I have attended some great concerts in my many years: Journey: Billy Joel; Boston; John Taylor. But the best concert I ever attended was a free community Concert in the Park in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in the summer 1981. The band was Fiddle Fever, and I was 17. From the first note, I was completely captivated. Their Appalachian bluegrass music was earthy and mystical, happy and tender, evoking generations and adventures past and yet to come, and expertly performed. The players radiated enthusiasm and utter joy that washed over and through me. We bought the vinyl and listened to it hundreds of times until it was too scratched to play. To my delight, I recently found a CD of the original LP, with several bonus tracks. Thirty-nine years later, I am playing Fiddle Fever again. I am captivated still.
I closed my eyes as my son eased into a Bach cello suite during his recent lesson. I drifted quickly into serenity and dream. Keep playing this song, I thought. Never stop. And the words began to appear, first describing what I heard, what I felt, then what I saw, and finally what I became.
PLAY ME A SONG
Play me a song
on that big string cello,
low and slow,
to swell in my chest
and tighten my throat
and get me to crying soft.
Play me that song
again. I want to hear it.
I want to hear
as the walls fall away
and the roof flies off
and trees and flowers
grow up through the decomposing floor,
around me, close,
as the song goes on,
low and slow,
till my cocoon is complete
and I wait until Spring
to emerge, your song
still sweet in my ears.
On her WordPress blog “Words and Pictures” writer and reviewer Rose Gluck announces her forthcoming review of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. I appreciate her selecting my book to review, but also her mission to explore the stories of everyday lives: an important cultural, historical, and literary endeavor. See her original blog post below, and stay tuned for her review.
Rose Gluck of Words and Pictures: It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here on Words and Pictures. I’ve been pretty busy on several projects but am finally back here on my blog to share stories of everyday lives. I am in the final stretch of my dissertation so I’ve been very focused on that. My work -as you might . . . [click on this link to see the whole post: Been Out of Touch – Upcoming Projects here on Words and Pictures — Words and Pictures]
I have so enjoyed sharing my Rabbit Lane blog with all of you, my friends. Today I am pleased to announce that my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road has been published in print and for Kindle.
Rabbit Lane tells the story of a humble country dirt road, of its human history, of its natural beauty, and of its ability to bring insight, understanding, transformation, and healing to those who mindfully walk it. The book contains stories and poems, songs and photographs, musings and observations about life and nature, that will amuse and inspire. Rabbit Lane helps us to slow down and pay attention to the beauty around us and within us.
My greatest hope is that my stories, poetry, and music will inspire you and bring you joy. I would love to hear from you as you read.
I sang for years with an excellent 200-voice choir, the Salt Lake Choral Artists. My last concerts were sung in St. Ambrose Catholic church in Salt Lake City, Utah. Beautiful scenes in stained glass stretched floor to ceiling along both side walls. The concert-goers sat in hard oaken pews, pleasing us with loud applause. Once we performed selections from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” a modern and moving work. “Sing God a new song,” we sang. After the concert, I noticed a stooped, white-haired man sitting in the back row, tears in his eyes. I said hello, and he thanked me for the music. I imagined some of his life’s emotions, and wrote this poem before leaving the church.
He had sung his lifetime,
raised his voice to the Lord altissimus,
lifted his broken wholeness to Kyrie in excelsis,
Qui tollis pecata mundi,
weeping to the precise glide of the white baton.
He partakes, now, from the back row,
his back twisted, head bowed—
still the tears.
Translation of the Latin:
Altissimus: The highest
Kyrie in excelsis: Lord on high
Qui tollis pecata mundi: Who took upon himself the sins of the world
The week I moved out I began singing again with the Salt Lake Choral Artists, a 200-voice audition community choir. I needed the music. Music to soothe my anxiety and sadness at being separated after 25 years of marriage. At times waves of sadness crashed over me, ground me into the gravel of life. I needed the music. Our Christmas and holiday repertoire included some of the most moving melodies I had ever heard. In one rehearsal the director shouted at me, “Everybody is singing here!” I nodded, but my throat was choked up and tears stung my eyes. I needed this music. Still, the long drive “home” after rehearsal on dark, freezing winter nights, terminating at my construction zone apartment, mattress on the floor, wardrobe in my duffel, the thermostat set at 50, brought the waves crashing again, the music notwithstanding. This poem attempts to describe that difficult time.
The cold brings it on,
and the darkness.
The long drive dredges it
up, even after
the singing, after
three hours of wonderful
singing, the long winter drive
to a place that wasn’t home,
where I shivered in my bed
and thought of the woman
that used to be mine.
(Photo by Elizabeth Mills)
Having lived twice in Brazil (including the occasion of my birth), I have come to adore Brazilian music. Though Brazil boasts many greats, like folk artist Dorival Caymmi and bossa nova pioneer Carlos Antonio Jobim, my favorite Brazilian vocalist is Ceumar. This lovely woman’s lovely name means Sky and Sea. Smitten by her silky, perfect voice, and inspired by her versatile repertoire, I wrote her this poem.
where ocean touches sky,
blue on blue,
often tender, assuaging,
at times roiling and violent
where the boundary
always is unclear,
where always I hear
music: of earth, of water,
I messaged this poem to Ceumar through Facebook, and she responded with grace and appreciation.
My favorite of all Ceumar’s songs is “Jabuticaba Madura”, which she composed herself and sings solo while playing acoustic guitar. (You can watch her on You Tube.) In the song, Ceumar compares the small, brown Jabuticaba fruit to a lover’s eyes. Here is my rough translation of the lyrics. (I apologize for the loss of nuance and rhyme.)
Ripe Jabuticaba fruit,
not yet fallen underfoot,
hovers shining in the tree,
giving me the desire
to know what it is.
Thus are your eyes.
Who can resist
discovering their dark secret.
Let me be that woman.
Let me climb up to you.
Let me choose you.
Let me taste your sweetness.
Let me lose myself in you.
Blackberry, plum, guava,
none can compare.
Let me give you a small, dark piece
of the fruit of my heart.
In her music, Ceumar combines quintessential Brazilian sounds and rhythms with the instruments and styles of their European and African roots, including the clarinet, mandolin, accordion, and violin. Her repertoire avoids shallow pop in favor of mature, deep, moving, and fun music and lyrics. In my opinion, Ceumar is a genius of Brazilian folk and popular music and culture. And her voice is nothing short of heavenly.
(Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PA)
Walking in the snow on Rabbit Lane I began thinking about Christmas bells ringing from church towers all over the celebrating world. I pondered the many emotions associated with pealing church bells. Happiness in marriage. Sorrow in death. Fear in disaster. Hope that “all is well”. The Liberty Bell rang in joyful celebration of America’s independence. I composed this song about church bells at Christmastime, attempting to embrace all of these emotions, especially excitement at the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Church Bells.
My favorite part of Christmas is playing Christmas music all the month of December. For me, Christmas music brings out the Christmas spirit like nothing else. And I’m not talking about songs that celebrate a reindeer’s red nose and such, but about the hymns and carols that celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. My family gathers each Christmas Eve to recite the story of Jesus’ birth and to sing the songs of Christmas. I previously posted my little Christmas lullaby Nativity. With this post I bring you the happy song Christmastime. What it may lack in musical sophistication it hopefully makes up for in simple Christmas cheer. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Christmastime.
The star on my 30-inch-tall Christmas tree is this Pysanky egg blown, waxed, and dyed by my daughter Laura (20). I treasure it.
The mere thought of adding to the Christmas repertoire intimidated me from making the attempt. But one quiet evening, as Christmas approached, I began to think of the baby Jesus, and to hum. I thought of the star and the heavenly choir, of the Magi and their gifts, and of Mary holding her child wrapped in rags. The Christmas lullaby “Nativity” arose from my musings. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Nativity. Sing it softly to your own little ones as you put them to bed.
My children, when they were young, liked to be put to bed with a song. I composed many little lullabies and songs, some of which are posted on this blog. I tried to compose tunes and lyrics that would sooth and inspire each child. But sometimes I composed something to just make them smile and laugh. “Dreaming” is one such song and contemplates a child’s nonsensical but humorous dreams, ending with mother’s call to wake up in the morning. I hope you enjoy it! Click here for the sheet music: Dreaming.
On summer evenings as the desert heat dissipated, we would open all the windows in the house to let in the fresh, cool air. As I sat on the porch, or weeded in the garden, or fed the hens, the sounds of Erin’s violin would pour gently from her window, hovering above the quiet countryside. Her music was like the smell of perfume from a Purple Robe Locust, or the flash of blue from a Western Bluebird, or the taste of ripe mango. I haven’t heard Erin play her violin for several years due to her being away at university and missionary service. But I can still hear the music in my memory and feel the soothing sensation of my mind and body loosening their many knots. I miss her playing. I miss her. This poem brings Erin and her music back to me.
Notes dance through the window:
cheerful young notes
tip-toeing prettily upon the air,
swirling soft, slow pirouettes above
Fall sunset’s deep-green grass;
a blanketing balm
come to rest upon
a tired brow,
a twitching muscle,
an anxious heart.
Youthful hand and hopeful heart
send the bow searching the strings,
like a songbird upon the breeze,
like a breeze along the tree branch,
like tree roots through the earth.
Bring me through.
The lonely apple tree on our one-acre property had survived from pioneer days, had made it through the decades of when the property housed the old Mormon church. After pruning my apple tree, I was able to climb into its highest branches, whence I could gaze over the sloping valley toward the silver ribbon of the Great Salt Lake to the north and west, or look the other direction to the Oquirrh Mountains to the east and south. From high in my apple tree, and on my walks on Rabbit Lane, I contemplated many strange and wonderful and dreadful aspects of life and living. These thought slowly distilled themselves into my song Wandering, attached here for you to enjoy.
Caleb (2) and I, lying together on his bed, looked out the window at the moon, talking quietly. He asked rather suddenly, “Would you write me a song about the moon?” Well, I thought, I guess I could try. The notes came quickly, and soon I was humming a tune to him with occasional key words rising up. As the song came together, I imagined the moon and the stars being living entities giving their light to the universe under the direction of benevolent gods that also watch over sleeping children. Here is the link to the sheet music for Caleb’s lullaby, Moonlight. (See this lullaby referenced in the post Chapter 30: Good-Bye Harv in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
I composed the little song “Baby Zebra” to help baby John go back to sleep, laying spread-eagle on my chest, when what he really wanted was for his mother to nurse him back to sleep. He asked me for a “be-be ze-ba” song: Baby Zebra, and I obliged. The animal “zebra” can be replaced by most any other land animal, including elephant, ostrich, horse (horsie), or pig (piggie). Change a few words around and it can work for birds and dolphins, too. I hope you enjoy the song. Here is a link to the sheet music to Baby Zebra. (This song is referenced in the post Chapter 30: Good-Bye Harv of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
–To change the world, we must first change ourselves.–
Harvey had to leave. He lost everything he owned. He moved out to the West Desert to live with a mountain man friend who lives in a teepee. He said he would do fine, but worried about staying warm enough and getting enough to eat in the freezing winters. I worried for him, too. I did what I could to help Harvey, examining legal documents, but it was too late. Continue reading
In a safe environment, a child can see the world with wonder. He or she encounters the smiles and waves of a parent, loose garden soil between the toes, butterflies on flower blossoms, and being tucked into bed with a story or a lullaby. I wrote the song “Look Out the Window” after one of my children called to me from an upstairs window while I worked in the garden. She was happy to see me–“Hi Daddy!”–and raced down the stairs to join me in the garden. Every child deserves to be safe and to be loved, and to see the world with wonder. Here is the link to the sheet music to Look Out the Window.
As Angie helped each child wind down to go to sleep over the years, she would sit on the side of their bed and ask, “What was your favorite part of the day?” They would talk about watching a Monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, a picnic at the park, rollerskating, or a trip to see grandparents. That question seemed the perfect opening line of a lullaby. Walking on Rabbit Lane, I played around with a tune, and settled on beginning with my favorite interval, the octave (or perfect 8th). The melody and lyrics came as the weeks and months clocked by. This song celebrates all of the end-of-day conversations between parents and children about their special moments together. Sing it alone to your child or as a parent-child dialog, with you and your child taking turns singing portions of the song to each other as indicated in the score found at the link below. (For more on this song, see the post Chapter 24: Remembering the Day of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
Nature’s creatures make beautiful music, especially on a Summer night, whether it be crickets or katydids, Canada Geese in formation or a clucking hen settled on her eggs, the wind in the leaves or the rain tapping on the rooftop. And lullabies comfort the sleepless, fretting child. My Hannah turns nine years old today. In honor of her birthday, I am posting her favorite of all my songs (so far), called “Summer Night,” which celebrates nature’s music in a lullaby. Sing it to your children or grandchildren, or just hum it to yourself, and let me know how you like it. Here is the link.
—Hyrum, you’re my little bug.—
Under low, heavy clouds and a light, misty rain, the lighthouse beam shines in a shaft for miles as it slowly sweeps the sky. Continue reading
–I’ll help you learn to walk.–
(Erin-10 to Hyrum)
One Monday evening after dinner, the whole family walked on Rabbit Lane. The sun was setting large and red, and the chilly Spring air settled upon us as we returned home. We gathered around our new fire pit to tell stories, sing songs, and roast apples and marshmallows, sitting on camp chairs and logs. Continue reading
I stopped to watch the pulsing airport beacon–my desert lighthouse–as I walked in the snow today on Rabbit Lane. White. Green. White. Green. “See that beacon?” I asked Hannah (8), whose gloved hand held mine while we gazed. “It’s like a lighthouse showing the way for ships in trouble to make for shore. Long before Hannah was born, I gazed out the window with Erin, then 5, as the old beacon bulbs swept slow arcs around the sky, lighting up the clouded underbelly of the sky. I imagined sailing ships rocking precariously amidst tumultuous waves, the sailors shouting commands and wondering how to obtain the shore in one piece. I also imagined their frightened families at home, wondering if they would ever see their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons again. With this troubled image in mind, I wrote this one-verse song about these sailors, nearly lost in the storms, coming home at last. (Read more about this beacon in Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
Hannah (8) has added me to her bedtime routine. “I was wondering,” she begins, “if you could maybe sing me a few short songs tonight.” I sit on the edge of her princess bed and sing her one of my little songs, or a song from my 1970 Mister Rogers’ Songbook, a prized if tattered possession. A song only takes a minute. But many nights I feel burdened and tired. The thought of answering to one more child’s needs sometimes overwhelms me. It’s just one song, I say to myself with a sigh, and succumb. From the first note I feel glad that I didn’t give in to the excuse of being weary. A song only takes a minute. Here is one of my favorite songs. I wrote it years ago in response to a child’s request for a song from Dad. It is sweet, calming, and, best of all, short. The perfect lullaby for nights when Dad just needs to say “good-night” and go be by himself, or go to bed. I hope that you will sing it to your little ones. If you are so inclined, sing it through twice. A song only takes a minute.
Brian, my firstborn, suffered typical colic from about six weeks to about six months of age, always beginning at 6:00 p.m., it seemed. A second year law student (and struggling with the stresses of law school), I frequently paced the living room floor trying to sooth the crying baby with gentle bounces, soft shushes, coos, and random soft melodies. In Brian’s moments of calm slumber, I looked on his beautiful face and felt overcome with feelings of love, peace, beauty, and gratitude. In these serene moments I began to compose a lullaby, metered to the my rocking arms. Although Brian is now a 6-foot-4 24-year-old, I think of his once tiny form every time I sing this song. Here it is for you to enjoy. While I have titled it “Little Brian Baby” in my own book of music, for you I have titled it simply “Little Baby” and have added brackets in the lyrics indicating where you can insert the name of your child or grandchild as you sing. Enjoy this lullaby as you rock your precious little ones to sleep. (To see the score, click on the link below.)
—How can we get closer to God?—
—In airplanes . . . and helicopters! Vvrroooom!—
(Caleb-3 to Dad)
Harvey’s property was special to the Indians. They needed a place to perform their ceremonies, where it was quiet, where animals and nature were close, and where Indians were welcome. Harvey’s place fit the requirements. The Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Indians had established Harvey’s land as an official Indian worship site. Local Indians of several tribes set up a turtle lodge and held their sacred sweat ceremonies there. Harvey invited me repeatedly to attend a ceremony. Resisting what I didn’t understand, I politely put him off. One Saturday, though, I reluctantly agreed, admittedly nervous to attend. When I came home several hours later, the children found me exhausted, my hair sweaty and matted. I took a big drink and a shower, then flopped down on the couch. They begged me to tell them all about the Indians and their turtle lodge. I sighed wearily, then told them of my experience with the sweat ceremony. Continue reading
I wrote this lullaby for Erin, my second child, to comfort her in her nighttime fears. (See Rabbit Lane: Memoir page, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post). (To see the song score, click on the link below.)
Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.
–Only small people seek to make other people feel small.–
Our first night in the country house, the children all slept in mom’s and dad’s room. We offered this arrangement until they felt comfortable sleeping in their own rooms. One night several weeks after moving to her own room, Erin (5) couldn’t sleep.
“Daddy,” Erin called in a loud whisper.
“What?” I moaned groggily after a moment.
“The lightning is keeping me awake.”
“What lightning?” I yawned. “I don’t hear any lightning.”
“No—look—it’s flashing right now, without thunder or rain,” she persisted.
I pushed myself up onto an elbow with a groan. Continue reading