Saturday, December 31, 2011
Barbara Cook, a lifetime of giving her song to the world ~ and we are grateful!
Dear Friends and Readers,
On this last day of the Year 2011 I wish you all peace, fulfillment, and happiness in the year ahead. Some people believe that 2012 is the year the world will end (Mayan Calendar) and others are filled with dread that another year of economic downturn is upon us.
But I say, let 2011 go and embrace 2012 with a song. While I was recovering from a nasty flu virus this week a friend send me an email and said, "Turn on the TV and watch the Kennedy Center Awards and listen to Barbara Cook sing. Her singing will heal you."
I'd never heard of Barbara Cook and this is quite strange, since she was singing when I lived in New York City and loved Broadway musicals. So it's astonishing that I'd never heard her rare and clear soprano soaring above an audience or intimately embracing a cabaret crowd.
Now, that I've heard her, I'll never stop listening! I not so much starstruck ~ as Song-struck. Here are some of my favorite You Tube clips -- and you also might be moved, as I was, by her story. Her recovery. And her nine decades of devotion to the music that opens our hearts.
As a longtime singer myself, I'm so cheered by the fact that her voice is getting better with age -- darker and more resonant, not the sometimes overly bright lights of youth, but the mature and seasoned wisdom of so long living.
Happy New Year and yours in harmony. Keep singing!
Here's a You Tube of the Kennedy Center Honors with clips from her musical history:
And a terrific NPR interview with her "My Life is Work in Progress"
Posted by Brenda S. Peterson at 1:52 PM
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Happy Holidays to all of my friends and readers,
Here to celebrate the season are several offerings I hope you enjoy!
First, an audio excerpt from NPR station KUOW in Seattle, "The Hugest, Most Miraculous Christmas Eve Bubble"as produced and told to NPR host Megan Sukys, who herself also has roots in the South. For those of you who are aspiring authors, compare the difference between my "talk story" on NPR and the written account of the same Live Nativity event in my recent memoir.
Writing is for the eye and storytelling is for the ear. They are very different ways of telling a story. For those of you who want to find the Live Nativity story in my memoir, it's on page 50-51. Note how the epiphany is slightly different in the spoken story, more in keeping with the oral tradition.The ear is more impatient than the eye -- and yet sometimes I think the ear is more open, less jaded. For those of you who are writers, try to always read aloud your written work. You'll hear places to edit and add.You'll also hear when it falls flat and when it suddenly takes flight. A fascinating process!
The Hugest, Most Miraculous Christmas Eve Bubble
Seattle–based writer Brenda Peterson grew up in a strict Southern Baptist family in Virginia. Every Christmas Eve, her church would produce a living Nativity, a tableau of the birth of Jesus featuring live animals. One year, the Nativity offered a lesson in mercy that Brenda will always remember. She shares her story of camel–dogs, sausage cookies and the biggest bubble gum bubble she's ever seen.
And here is my new Huffington Post. Yours in harmony,
Sing, Make a Joyful Sound:
How Singing Helps Us
Posted: 12/23/11 01:05 PM ET
Every holiday season, our Metropolitan Singers perform concerts in retirement centers as part of our Seattle Glee Clubs' community service. It's musical light during these darkest days of the year, live music to accompany those elders who often can't get out and about for other concerts. So we bring music to them.
We always ask the elders to join us in holiday songs. And every year, as I recognize some of the same elders -- who are also the strongest singers -- I marvel at how singing and good health are connected.
This year, as we stand before over 60 elders, we warm up in front of a bright and fanciful Christmas tree. This audience is mostly women, with a few fortunate gentlemen who get lots of attention.
Our inspiring director, John, wittily engages the crowd with introductions to our lively spiritual "Great, Getting' Up Morning."
"Gabriel, Gabriel, blow your trumpet!" we sing, rejoicing in our four-part treble harmonies.
Feet start tapping, silver heads nodding and a gentleman in the front row hums
right along with us.
right along with us.
Our Russian-trained accompanist, Diana, passionately leans into the ringing chords, "In that morn, fare thee well!" and everybody claps happily.
Then we shift into the lilting melodies of two Russian lullabies, "Little Birch Tree" and "Good Night." Diana has taught us the tongue-twisting Russian patiently -- and phonetically. Diana's piano always lifts us up. Before immigrating to the U.S. with her family, Diana taught in a Russian music conservatory for 20 years.
"Music is its own country," Diana always says. "It makes you forget all your pain."
It does seem to have that healing effect on the elders. They sit up straighter; others lean forward into the music like spindly plants to sunlight.
As we move into "Isn't It Romantic," a song from their generation, the elders smile dreamily and close their eyes, remembering. Romance is eternal. And I see a very old couple reach out very shyly and take each other's hands. How many decades have they loved each other?
"Isn't it romantic, only to be young on such a night as this?" we sing.
And suddenly I remember one of the influential elders in my life, Beata, explaining to me, "The tragedy of getting old is that you're not really old. Inside, you're still young."
Beata was 72 and I was 24. I didn't understand her meaning at the time. But now I do. Memory keeps us always young, even as our bodies fail, even as we sometimes forget ourselves.
Singing, like memory, can also help keep us young. Research has indicated that singing may help to enhance memory. "How Singing Improves Your Health" advises, "Singing, particularly in a chorus, seems to benefit the elderly particularly well."
The article cites a three-year study of how singing affects the health of those 55 and older. Seniors who participated in a chorale showed significant health improvements compared to others their age: fewer doctor visits, fewer eyesight problems and falls, improved lung capacity and less asthma, less incidence of depression -- even the need for medication decreased.
The average age of the elder singers studied was 80, and they noticed that singing improved their posture, breathing, mood, and their energy level. Overall, their quality of life was heightened by the simple act of singing, especially in community.
More brain research has shown surprising results in singing as a way of easing Alzheimer's disease. Singing for the Brain is an organization that helps those with dementia, Alzheimer's, and memory problems through singing. "Music has the ability to access words," says Singing for the Brain voice coach Liz McNaughton. "People who have lost their ability to speak can access songs and words from melody."
If singing can help us as we age, what can it do for us at all ages of life? Brian Eno, British composer and producer of Talking Heads and U2, told National Public Radio that "Singing is the key to a long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor."
Amen, brother. And sister! Who wouldn't want to join in communal singing with that recommendation?
As we all, elders and chorale join together at the end of our Seattle concert to sing holiday songs, I feel a surge of physical well-being and gratitude to all the voices raised so strongly.
"Joy to the world," the elders sing with us.
And yes, that's what I feel now. Joy to be joining my voice with others, to still be in this world together, surviving and singing.
Brenda Peterson is the author of 16 books, including the recent memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which was named a "Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Book of 2010" by The Christian Science Monitor. Many of the chapter titles in this book were song titles. For more: www.IWantToBeLeftBehind.com
Posted by Brenda S. Peterson at 1:11 PM
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Some of my students have asked me for a list of my favorite memoirs. Here are a few memoirs that still live with me and that I refer to in my own storytelling. Enjoy this holiday season!
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou
No Hurry to Get Home Emily Hahn
Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank
Hope Against Hope Nadia Mandelstam
The Good, Good Pig Sy Montgomery
Strange Piece of Paradise Terri Jentz
The Tenth Muse: My life in Food Judith Jones
The Inner Voice: The Making of a
Singer Renee Fleming
Truth and Beauty Anne Patchett
Woman Who Watches Over the World Linda Hogan
My Family and Other Animals Gerald Durrell
Of Wolves and Men Barry Lopez
Thinking in Pictures Temple Grandin
Posted by Brenda S. Peterson at 10:58 PM