Thursday, December 4, 2008

Notes about the songs on Wag Your Tail

1. Wag Your Tail – Just me and my guitar; slow, low, and restful. Once I had recorded this song I thought it would be great if I could get Jean Summerville (an artist in Chico Ca) to paint a CD cover for me. She paints these wonderful dogs with great personality. So she did and I love it.
2. Ride On a Train – My niece Alyssa sings with me on this. My sisters join in later on. Kids at school love to sing this song because of all of the big vowel sounds held out long in the chorus: “Riiiiiiide on a traaaaaaain to the Beeeeeeach todaaaaay.” I wanted to create some excitement about using public transportation.
3. Waterbottle – Definitely one of my favorite songs on the CD. Kids at school love to sing this song. They worked up some clapping games to go along with it. My wife Kathryn and I tried our best to duplicate the rhythms in the short cut after the song. This song is all about having fun with language.
4. Being With You – This is actually a love song. I sing it with my wife in mind but it expresses a simple longing to spend time with someone, a mother, child, father, grandparent, etc.
5. This is Where I Live – I was out for an early morning walk not far from where I live. I really wanted to go to the beach but there was no time. I begrudgingly proceeded on one of my routine hikes when I was struck by the unbelievable beauty of my own neighborhood. This song has proved to be a great sing-along. Kathryn sings on this song. I sent the track up to my son Sean in San Francisco. He put bass on it and sent it back to me. He put a bass track on some other songs as well (lemonade & waterbottle).
6. This Tree – Also on a local walk, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of a single oak tree. My son Nicolas is studying music in Austin, Texas (at UT). He plays a beautiful baritone horn on this song. This is one of my favorites.
7. Lemonade – My mom really does have a magically prolific lemon tree in her yard. It sometimes has more lemons than leaves. This song is also about having fun with language “a cow goes moo, a duck goes quack, but a chicken don’t have time for that. She counts the eggs that she just laid and then she drinks some lemonade.” My sisters sing on this one too (we’ll call them the lemon sisters).
8. Hello Lizard – Songwriting is usually a pretty slow process for me but this song came about almost in real time. I was backpacking. I sat on a rock after hiking one afternoon and realized I was indeed sharing the rock with a lizard. I said out loud, “Hello lizard.” I had some paper and a pen in my backpack and I just wrote the whole song down. I could hear it in my head and when I got home I just played it.
9. Shortin’ Bread – When my oldest son (who is now 26) was in pre-school, his teacher used to just belt out this song. I made up some new rhymes and verses for it. It is an old tune. After some research I found that has gone through its racy and even racist transitions. It is a good tune and deserves to be heard for more generations.
10. Got Lost – Like ‘Hello Lizard’, this song was written almost instantly. I was on a routine hike and I really got lost because I was not paying attention. I was just thinking intensely about something and I missed fork in the road. “I lost track of where. I lost track of when, I lost track of which way to go. I lost track of cares I’d been carrying around and I made room for new things to know.”
11. Everything – I had written this song really just to comfort myself during the last months of my father’s life. My brothers, sisters, and I actually sang it to him just before he went in for hip surgery a few months before he died. A good friend later told me that his statement of faith is that “everything is going to be okay.” That was so close to the song I wrote. I realized that – this is my statement of faith. I figured it was a good song for a kid’s CD because we say this to our children all the time “everything is going to be alright.”
Tracks # 12 – 15
These are songs that I did not write but they were the first songs I recorded for this CD. I wanted to give something to teachers that they could use in their classrooms. Here in California, we really don’t provide music education for elementary school children. Unless the teacher happens to have some knowledge, talent, or interest, it doesn’t happen. These four songs are tried and true folk songs that are in a comfortable tempo and key for children. I gave these recordings to teachers at my school who have a serious fear of music and I asked them to give it a try. They love it. They provide the instruments and the classroom management and the songs do the rest. Children interact and make the music. It is not as good a true music instruction but it is much better than nothing. I suggest on the recording that children get pencils and boxes of macaroni and cheese for instruments. I’m really suggesting that they find a way to make it work and not to wait for the system to come up with solution.

Thanks again for listening.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm just learning how to do this blog thing.  I am attempting to add a link to an essay I heard on NPR about singing.  Brian Eno the very inventive musician who works mostly with electronic music wrote and recorded his thoughts about the value of singing.  It is remarkably consistent with the way I have been thinking lately that I wanted to share it.  Hope the link shows up somewhere here.  Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A few years ago, my class took a field trip to a farm. I had just learned a few chords on my banjo and I decided to bring it along. We sat around on hay bails and sang together. It is great to listen to music but it is something very special (even holy) when we sing and play music together. Music shared in this way washes away anger and selfishness and drenches us with joy.
I love my job as a kindergarten teacher partly because we sing every day. We sing to begin the day and to end the day. We sing before snack, before work, and before we play. It really doesn’t matter what we sing but that our voices blend together like magic in the air all around. We bless our room with music.
Writing songs has become more than a hobby for me. I go for walks in the hills near my home and I listen to the thoughts and melodies that are swimming around in my head. I try to get lost inside of my head. When I begin to bring structure to these thoughts and melodies, I am mindful of the possibility of singing the songs with others. I want people to easily catch on to the song or at least to part of the song. The clearest measure of success for me, as a songwriter, is when I hear kids singing my songs on the playground while they are swinging or jumping rope. The song has then taken root and now belongs to the child.