Friday, August 31, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: The GOOD Stuff: Boost Mobile Rock Corps

I just got my first issue of GOOD Magazine, and in it they had a small article about an organization called Boost Mobile Rock Corps. This has got to be about one of the coolest ideas I've seen in a while. Check out the video below to learn about what they do. And if you live in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, or another large city, definitely check out their calendar of events!

In other news...


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

American Songs 2 Sneak Preview: Oh Susanna

In anticipation of the release of my new CD, American Songs vol. 2, I've been giving away a free "sneak preview" song each week. I hope you've enjoyed Oh Sister and Unclouded Day. This week's song is one of the most famous American folk songs of all time. I'm willing to bet you've heard it once or twice. :)

Please spread the word: all I ask in return for these free songs is that you please send them on to others who might enjoy them as well! Click here to email this post to a friend.

Here's a quick preview:


Story behind the song: Usually, you hear "Oh Susanna" performed as an upbeat, rousing, clap-along kind of song. Which I love. But I also love the poignancy of the melody and the very real heartbreak and longing that are in the lyrics. I wanted to find a way to really bring out the story of this song...the traveler returning from a long absence (likely from fighting in the Civil War) doing everything he can to drag himself home to his true love, knowing that even with all his effort he may very well never see her again. The way I hear the song, the singer is trying to cover up some of this sadness and fear with gaiety (the banjo) and bravado (The sun so hot I froze to death, Susanna don't you cry) in order to convince himself and his love that everything will, truly, be all right in the end. So in my version, you will hear a different kind of "Oh Susanna"...the version that maybe he would have sung to himself at night when he doesn't think anyone else is around. Please feel free to leave me a comment and let me know what you think of it.

A note on the songwriter: Stephen Foster was 21 when he wrote "Oh Susanna" in 1847, and it was almost immediately a hit. It became a theme song for the gold rush era (they sang "I'm goin' to California with my washpan on my knee!"), and has since been performed countless times all over the world. Stephen Foster was a meticulous and prolific songwriter (he wrote over 200 songs in his short life of 38 years). His melodies are timeless, and his manuscripts show that he put a lot of effort into creating lyrics that were both precise and emotionally gripping. And yet, many of his songs pose a problem to modern listeners and performers. In many of his works, including "Oh Susanna," Stephen Foster wrote in imitation of the dialect of African-American slaves which is at times shockingly condescending, over-simplified, and cartoonish. At the same time, he also wrote songs that depicted slaves as human beings with very real feelings of pain, love, and sorrow, which was not a particularly common view at the time. Here are some interesting links:

Bonus question: What is your earliest or best memory of "Oh Susanna" (when did you first hear it, learn it, sing it, or do you have any particular memories associated with the song)? Leave a comment below and the day the CDs arrive, I'll pick one comment randomly and send that person a free copy of American Songs, volume 2. Note: Just so you know, if you leave an anonymous comment (which of course you are welcome to do), I won't know who you are and won't be able to include you in the random draw. 9/15/07--The random-draw is now closed. Congratulations to Diane Pollock...I hope you enjoy the CD!

Lyrics (click on the title to download the free song):

Oh Susanna by Stephen Foster

I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee
I'm goin' to Lou'siana my true love for to see
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry
The sun so hot I froze to death, Susanna don't you cry

Oh Susanna, oh don't you cry for me
I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee

I had a dream the other night when everything was still
I dreamed I saw Susanna a-comin' down the hill
A buckwheat cake was in her mouth, a tear was in her eye
Says I, I'm comin' from the South, Susanna don't you cry

Oh Susanna, oh don't you cry for me
I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee

I soon will be in New Orleans, and then I'll look around
And when I find Susanna, I'll fall onto the ground
And if I do not find her, then surely I will die
But when I'm dead and buried, Susanna don't you cry

Oh Susanna, oh don't you cry for me
I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee

Monday, August 27, 2007

Chris Van Allsburg: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick Story Writing Contest

I mentioned in a previous post that some of my Songwriting for Kids students got their song inspirations from the gorgeous Chris Van Allsburg book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. First of all, let me describe how very cool this book is.

In the foreword, Mr. Van Allsburg (of The Polar Express fame) tells the story of a man named Harris Burdick, who brings a set of drawings to a publisher. Each drawing has a title and a caption (like "The Seven Chairs: The fifth one ended up in France"). Shortly after this meeting with the publisher, Mr. Burdick disappears, leaving only the illustrations behind. (You can read the full story behind the illustrations at Chris Van Allsburg's website.)

You cannot help being swept up into this book. Look through it with a child of any age (or even an adult like me) and the questions come flying: Who are those children? Where are they sailing to? Why? How did they get there? What are they trying to get away from? And inevitably the stories start forming: Maybe they're traveling to an enchanted kingdom. Because they need to find something. It could be a special healing stone. No, they're looking for their parents. Maybe their parents are there and they have the stone...

The stunning pictures and intriguing captions make The Mysteries of Harris Burdick a perfect tool for story-writing (and songwriting!) inspiration.

So... it was with much excitement that I came across Chris Van Allsburg's new project: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick Story Writing Contest. Now all those kids who've been inadvertently writing their own stories for these illustrations can write them down and submit them, and possibly win the entire Chris Van Allsburg library!

Entries are due in January 2008, so there is plenty of time...I think this would be a great project for any kid to get involved in. It's a great way to inspire creativity and practice writing skills, and the contest format creates a goal and a deadline and something fun to be involved in, no matter what the outcome.

If you'd like to hear the Harris Burdick-inspired songs "The Magical Harp" and "Mystery" that my summer students wrote, you can hear them in the Songwriting for Kids Listening Room.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Four Fun Things for Friday

Hooray...it's Friday!!!!

Here are four fun things to enjoy today:

1. Kelly from The Poop (one of the most enjoyable blogs around) wrote a very entertaining post about her child's love for summer camp.

2. Keren Ann's very cool new song "Lay Your Head Down" is available for free as NPR's Song of the Day.

3. Zooglobble posted about a Nodcast Podcast with Smithsonian Folkways children's music greats Ella Jenkins and Elizabeth Mitchell (the podcast is worth listening to and even includes Ella Jenkins showing off some awesome bird calls!)

4. Creature Comforts America (even the missing episodes) is going to be released on DVD! Now if that doesn't make your day a little happier, I don't know what...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

American Songs 2 Sneak Preview: Unclouded Day

As you know, my new cd with Carter Little is almost ready. I hope you enjoyed the first American Songs Vol. 2 "sneak preview" track, Oh Sister. (Thanks to Zooglobble for the nice mention!)

This week's free track is a traditional spiritual written in 1879 by the Rev. J. K. Alwood from Michigan. You may know the famous Willie Nelson version, Uncloudy Day, and I hope you'll enjoy our version as well. Please feel free to leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

Please spread the word: all I ask in return for these free songs is that you please send them on to others who might enjoy them as well!

Here's a quick preview:

Story behind the song: As the story goes, the Rev. J. K. Alwood was riding his horse home from a debate with an Adventist minister in Ohio. The debate had gone late into the night, and as he was riding, Rev. Alwood saw "a beautiful rainbow north by northwest against a dense black nimbus cloud. The sky was all perfectly clear except this dark cloud which covered about forty degrees of the horizon and extended about halfway to the zenith." He was so stunned and inspired by the sight that he wrote the song "Unclouded Day." You can read Rev. Alwood's own account as well as a remembrance by his son at the Alwood Family Tree homepage.

Lyrics (click on the title to download the free song):

Unclouded Day by Rev. J.K. Alwood

O they tell me of a home far beyond the skies,
O they tell me of a home far away;
O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
O they tell me of an unclouded day.

Chorus
O the land of cloudless day,
O the land of an unclouded sky;
O they tell me of a home,
Where no storm clouds rise,
O they tell me of an unclouded day.

O they tell me of a home where my friends have gone,
O they tell me of that land far away;
Where the tree of life in eternal bloom
Sheds its fragrance thru the unclouded day.

O they tell me of the King in His beauty there,
And they tell me that mine eyes shall behold,
Where He sits on the throne that is whiter than snow,
In the city that is made of gold.

O they tell me that he smiles on His children there,
And his smile drives their sorrows all away;
And they tell me that no tears ever come again,
In that lovely land of unclouded day.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rosetta Project: Antique Children's Books Online

I came across a very interesting site this week (thanks to Write4Kids): the Rosetta Project is a volunteer organization dedicated to posting electronic versions of antique children's books. The scope of the project is quite amazing. Just a brief browse through the Super Index, brought me to so many nearly-forgotten favorites...here are just a few:

Have fun browsing!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Rabbit of Approval

If, like me, you are a fan of Annie's delicious homegrown mac & cheese, you are surely familiar with their mascot, Bernie. I just found out this week that the Rabbit of Approval has his very own blog. Each week, Bernie posts about various environmental topics that are close to his little rabbit heart.

Bernie also has a book club for kids, coloring pages, and all sorts of interesting information and links for both kids and adults. Definitely gets the Rabbit of Approval from me!

Thanks to The Viral Garden for the link.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

American Songs 2 Sneak Preview: Oh Sister

Today is a very exciting day for me because I just sent off all the components of my new CD off to the manufacturer! Carter Little and I have been working hard all summer on a new collection of traditional American folk songs, and really hope you are going to enjoy it. We certainly had a lot of fun making it!

So, over the next few weeks while the disc is being pressed, I thought I'd post a few "sneak preview" tracks that you can download and listen to for free. The first of these is Oh Sister. Simply click on the song title, and you can listen to it or download it for free (by clicking "download") from my MySpace page. (UPDATE 10/15: The song is now available for download on my website for those who have technical difficulties with MySpace.) Next Wednesday, I'll post another song for you to preview.

If you like the song, please send the link on to others who might enjoy it. As I always say, word of mouth makes all the difference to independent artists.

Here's a quick preview:


Story behind the song: I have 5 sisters and a brother, and all of us have had various difficult struggles throughout our lives. I was sitting in my car at a stoplight one day, thinking about how easy it is for us to feel like we're alone in this world. We try so hard not to bother anyone else with our burdens, and try to soldier on alone, carrying it all ourselves. But we don't have to go it alone. Even if we don't quite believe it, there truly are others around who would be happy to shoulder a little weight. It was then that I started hitting out a rhythm on the steering wheel and singing the first chorus to this song until the light turned green.

Song lyrics:

Oh Sister by Josephine Cameron & Anthony Walton


Oh sister, oh sister
Why you got the whole world on your shoulders?
Why you got to carry it around?

Your brother, he went off to an old man's war
And your mother and your father are on distant shores
But I'll be here with an open door
If you ever need a hand to hold

Oh father, oh father
Why you got the whole world on your shoulders?
Why you got to carry it around?

Your daughter, she went off with another man
One by one, your sons shook off the dust of this poor land
But they'll be back with a helping hand
If you hold your pride and call them home

Oh brother, oh brother
Why you got the whole world on your shoulders?
Why you got to carry it around?

You had to leave your family to get on your way
And you're worried we don't love you 'cause you stayed away
But we'll just be glad to see your smiling face
There's a welcome table waiting here at home

Oh mother, oh mother
Why you got the whole world on your shoulders?
Why you got to carry it around?

In the cold, blue dark of night
When you're weary, frozen with fright
Lift those burdens you're holding so tight
Lift them up, the sun will rise

Monday, August 13, 2007

Marilynne Robinson: Housekeeping

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping is one of my favorite coming of age novels. Set in the early 1900's in rural Idaho, it is the story of Ruth and her sister Lucille. The two girls are tragically abandoned by their mother and left to be cared for by their grandmother, then their great-aunts, and finally, by their uncommon aunt Sylvie whose calm but transient nature is both refreshing and unnerving.

This is a story about family and impermanence and loss. It's also a story about beauty and awakening and breathless discovery. And the intense longing we have for home, with all the different, intensely complicated things that simple word can mean.

It's hard for me to describe how absolutely lovely this book is. Much of what I admire about Marilynne Robinson's writing is the subtle, quiet beauty of the prose. The scenes unfold slowly, with infinite care and delicacy. Housekeeping is melancholy and chilling, but with a touch of humor and warmth. The relationship of the sisters is heartbreakingly real. Ruth and Lucille grow together and grow apart in a way that is subtle and natural, and their responses to the world around them are honest and true.

You can read a small, beautiful snippet from Housekeeping at John Baker's blog. And his synopsis is quite a bit more clear and concise than mine. Of course, I couldn't agree more with his final statement: "I would recommend that you go out and get a copy straight away."

No doubt there will be a future post about Ms. Robinson's newest masterpiece, Gilead, which I also have very strong feelings for.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Barley, Beet, & Feta Salad

So I'm finally home from my travels, and I came back to another delicious bag of fresh vegetables from our CSA at Hatchet Cove Farm. And beets! I know, I know. You either love them or hate them. I love them. My husband hates them. Here's a yummy salad to use up your beets and arugula, and you can leave the beets on the side...that way somebody doesn't have to eat them. More for me!

Barley, Beet, and Feta Salad
(from Cooking Light)

This hearty salad can be eaten warm or cold. It's a delicious balance of sweet beets, rich barley, tangy feta, and slightly bitter arugula. Each of the components can be made ahead and mixed at the last minute, making it great for dinner on busy days.

1 pound beets
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups uncooked pearl barley
2 cups trimmed arugula
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds

Leave root and 1 inch stem on beets; scrub with a brush. Place in a medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water, and cool. Trim off beet roots, and rub off skins. Cut beets into 1/4 inch wedges.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the barley; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes. Remove from heat; cool.

Combine the barley, arugula, walnuts, and cheese in a large bowl. Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour the vinegar mixture over the barley mixture, tossing to coat. Top with beets.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sonny Rollins on World Cafe

Here's another great interview from World Cafe this week. Jazz legend Sonny Rollins played with great musicians from Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis to the Rolling Stones, and is generally considered to be one of the best tenor saxophone players of all time.

There are two things that make Sonny Rollins so interesting to me. The first is that he is known for playing songs that didn't fit neatly into the genre of "jazz"...songs that were not hip or were too country or too poppy. Songs like Surrey With the Fringe on Top (from the musical "Oklahoma!) and Tennessee Waltz and I'm an Old Cowhand (a novelty tune written by Johnny Mercer). These are songs that most of his contemporaries would have shunned as being too straight or bland, but Rollins was able to improvise on the tunes and find all kinds of nuance and beauty in them.

In the World Cafe interview he explains that he simply sees music in two categories: Good and Bad.

The second thing I find interesting is that two times (so far) in his career, Sonny Rollins simply stepped out of the music business for a "sabbatical." The first time, he explains to David Dye, he stepped out because he felt like he needed to go "back into the woodshed" and improve his playing. According to legend, he practiced out on a bridge every day to spare his neighbors the noise. The second time was because he felt he needed to explore and deepen his spiritual life.

It's very out of the ordinary and difficult to have the wherewithal to step away from the forward thrust of our everyday lives and take some time to work on personal improvement. I hope I can emulate that quality, if not in such dramatic chunks of time, perhaps in small ways. A sabbatical of a week perhaps, or even 15 minutes of thoughtful walking each day. Practicing the piano more diligently. Taking the time to really study the songwriters I love. Making sure my family knows how much I love them. We really do have such limits on our time these days. But I do believe that at least within certain limits we can choose how we use that time. And that choice will make all the difference.

Here's an article from the New York Times about Sonny Rollins' new album, Sonny, Please.