"But music was his life, it was not his livelihood, and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole." - Harry Chapin - chorus of "Mr. Tanner."
I was invited to the home of one of our senior saints today . . . a woman near the end of her life. Her health is declining . . . and I could see and sense that when I saw her . . . I had not seen her in several months.
She lives with her daughter, who called me yesterday and asked if I could come over and "sing for Mom." We scheduled it for this afternoon, and I was able to make it without anyone else requesting my time.
I admit that I still find it difficult to sing to children when they are in a hospital bed. They can sense if you are faking it . . . if you are not genuine or sincere. Yet, I have no such trouble singing to an older adult in the same situation. I know why. I've been around older adults in my life. I was taught by my family to appreciate them . . . to respect them . . . to be courteous to them . . . and to love them for their advice, counsel and stories. Older adults have enriched my life.
Many of the churches I have pastored . . . had more older adults than any other age group. I guess I am used to older adults in many ways.
This afternoon, I sat on a bed across from this dear lady, and with her daughter and a cousin sitting nearby. I began with some old hymns about Heaven, followed by some funny songs meant to bring laughter, and then sang some energetic songs that just invite people to join in during the chorus.
I call it my "Branson" show. If you've been to a music act in Branson, Missouri, you understand.
I truly believe the music I provided today was very therapeutic to everyone there. And, it was to me as well.
I'm a pastor . . . a clergyman . . . an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I can't begin to remember all the "death" beds I've sat next to over the years. And I can't remember all the times I've sat next to someone lying in their bed before it became a "death" bed journey. You just ask questions and listen . . . and listen . . . and listen.
Singing to someone in a similar situation . . . you still listen. You listen to them sing with you. You listen to their body language as the song is being sung.
You also watch . . . the smiles on their faces . . . the gleem in their eye that wasn't there earlier.
Such situations are therapeutic . . . because for the 45 minutes or so I play guitar and sing, they get to forget . . . forget that their time here is growing shorter . . . or even coming to a close. They forget their pain . . . maybe their fear. They get to a laugh . . . hopefully applaud . . . and make requests for songs they want to hear.
I was singing once next to someone on their "death bed". As family gathered around singing and crying soft tears . . . this dear soul took their last breath as I sang the word's "This little light of mine, oh how I have let it shine!"
It was a holy moment. This afternoon was a holy moment as well.
Greetings to all . . . (the 6 of you who I know read this . . . I love ya!)
Today is my 38th wedding anniversary to my lovely wife, Liz. I am so blessed. So blessed in fact that I started to count my blessings. Far too many. Out of counting blessings came the musical thoughts and observations below.
After an extremely busy month of July, which included 3 trips to NW Arkansas, I am enjoying the return of a more productive rhythm during this month of August.
And . . . I am back to singing again every Monday morning.
My next major personal and professional project is to continue my journey to simplify more of my life. My friends who know me well know that I live in a lot of clutter.
I have lots of stuff (physical clutter).
I have lots of interests (mental clutter).
I have lots of responsibilities and commitments (calendar clutter).
And, I have lots of guitars and music related gear.
KISS is my new motto . . . with emphasis on the last "S."
What I don't have much of any more is time. I do not recall a time in my life when I was as busy as I am now. However, nor do I recall a time when I was as productive as I am now. I'm in a pretty good groove right now with a system that keeps me on track, and doing the important stuff required of my by the church, as well as doing the stuff that is important to me. I think I can honestly say that I am doing some of my best work right now.
Except . . when I have to stop and take care of all the stuff that clutters around me. One sure rule of life . . . if you have a lot of stuff, then you spend a lot of time taking care of your stuff.
Why have I allowed this to happen in my life? (Don't answer that!!!!)
So . . . I recently began work on my guitar and gear clutter.
First, I have simplified my list of active guitars, which consists right now of a couple of Martin's and my Guild 12-string. All the rest of my guitars are at home in my music room. My 3 active guitars are the ones I am using for all gigs for the foreseeable future. They are the one's I am focusing on learning to play well, and how to use/adapt them to different situations and conditions.
Second, I'm bringing my PA. I love it. It is a wonderful and useful system. However, it is overkill at times. It also take multiple trips to and from my car to get all the parts into the gig. So, I'm using my Vox Acoustic amp more these days when an amp is needed, which isn't very often when you sing in retirement homes or when singing at the bedside of older adults or children.
I can pretty much carry in what I need in one trip from my car. Set up is fast and easy. Lately, all I've been carrying in is my guitar. I'm working more now on memorizing songs. That means more practice both vocally and on the guitar. All good.
An unexpected result of simplifying . . . my office at the church has much less clutter now! Yay! My music room has the room, and everything seems to be fitting in it's own space. At home, I can leave things set up, and plug right in when I rehearse.
Speaking of getting better on the guitars I regularly play on . . . I'm really enjoying the mini-lesson videos that Tony Polecastro is putting out on YouTube, and on his own web page. His style of teaching is quite relaxed, but very informative.
I've reconnected with the little Grapevine Guitar Shop located on the second floor of the Grapevine Antique Mall. Todd has a small but efficient little operation there, and my friend Bill White is still there repairing and servicing guitars and amps. Bill may be one of the best, but unsung, folk philosophers who doesn't know he is a folk philosopher. I enjoy our conversations.
For those of you who like to use the new Martin SP LifeSpan strings, our area Guitar Centers have Martin strings on sale, buy one get one free. I purchased 6 sets yesterday, only paying for 3. Saved over $30. 6 sets on two guitars will last me a year. I don't know if Martin LifeSpans last as long as Elixir's. They are less slick, and to my ear, they sound better on my Martin's.
Thumb picks have been an issue for me for years. When I first stated to play guitar, I used a thumb pick. Later on, I switched to regular picks, held with the thumb and first finger. I recently came across some thumb picks by the Ernie Ball Co. They are a little longer than National's, Dunlop's and Fender's, and not as wide on thumb. Pretty comfortable, and they stay on. So far so good.
I had the pleasure of singing for some of the residents who live at The Atria in Grapevine, Texas. My schedule permitting, I sing to there on the first Monday of the month. I usually sing for the folks back in the Memory Care unit. They are a lively bunch, and they like to sing.
As I have shared before, I take an iPad with me and have it on a short music stand. My iPad has all the words to all the songs I am comfortable performing (probably over 200+). I also use an AirTurn Bluetooth pedal, which lets me advance the pages up and down as I sing, should I need the words or chords.
Well, as luck would have it . . . the AirTurn pedal battery was dead (it's recharging here in my office as I type this). So, I had no choice but to sing from memory for 50 minutes. The audience was waiting.
I sang and played, and surprised myself in the process. I never turned the iPad on, and just sang and sang. We had a good time. One resident got up and started dancing in place. People were laughing and enjoying themselves.
Surprisingly, I was too. Not being "locked in" to the iPad helped me have better eye contact with the residents, to connect better . . . and the process helped me focus better on singing.
The experience . . . was a joyful one for me.
I will say again . . . I vary my song sets all the time. I don't like singing the same songs every month to the older adults I am privileged to sing to. I have love song sets, and travel song sets, show tune song sets, folk song sets, funny song sets, and gospel song sets.
Variety is the spice of life.
As I have shared before, I only sing about 4-5 times a month because of my current schedule. Some call my use of an iPad a crutch, and I don't really disagree with that. If I sang multiple times each week, I am sure my music memorization would be much better.
Well, today my "system" failed me. But it all worked out. I am happy to report, my memory is better than I thought.
My goal is to sing more and more songs from memory, but it is nice to have the iPad and AirTurn pedal if I feel led to change things up and include a song I didn't have on my set list.
All in all, I didn't think I had 50 minutes of music memory in me. Turns out I was wrong.