She calls herself a “musical consort to time.” She once wrote: “I endeavor, through music, to delve into all time spaces to tap resources of knowledge and power as ancient as the Universe and as young as unborn worlds.”
After listening to her music, I’m convinced this is true.
I’ve never been a huge fan of ambient or electronic music, but I discovered Strom’s on Sunday while drinking my morning coffee in bed, as I always do, and skimming through the day’s headlines on my cell phone. I came across an article about her in the Washington Post. Her first new music album in 30 years, “Angel Tears in Sunlight,” has just been released to much acclaim. It is also her last album, as she died recently in San Francisco.
She was born blind 74 years ago and became a pioneer in electronic music. Her her first album, “Trans-Millenia Consort,” which I’ve included below, was released in 1982. But alas, she was blind, she was a woman, she was fiercely independent, and she was playing in a man’s field of music.
After the release of her first album, she released her work independently out of pure passion. While not widely recognized, she had a fan base that kept her music alive underground. Appreciation for her music was reignited when a compilation of pieces from her previously self-released albums came out in a new album called “Trans Millenia Music” in 2017, garnering much praise and a new enthusiastic audience.
One of the things I enjoyed most about listening to her music that morning on my phone was being able to feel the sound-vibrations in my finger tips. It added a whole new physical dimension to the experience. Interestingly, while listening to it, my fitness tracker registered it as a “deep sleep” experience. Perhaps because of how finely tuned-in I was to the sound waves flowing through me, as if I was travelling with her through time in my own inner-space. A fine consort she is.
“A Return to Joy!” That’s what I was going to blog about today after watching the horror of the January 6th insurrection, and then savoring every minute of the Biden/Harris Inauguration celebrations on January 20. But it’s not that simple, is it? So much work is yet to do to create the lasting joy we need. And back to normal simply isn’t enough.
One the highlights of that day for me and so many others was Amanda Gorman’s recital of her poem “The Hill We Climb,” which went viral. It was a soulful and soaring oration that inspire so many of us with hope for the future, a new generation.
She starts out by asking “where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” and reminding us of “the loss we carry, a sea we must wade.” She reminds us that “quiet” isn’t always “peace” and the norms we accept as what “just is” isn’t always “just-ice.”
And yet she claims the “the dawn is ours,” and despite all we’ve “weathered and witnessed” what we’re left with is “a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”
She ends her poem on a high clear clarion call:
When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it
It’s uplifting hopefulness stirred our hearts. It was the “light” we’ve been craving after four years of “darkness.” We needed to know that there are young people like Amanda who will pick up the torch and move our nation forward.
Not long after the inauguration, I watched another video gone viral, this time of the young rapper Marlon Craft reciting his song “State of the Union.” His vision of America was starker, darker, more painful to hear. He too pointed out hard truths.
How “The state of the union is that there isn’t one /If a house divided can’t stand.”
How “fake superiority created by authority” convinces the poorest “he still one caste up, cause at least you not black.”
How “to keep you off track” when “the elite eat on the backs of your labor, you point at your neighbor—instead of up.”
How we talk about “generational wealth, But outside making money for ourselves, We won’t give the next generation no help,” and “It may already be too late to save the f—ing planet.”
He asks: “How many of us really choose our own thoughts and vices?” and “Who knew algorithms would really dictate what we cheer?” and “Can you track your opinion to it’s origin?”
He notes that while “white liberals” may “acknowledge their privilege, “they aint givin’ it up.” And how “You can’t abuse populations, leave ’em destitute and vacant and then ask them to care /About anything but their next move.”
Truth is if not for COVID, Trump would’ve won re-election in a landslide So we evaded armageddon, for good old store brand oppression But if a leader more savvy, and less sociopathic with true fascist aspirations come along, it’s gon’ be tragic 74 million proved if the right rhetoric is used We could end up on the wrong side of World War II 2
And to defeat white supremacy, you gotta first want to defeat white supremacy I don’t think most of us really do
It was always gon’ get worse ‘fore it got better Racism was never gon’ go quietly to the night
But Marlon, like Amanda, ends on a hopeful note and brings it back to each of us:
I do believe that [racism] along with greed, can make it’s way out of our institutions so that all are free one day I ain’t say that it will,
It depends what we do, there’s only one person the future starts and ends with It’s you
We have to clearly delineate the problem before we can fix it, and these two young people, one black and one white, a poet and a rapper, are doing it for their own generation as well as for us.
The torch that many of us carried for so long is being handed off. And as dark as this current moment in history is with more people lost to Covid in ten months than were lost in WWII in 4 years, with our country painfully divided across party lines, with racial and economic inequity putting a strangle hold on so many families, with raging wildfires and hurricanes and a planet in peril, these two artists give me hope for the future.
They are creating the kind of art that makes all the difference: Shining a light in the darkness so we can see our way forward.
One of the things I love most about Christmas is the music, especially the classical carols. Listening to them brings such strong memories of my childhood and my faith, filling me with a sense of warmth and comfort and inspiration. With Christmas day only a week away, I’m sharing a few of my Celtic favorites from my playlist.
I hope you enjoy them. Please share with me your favorite holiday songs and the artists who sing them. I’m always looking for new songs to add.
Loreena McKennit is one of my favorite singers and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen one of my favorite carols, so I’ll begin here.
I love Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring and found this lovely version by the Celtic Women.
I’ll end with my favorite Christmas hymn, O Holy Night. This one by the Celtic Trio is deeply moving.
Women Dancing in a Circle Warren B. Davis (American, 1865–1928)
Long ago my daughter gifted me with a CD of sacred music from around the world. It became a favorite to play during my morning meditation and exercise routine. I’m not sure you can get the CD anymore, but I was able to find a few of my favorite songs on You-Tube.
If you listen to these, you will notice how the music often starts slow, which is perfect for meditating, stretching or Yoga. But then the rhythm picks up and it’s almost impossible not to want to jump up and move, to dance or jog along with the beat.
The first song, Shema Yisearel (“Hear, O Israel”), is a sacred Jewish prayer sung in the morning and evening. Rita Glassman is an ordained Cantor and composer.
This next one is a mantra sung to the African Goddess Oshun of rivers and waterfalls, the “unseen mother present at every gathering.” Deva Premal is celebrated for her spiritual and meditative music.
This last is a Hindu mantra, or universal prayer, which roughly translates, “You Divine Mother are my everything.” The song ends with the “Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti” chant, an invocation for peace. Gina Sala is also well-known for singing sacred chants.
Friends on Facebook shared these two music videos with me recently. I loved them so much I had to share with you here. Watching them brings such comfort and joy, especially during these challenging times. I can’t get enough of them. I hope they inspire you as much as they have me. Enjoy!
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
What is it about “dappled” things that so dazzles us?
I ran across this poem, a favorite of mine, not long ago, and was reminded once again of how much nature inspires and excites us. Painters as well as poets have been praising that pied beauty through their artwork down the ages.
A few of my favorite paintings praising dappled things follows.
This “unspeakable beautiful” song was created as a tribute to Bill Evans, one of the greatest jazz pianist/composers ever, who died 38 years ago today. He played with Miles Davis and Chet Baker before creating his own trio. He greatly influenced the work of many jazz musicians who came after him and who are creating music today.
Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall. I had to change the way the band sounded again for Bill’s style by playing different tunes, softer ones at first. -Miles Davis
Bach was another huge influence on his music and the way he played. Perhaps it’s these classical influences on his jazzwork and improvisions that move me so much. Below the tribute by Methany and Mays is Evans “Peace Piece”, a favorite of mine and so many others.
“I want to see our words jump off the ground, erupt from a sensual earth, musty, humid, gritty. I want to taste words like honey, sweet and dripping with eternity. I want to hear words coming from my mouth and your mouth that are so beautiful that we wince with joy at their departure and arrival. I want to touch words that carry weight and substance, words that have shape and body, curve and tissue. I want to feel what we say as though the words were holy utterances surfacing from a pool where the gods drink. . . . .
My language must be redwood speech, watershed prayers, oak savannah, coupled in an erotic way with fog, heat, wind, rain and hills, sweetgrass and jackrabbits, wild iris and ocean current. My land is my language and only then can my longing for eloquence by granted. Until then I will fumble and fume and ache for a style of speaking that tells you who I am.” – Francis Weller
One of my first blog posts in 2012 featured a speech by Francis Weller that captures so eloquently how the earth, our natural habitat, speaks to us and inspires us to speak. How it shapes our language and the way we express ourselves, not only in literature but in art and music and dance.
As you read this, I’ll have flown across the Atlantic and landed in Madrid. I may be strolling through the Prado marveling at the artwork, climbing castle steps in Segovia, or sipping espresso at a sidewalk cafe in Paris.
It all sounds like a fairy tale to me now, sitting here tapping out this post to the beat of Jimmy Buffet’s “Trip around the Sun.” Wondering at the wonders to come.
Our whole lives are like this, spinning through time and space on this tiny planet. Traveling through a transient present, glancing back at the slide show of our past, gazing forward into a hazy future full of airy phantoms zooming toward us.
Who knows how this all will unfold?
“We’ll have to keep pinching ourselves to believe we are really there,” says my cousin who I’ll be traveling with.
And so should we all, every day of our lives. To keep present in the moment, right here, right now, before it slips into the past. Before the future with all its airy uncertainty settles around us like a warm blanket and slowly unravels into mere memory.
This life is too loose, too swift, too fluid, to do anything but marvel at its passing, to be dazzled with dizziness as the earth spinning beneath our feet spins around the sun.
Sometimes I think I must keep dancing in place just to keep up.
If only we could live every moment of our lives as tourists, pinching ourselves awake.
I’ll leave you with the song I’ve been listening to.