Unitarian Hymnal Sing-along

In which Kathryn attempts to sing a different song everyday from the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, 'Singing the Living Tradition'. Earlier posts are based on songs from the Reader's Digest songbooks she found at yard sales as a child, including: 'Reader's Digest Treasury of Best Loved Songs', 'Reader's Digest Family Songbook', and 'Reader's Digest Family Songbook of Faith and Joy'. Bonus Folk song material from: 'Folk Song USA', by John and Alan Lomax.

31 July 2006

"Whither Thou Goest"

The story of Ruth and Naomi in the Bible is compelling, evocative. This song attempts to draw on that, but only succeeds halfway. The melody is rather beautiful, but the text become self-referential in a distracting way. Commit! Commit! Start by knowing, consciously, what you're committing to! Don't be wishy washy!

Lately I have felt that my struggles, my questions, are not so much for public consumption. I have missed the writing, the deliberate organization of my thoughts. A friend has recommended resuming my journaling practice, and this does make some sense. It doesn't matter how intensely personal a journal gets, how whiny, how repetitive, how much it mentions my husband: it's all fine and dandy when it's only me that's listening. Still, as happened when I was pregnant: I have no desire to dwell on what's happening right now. I don't ever want to remember later. I want it to be done. I want decisions to be made, plans to be carried out, crises to be dealt with. Instead, I wait for more information, externally, and internally, as I untangle the ball of twisted yarn that is me at the moment.

Of course, there is some benefit to speaking aloud. I have shared some things, bits and pieces, an hour with my brother here, ten minutes there with a friend, or two. I have not yet reached the heart, the breaking point that lets loose the dam of my frustration. Who wants to be present for the flood, after all? Why would I want to subject anyone to that?

The obvious solution: seek professional help. Which I have. I already am thankfully aware that this was the right step, and probably way overdue. My therapist earned her fee today with a helpful hint towards dealing with my daughter. That alone: priceless.

I can't say that I'm exactly looking forward to this journey. Even knowing, as I absolutely do, that on the other side of struggle and grief and black night despair can be growth and wisdom and certainty: even then, this will suck. The goal is to get through it all with as little harm done to me, my husband, my daughter, our little family, as possible. It's good to have a goal.

26 July 2006

"My Cathedral"

Full of cliches. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in this case--yes, it is. I did sing it through three times, though, and did my best to make this song a thing of beauty.

I'm going to try to supplement my diet with more folks songs. I think it will help the overall process.

24 July 2006


Don't. . . make me. . .sing. . . it. . . again. . .

I meant to blog on this song on Saturday or Sunday, but the weekend's plans were changed, and this did not happen, alas. This song is too high, too boring for my tastes. Do with it what you will.

My daughter is away tonight on her first non-family sleepover, she just called to say goodnight. I think my husband and I find this more weird and stressful than she does, though I could be wrong. I did feel like a total dork calling her friend's mother earlier and admitting my own nervousness. I'll be picking her up tomorrow afternoon, after I'm done work. I will actually be able to run tomorrow morning, I can barely fathom it. Waking at my own time, doing what I want when I want (for a few hours, until I go to work): what the hell is that all about?

I grieve, knowing that this is just the beginning. Give it a few years, or more, but the day will come. She'll be off and we'll have no idea where she is: off shopping with her friends, ignoring my calls to her cell phone, showing up at home after her curfew. I know that this will all happen. Right now I'm grateful that she wants to be home more often than not, that she's happy to live with us here, in our home.

That is, when she doesn't want to live in Hershey Park, riding the water rides all day, every day. Who could blame her? Meanwhile, she's designing an amusement park to be built in our front yard. I don't think she'll be leaving for good anytime soon. I'm glad.

21 July 2006

"His Name Is Wonderful"

This to me is a set piece, a perfect example of a certain style of song. My daughter thought it was silly for having the words repeat over and over again. I found myself needing to explain the benefits of repetition as a form of prayer: 'You know, honey, like when you repeat 'Om'? It's a form of meditation.' As a parent one explains all sorts of things one never imagined having to explain, or in this case, defend. I feel that it behooves me to be clear and as free of prejudice as I can be. But I also did mention that this wasn't really my kind of song, either.

I've decided that I'm going back into therapy (I can hear the collective sigh of relief, don't be shy). I have really enjoyed not being in therapy, taking the old car on the road, test driving her. It is a great feeling to have to rely on my own wits in the moment, and not just save up everything to dissect in my session, which is what I started to do way too often. But there is too much going on, and a paid listener/objective assesser/font of new perspectives would be useful about now. My fabulous piano teacher and pseudo-therapist is away for most of the fall, she won't mind if I funnel that money into other avenues of help. It is interesting that my music teachers tend to play the therapist role in my life.

[Exciting bonus news: I have ripped out and re-started my cousin's daughter's baby blanket again, this is the third try on this thing, and I'm really hoping to get more than three inches done this go-round. Sweet little Emma is over six months old. I console myself with the fact that she lives in Virginia: surely she won't need a baby blanket now until later in the fall? I try not to think about the four other baby afghans that I still hope to make this year. This time I'm knitting the blanket: I've never done that for an afghan. It seems like cheating, but with this wacky boucle yarn I can see the stitches better. There. Now I'm a crazy knitting blogger, too.]

20 July 2006

"Take My Hand, Precious Lord"

This is just a great song. So incredibly great to sing that. . . I don't want to sully my praise with reservations. It's that good. There's something about spirituals, a blues-y earthy reality that they have. I sang a lot of wonderful spiritual arrangements in college choir, they've stick in my head, and I feel embarassed to still be so moved. But I am moved. I sang this today in my voice lesson, with more feeling than Beth has yet seen. I had been exhausted coming into the lesson today, and this didn't energize me, but the breaths I took seemed to reach very deeply, very fully into the center of me, and from that center came my voice and strength, my belief: 'I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. . . Hear my cry, hear my call. Hold my hand, lest I fall. . .'

I miss vacations alone. I miss those I used to take with my husband, without my daughter. We're going away this weekend, just for the day, and all I can think is that my daughter will go ballistic, singly or multiply, and I will have to deal with her. I will get no break. This doesn't entirely make sense: my husband will be there, and my family. I know that they'll pitch in if I appear to be going insane. I still miss being alone. I miss it so much that I just want to cry. I feel like the summer will never end. The endless heat doesn't help.

19 July 2006

"One Little Candle"

I've been avoiding writing--and singing: because then I would have no excuse not to write. I haven't wanted to write because I didn't want to whine. I'm very tired of complaining to myself, and to any adult friend that comes within range. I'm having trouble thinking positive, or long term.

This song: well, it's not so bad, really. It's hard for me to get on the Hope Wagon these days, but it doesn't mean that the Hope Wagon has stopped its loop through my life. Sure, small things are good.

I am doing little things, lighting candles in my own way. I find it much easier these days to deal with finite projects: knitting small socks, reading books, loading the dishwasher, making the bed. Infinite, or seemingly infinite projects are harder, and this includes a lot of things that I really want to be working on, but I can't quite seem to start. I want something that I can see completed.

That, or I just want to make it through the next argument with my daughter, staying firm: no, you may not (watch TV/have a brownie) until you (clean up your papers/eat lunch/ask politely and calmly). It takes most of my energy to make it through those 'discussions', and then suddenly she's off singing to herself, or playing with her dolls, like it never happened. Then I'll hop in the shower and she's suddenly hysterical about a toy that she lost at a friend's house last year. This age is very strange.

It is a good sign, though, that I'm playing more piano again. I even had a Bach breakthrough, thanks partially to my husband's wisdom. Still practicing my mandolin (haven't lost the calluses yet), and cataloging songs that I'd like to learn, or sing with my group, or try out with the all-girl band. I've been very lucky to have been able to vent a bit to some dear people recently, who listened patiently, and even seemed willing to listen again, if need be. And I'm still knitting socks.

13 July 2006

"I Heard A Forest Praying"

Quite beautiful, actually, in a chromatic, love-the-trees kind of way. Still mentions the 'G' word, but obliquely, and I can't mind it here.

It's vastly humid here, and that's all I can think about. Weighing heavily on every inch of my skin, even my mind feels trapped under a blanket of obsession. We've done well thus far this summer to not turn on the air conditioning, which never does too well in this old house, though I'm glad that we have the option. I'm just hoping to make it through the night, because right now, even the promise of less humid air is not enough to convince me to drag my sweaty body all through the house, shutting all the open windows, waiting for the cool to kick in. . .

12 July 2006

"Suddenly There's a Valley"

Ah. A song not talking about God. My daughter didn't like this one, but it was a nice break for me. It didn't say anything profound, but there were no glaringly silly lines in it, either. After 250 posts (and almost that many songs, not counting the 'not-really-a-post' posts), I am coming to appreciate the small details of melody and phrase. I'm amazed that there are as many good songs as there are. I'm also hoping that at some point all this will inspire me to find those points of departure into new ground, and again write songs of my own.

'Suddenly There's a Valley': suddenly that isn't making sense. All I can think, when there's a valley, is that I'll have to hike back up the mountain out of this bugger. Sure, take a few pictures, but let's move on.

I've been thinking more about using my voice, and even music in a more general sense, as a job. This is radical ground, confronting the very demons of my childhood, those that speak with my father's voice and say, 'Get a career in Computer Science, and then later you can have music as a hobby. Don't study it now.' So, of course, I had a double major. That was a concession, I know, but I did know on some level he was right: I had no great operatic talent, I would not make piles of money singing. And here I am, a massage therapist. I didn't need to go to college after all.

My voice teacher has been quite an inspiration, though. How about doing spoken voice work? How about doing regular mini-classes in private schools for children? There are other outlets for what I have to share. Meanwhile, and easily, I can still be leading the adult singers at my daughter's school (until I am overthrown by a coup), and I'm getting together with a few friends to consider the wacky idea of forming a band. Life is far from over.

11 July 2006

"The Man Upstairs"

The absolute worst line yet: 'Thru clouds of lace you'll see His face.' Come on! But I move on: I sing, and I progress. I open my heart.

I do pray, and I think that's one word that is has not been entirely reclaimed by my spiritual community, non-Judeo-Christians that we are. I am very careful in the way that I define prayer, and how I use it. I am influenced here by meditation practice, but also by Matthew Fox's book 'On Becoming A Musical Mystical Bear'. (I love Matthew Fox, he's my favorite Christian ever, besides my Mom.) I believe that prayer is not so much a speaking, as a being-with-myself-and-All-That-Is. I also don't think that prayer can be very effective as an asking: 'You give me this, please-o-please, and I'll do that.' I do believe in miracles, and I believe that knowing very clearly what I want can help me achieve it in ways that can feel very magickal, indeed. If I ask in a mindful way, I open up the most favorable possibilities for my dream to be realized, but I still need to have my eyes wide open to see the choices that arise.

In my very brief stint, a long time ago, as a born-again Christian, I discovered the beauty of extemporaneous prayer: prayer directly and spontaneously from the heart. It's this type of prayer that can tell you if you'll ever have a career as a preacher, and it's not at all limited to Christian prayer. I'm not against set prayers, though: my friend, Maria gave me a beautiful non-Christian prayer book last year, and we have a lovely book of 'Earth Prayers', and a book of table graces from various cultures. (As a side project, I would love to personally reclaim the idea of the rosary for myself: create my own list of prayers and remembrances tied to a beautiful and portable physical object. Starhawk's book about dying has an article on this process.) Prayer and poetry wonderfully intertwine at certain points, and speaking beautiful or evocative words aloud is always a pleasure.

Prayer is also a community-builder. Personally I saw this when my husband had surgery three years ago; I believe that every denomination that I had the vaguest connection to (an impressive list) had him on their prayer lists of whatever sort. He believed at the time that this was a definite help in his ordeal, and the recovery. For me, it was a great comfort to know that there was some sort of group mind that had him in their kind regard. Prayer is something to do, when there is nothing else to do, and that is not a small thing.

10 July 2006

"If I Can Help Somebody"

It just makes me wince. I know there is nothing inherently wrong with this song, it's just too pat. I really do have to figure out why this bugs me so much, since it's a sentiment that I can wholey endorse. Moving on.

My daughter is in swim lessons again this year, and again she's doing very well with it. I always felt like such a physical coward growing up, and I applaud all the ways in which she is not. She's already jumped into the twelve feet this year, although that was with my husband, I never would have thought of suggesting that to her at this stage myself.

I wasn't afraid of swimming, at least; in fact, that's one of the things I did fairly well in, going 'all the way': I eventually taught swimming myself, very happily. But in general I was afraid to take risks: crossing railroad bridges, riding high strung horses, riding a bike. I suppose that's not so bad, though. I *did* cross that bridge (which was covered with Gypsy Moth caterpillars), albeit very slowly, and bent down very low. I did get on that horse, and the swing of the other horse's head did, then, break my nose. I finally learned to ride a bike at the age of twelve, and wiping out rather dramatically did not stop me from getting on a bike later in college. Even if I never became an all-out screaming-down-the-rocky-trail mountain biker, I did do some trail riding on my bike, and I liked it tremendously. I could be worse. Maybe there's hope even for me.

08 July 2006

"Crying in the Chapel"

[Happy Birthday, Erica!]

Maybe it's just that I'm not an Elvis fan, but this one isn't doing it for me. I did try to use that to some extent while singing it: can I sing something well, give it depth and feeling, even if I personally don't like it much? Maybe so. But maybe not. That's one of the things I think I'm not getting about singing: the idea of selling the song, performing it more in the sense of acting, theatre, not just a pleasant voice singing a pretty tune with meaningful words.

It's this kind of thing that makes me wonder about learning, about the brain. How stretchy is my brain? How much new stuff can I take in, can I learn? How far could I go, now? It seems obvious that thinking and learning are 'use it or lose it' things. We can practice trying on new ideas, rolling them about in our heads, on our tongues: what happens? Does it taste good, does it taste true? This is how new ideas are digested.

Acting is a physical skill: Physicality driven by emotional content, and the coordination of the two, plus the chutzpa to be vulnerable in front of an audience, and the creativity to try different interpretations until the whole story makes sense. What a juggling act. I've always wanted to learn to juggle, and I've tried. I can do it for about twenty seconds, and then things get carried away. On the other hand, I can 'sell' things on a very personal level, I can persuade a person of my sincerity, commitment, friendship, or love.

I do know that I'm more tired these days, and that can't be discounted when it comes to learning new things. My energy level is not what it was. Still, when I run--taking an iPod break these days for my runs--I sort through all sorts of things. Ideas and plans settle down a bit more, shake off the dander, lose some weight.

Right now, just for kicks and giggles, I'm going to assume that I am capable of figuring out new tricks. Being exhausted will make it trickier to lift the veil, to confront my demons or my fears, but what the hell: I know that I'd regret not trying.

06 July 2006

"Somebody Bigger Than You and I"

Somehow this song was rather nice. I keep looking at the title, and I can't see how this could be so, but it is. Though I did not know this song before today, it has the feel of a beloved old song from days as a kid at camp. I did, in my personal world, hate my one camp experience, but I still have good memories of the music.

Lately it seems that I have too many days where I feel like crying most of the day. If money weren't so tight I would be thinking this was a sign that I should go back into therapy, which would frankly feel like a vacation: an hour a week talking to another adult. I'm not getting enough grown-up time, and there are too many stresses in my life right now. My head aches from trying to cope with them all. I'm needing computer game time, which is not altogether bad, but the extended desire is usually not a good sign, either.

I still plug away, most days. That's one benefit of adulthood: much coping practice. I can feel like shit all day long and still be polite, patient, and productive. I don't take that for granted, since I firmly believe that all of those things are an integral part of the grease of the gears of life. The smoother that the details of life go, the better able we are to cope with the need for careful work and planning, as well as actual emergencies. When the details are dealt with adequately, there is more time for relaxation, the reading of well-written escapist novels, computer games, and napping. Life can indeed still be good, even with stress singing its loud descant over everything else.

05 July 2006

"How Great Thou Art"

I just realized today that, not knowing much music in this genre, I get this song confused with 'His Eye Is On the Sparrow'. I kept waiting for that verse to come along, and it didn't, and it turns out it's a totally different song. Who knew! Maybe you! Moving right along. . .

My voice teacher, Beth, has encouraged me several times to do some God-thing: sign my daughter up for the very inexpensive Bible camp at her church, or come to services and sing some praise music with her choir. She isn't a born again sort of person, she's an ex-hippie with very liberal views, and I don't think she's trying to convert me to anything. For one thing, she doesn't know that there's anything to convert: our friendship hasn't gotten that far, yet. I haven't brought it up, I slide around the issue when it comes up.

I have other friends who know darn well that I am not a 'God-girl'. My dear friend, Zoey, who is so much of what I want to be when I grow up, is one of these. She is unafraid, interested, trying new things, while enriching her life with the old tried and true, dear-to-her-heart things. She's a mom, a writer, a tango dancer, and she looks fabulous. And she wants me to come to church and sing. She knows what I believe, we've had discussions about God as male-figure and the multitudinous problematic issues therein, if one happens to be a woman. I politely refuse her invitations, the lure of fabulous music has not been enough in a very long time, not when I cannot commit to the words I am singing. Every so often, though, she invites me again. I don't take offense.

I do believe that music is twice the prayer that the words are on their own. I take such joy in music: when it's good it is very very good. I believe that my words are powerful when I speak only the truth as I understand it, when I can commit utterly to what I say, again and again. I have not perfected this in my life by any means, but I make the attempt, it is in my daily consciousness.

As I am ok with not knowing things, I am also very ok with not revealing all of myself in a rush to a new friend. I believe that I will have the time that I need, that opportunities to share come when there is a need for them. If all is not revealed--ever--this is ok, too. I do think that I will tell Beth at some point sooner rather than later. It's a test that I hope I pass.

04 July 2006

"Dear Hearts and Gentle People"

This song was based on something written on a scrap of paper found in Stephen Foster's pocket, after his death by drinking. I would have preferred to have heard what Mr. Foster was planning to do with it, since this song sucks, though not as badly as other songs have sucked, to be fair. I have shamefully forgotten to mention that the first section in this new book is entitled 'Inspirational Hits of the 30's, 40's, and 50's'.

My husband and I are trying to instill some politeness, kindness, and sensitivity in our seven year old daughter. It's an endless, thankless, exhausting task. I cannot remember being this all-out rude to my parents at this age, that all came later when I spent years screaming and cussing at my father. I did not have the typical daughter-who-hates-her-mother relationship, my poor Dad got all the grief. (We did figure out how to get along in my late-late twenties.) Among my fears is that my daughter will hate me, her Mama, with a passion. I can certainly see glimpses of it now, and the seeming inevitability of it makes me want to cry.

I want to call my parents every day to thank them both for putting up with me, and then my four siblings. It seems like nothing short of a miracle that none of us (including my parents) has turned out to be an ax murder or anything similar. That I know of.

03 July 2006

"I Believe"

Today we start a brand new songbook, the 'Reader's Digest Family Songbook of Faith and Joy'. I know that I originally said that I wouldn't go through this one. Somehow, the vast number of songbooks that I have just wasn't feeling like enough faced with the prospect of running out of material. Sure, I could've gotten more books. In fact, I'm getting more books all the time. I did take a glance at the songs included herein, and decided that I could stomach it, that singing 'God' songs wouldn't kill me, and it might let me face some of my remaining issues around these things. I have long realized that I can make no assumptions about what the world will bring me, very specifically the assumption that that which I have encountered before will rub me the same way again: it ain't always so. Let's see what these have to offer, shall we?

'I believe for every drop of rain that fall, a flower grows.' No. That would just be too many flowers.

'I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows.' Duh!

'I believe for everyone that goes astray, someone will come to show the way.' I'm just not sure that it will be a way that has the best interests of the gone-astray one in mind.

'I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard. I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word.' Well, no, I don't believe that. But I understand that some people do. I don't think our differences in opinion on this means that we can't be friends, and make the world a better place to boot.

'Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky, then I know why I believe!' Yes. These things resonate deep inside of me. I might even call it belief.

02 July 2006

"God Bless America"

This is the last song in this book. It feels like a true Reader's Digest moment to end on a patriotic note. I liked singing this, even with the 'God' bit. It's another one that feels good in my mouth, good in my ear. I'm nervous about starting the 'songs of faith' book tomorrow, but I'm sure it will be good for me, somehow. I'm still trying to find an affordable copy of the Reader's Digest Country and Western Songbook. Who the heck else wants these things?

Patriotism is a tricky thing for me. I consider myself very lucky to be American, I know that I have it very good here, as a relatively average citizen. I cherish our collective story, and I cherish the people of our country. We have an energy that is rather forceful, admittedly, but it has its uses and even its charm at times. I do grieve the fact that there is no where in the world where my accent is considered 'charming', alas, and that large groups of people apparantly want to kill me because of where I live.

Our leadership is, unfortunately, not the cream of the crop, and I regularly feel incredibly embarassed at their actions and decisions. Very few people in charge seem to be obviously planning for any kind of healthy long-term goals, and I have a bias against those who do not plan for the future. I vote every election, I do attempt to have some say in the matter. Democracy does seem like the best idea, but it is an awful lot of work to do it right on even a personal level.

Tribal consciousness seems an inevitable part of who we are, hard-wired into our beings. We need enemies in order to define ourselves by what we are not. In this technological age, when the world feels in many ways very small, needing this kind of definition seems very counter-productive for our long term survival as a planet. How can I be proud to be American, if it means that I should be hating other people, or needing their inevitable change, as a part of that definition? Knowing that my government has technologically advanced methods of destruction at its fingertips? Why the hell can't we all be part of a happy, difference-appreciative family? Can the large scale population of Earth ever reflect the best that is possible on a smaller, more personal scale?

July fourth has never been a big holiday for me, fireworks are very pretty, but very loud. In the last few years I've come to appreciate a nice barbeque or picnic with friends, though we don't have anything like that planned for this year. I hope that America is blessed with grace, with understanding and wisdom, with a vision that we can all agree on.

01 July 2006

"With These Hands"

This song was originally commisioned for use in a documentary about a Garment Workers' Union, but it became this romantic theme, instead, which I'm sure close to none of you know at all. The most exciting thing here--and with my playing and singing in general--is the increasing ease with which I'm able to do it. I can sight read a song, the piano accompanyment and the vocal melody together, and get it fairly right on the first go through. This has been a fantasy of mine from that first moment of piano playing lust in the high school band room. Now, finally, with no one to sing along, and singing songs that pretty much no one knows, I can do it. It's still satisfying, and really, really fun.

My other big accomplishment of late is a knitting one (though I also got to run this morning for the first time in two weeks, since that awful race). I knitted four sweaters way back in my college days, and only one of them has survived. I still quite like that one, wear it, even. Two of the remaining four were just too simple for my tastes in the end, though there was a satisfaction in finishing them as projects. The fourth was a sweater for my brother, Chris. He purchased the yarn, I made the sweater in an embarassingly long time, gave it to him, and never heard or saw it again. I'm not sure if it was awful, or it didn't fit, but I never wanted to know.

In the last couple of years, after a long and lovely time crocheting afghans exclusively, I've again been inspired to knit. A friend of mine introduced me to some lovely patterns by Elsebeth Lavold, a designer clever enough to produce her own line of yarn that fits these patterns o-so-perfectly. I got the yarn for the easiest of the sweaters on eBay, after many months of waiting for it to fall into a price range that I could vaguely justify. This would be, even so, the most expensive sweater I had ever made, and the most difficult, I felt, since I was determined this time to do things properly, and not just guess at how to do all the increases and decreases.

I completed most of the back of the sweater--the simplest bit--last summer. I ripped part of it out three times to accomplish this much. Then, reaching areas where I would have to actually do those increases and decreases properly, I panicked. I stopped, tucking the sweater away in fear.

This year my knitting has done much better in general. I've started to take some basic classes to help overcome my fears. I do well with a physical skill like this when I see it done in person. My stuffed and felted hedgehog was a hugely satisfying thing. Ah! the casting on in the middle, the increases, the decreases, the picking up of stiches! So, finally, I felt ready to again pick up this sweater. Also, having worked on it while camping last August, I didn't want to be working on it again this year while camping with the same people.

And here it is: I completed the back, and the front is well on its way. If it's not complete by August 9th, I may just take it with me anyway, it's so lovely. And I've signed up for a sock class this month, as well, to promote further leaping over my chosen fear-ridden projects. I can't feel so bad about getting older when I do, finally, sometimes, break through and finish what I've begun.

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