your “true” self, riding the music your band is making high above the assembled. These two selves are often only a hair’s width apart. That’s what makes it interesting. That’s why people pay the money and that’s why they call it LIVE (pp.228-229).

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Photo by luiginter.

I wanted the singular creative and decision-making power of a solo artist but I also wanted the live, rambunctious gang feeling only a real rock ‘n’ roll band can deliver. I felt there was no reason you couldn’t have the best of both worlds, so I signed as a solo artist and hired my longtime neighborhood running pack as my band. Not my backing band, not a band, my band (p. 235).

…that’s how I used my music and my talents from the very beginning. As a salve, a balm, a tool to tease out the clues to the unknowable in my life. It was the fundamental why and wherefore of my picking of the guitar. Yes, the girls. Yes, the success. But answers, or rather those clues, that’s what kept waking me in the middle of the night to roll over and disappear into the sound hole of my six-string cipher (kept at the foot of my bed) while the rest of the world slept (p. 281).

Born to RunIn the book, Springsteen also tells about battling depression, confesses bad behavior, and expresses his love for his wife, Patti.

Before I read this book, I only owned three Springsteen CDs. While reading about what was going through his mind and heart while he wrote his songs, I felt compelled to buy four more. Do singer autobiographies sell CDs? In my experience, yes.

As a fan, I enjoyed Born to Run, as I am sure other fans of Springsteen also will. But if I didn’t know who he was, or if I didn’t have the New Jersey connection, I don’t think I would have made it past the first chapter, just due to the epic scale of the book.

 

Guest Post: The Simplest Gifts Mean the Most

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Guest Post: The Simplest Gifts Mean the Most

Thank you to Donna of My OBT for this lovely guest post. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

My OBT

Just came across this unspeakably lovely version of what I think of as the quintessential traditional Thanksgiving song, and I had to share it. Yo Yo Ma and Alison Krauss are my version of a dream team. Enjoy!

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In the Meme Time: Dream

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In the Meme Time: Dream

Dreams

Monday Morning Wisdom #127

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Monday Morning Wisdom #127

THIEVES

In the Meme Time: Life-Changing Music

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In the Meme Time: Life-Changing Music

Life-changing music

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#ALCGC2017 November Check-In

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#ALCGC2017 November Check-In

I love challenges! They encourage me to try new things. During October, two very good challenges, Inktober and OctPoWriMo, helped me with my goal of creating more poems and art.

I wrote several poems during October, and the best ones are posted here and here. One turned into a Christmas poem, so be sure to visit ARHtistic License on December 25 to read it.

For Inktober, I often defaulted to concurrent Zentangle challenges, and completed fourteen drawings in all. I posted some of them on ARHtistic License, and all of them on my Instagram page. Here are some of my favorites:

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On the book front, I still have no representation for the three picture books I’ve sent out to agents. I wish I were an illustrator; I think if agents could see what I’m visualizing, they’d love my books for sure. Sigh. I’ve started rewriting two of them to submit as short stories.

Starting November 15 I’m running through The God of Paradox with my Bible study group. I know the third lesson is too lengthy. I’m actually thinking of taking most of it out and writing a second Bible study guide out of it. Anyhow, after this dry run, I should be able to fine-tune it and start submitting it in early 2018.

I’m still rewriting The Unicornologist. It keeps getting shorter, but it needs to be meatier.

I’m still practicing the same last 11 pages of The Sweet Pipes Recorder Book, and I’m still up to p. 59 in Essential Elements for Guitar. My tone and facility are improving, even if it looks like I’m not getting anywhere. I’ve been pretty good about practicing on piano, recorder, and guitar, but I’ve missed a few days due to lack of energy.

I’ve hardly done any dancing this month. The last Tuesday in September, I landed funny on my right foot and heard it crunch. It hurt really bad. I danced on it an hour and a half two weeks later, but that was probably a bad idea. Until recently, it ached something fierce if I spent more than half an hour on my feet. I think I’ll be able to resume dancing next week.

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Now it’s your turn. How are you doing with your goals? Don’t be shy! If you’re keeping accountable on your blog, paste a link into the comments below. Or if you don’t have a blog, just tell us your successes and your challenges this past month. And remember to check in on December 1, 2017, to share your progress during November. I created the hashtag #ALCGC2017 for ARHtistic License Creative Goals Challenge for 2017. Feel free to use it to tweet about your goals and your progress.