April 30, 2017

Local 1000 Gathering @ Ashokan

Earlier this month, for the 5th time, I coordinated the gathering of my union brothers and sisters (Local 1000 AFM--American Federation of Musicians) as we gathered at this amazing and historic Ashokan Center in Olive Bridge, New York.

Members Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (pictured here) sang us a lovely song about living in the Catskill Mountains.

This camp is the home of the music and dance camps that they have facilitated for decades, and which gave birth to the famous "Ashokan Farewell" song that Ken Burns featured in his Civil War documentary series.

The topic of this year's gathering was mentoring.

Remembering who has helped us get to where we are, and also paying attention to who we are currently helping along the way. 

With my good sister, Tret Fure, I led a Crowdfunding workshop which then our other faithful sister, Erin Mae Lewis led in our Virtual Union hall meeting later in the month.

Two insights from this gathering:


My friend and brother, Scott Berwick, shared this story from a classical guitar instructor who demonstrates to student visitors a piece of music, then comments:

"That was correct.
All the notes were played in the right order and with the correct timing.
But that wasn't musical."

Then he plays it again with expression and dynamics and the two performances are nearly unrecognizable to each other.

He then says to the students,

"Students come here playing guitar. 

What I teach them is how to play music on the guitar."

Second is a question upon which I will chew and chew

How do we measure success?

If it is by comparison to someone or something...we'll probably never measure up.  So I need (and am finding) a different definition.

This commencement address by Maria Popovich of Brainpickings Weekly, underscores that point.

Here is an excerpt:

"...I also practically live on my bike — that’s how I get everywhere — and the other week, on one of those first days of spring, I was riding from Brooklyn to Harlem. I had somewhere to be and was pedaling pretty fast — which I like doing and must admit I take a certain silly pride in — but I was also very much enjoying the ride and the river and the spring air that smelled of plum blossoms. And then, I sensed someone behind me in the bike path, catching up, going even faster than I was going. It suddenly felt somehow competitive. He was trying to overtake me. I pedaled faster, but he kept catching up. Eventually, he did overtake me — and I felt strangely defeated.
But as he cruised past me, I realized the guy was on an electric bike. I felt both a sort of redemption and a great sense of injustice — unfair motorized advantage, very demoralizing to the honest muscle-powered pedaler. But just as I was getting all self-righteously existential, I noticed something else — he had a restaurant’s name on his back. He was food delivery guy. He was rushing past me not because he was trying to slight me, or because he had some unfair competitive advantage in life, but because this was his daily strife — this is how this immigrant made his living.
My first response was to shame myself into gratitude for how fortunate I’ve been — because I too am an immigrant from a pretty poor country and it’s some miraculous confluence of choice and chance that has kept me from becoming a food delivery person on an electric bike in order to survive in New York City. And perhaps the guy has a more satisfying life than I do — perhaps he had a good mother and goes home to the love of his life and plays the violin at night. I don’t know, and I never will. But the point is that the second I begin comparing my pace to his, my life to his, I’m vacating my own experience of that spring day and ejecting myself into a sort of limbo of life that is neither mine nor his."

Grunewald Songwriting Workshop

Jan Krist, visual artist and song-writer, led us through a powerful creative process at the Songwriting Workshop she hosted at the Grünewald Guild in Leavenworth Washington this Spring.

The Grunewald Guild is named for Matthias Grünewald, 
"a German painter who ignored the classicism and idealism of the current Renaissance style and painted in a more expressive and intense style than his contemporaries."
The Guild is a retreat center and a community that facilitates the exploration between art and faith/spirituality.
At the beginning of 2016  had committed to set aside some time and resources for my first continuing education time in many years so when my daughter invited me to join her at this songwriting workshop, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
My Assigned writing companion.
For a long time I have felt like my creative voice was being given expression only in instrumental music, with there being little to say of any value or interest in the current climate of wordiness. 
There IS power in nonverbal music, nonverbal communication, which I see daily in my Music Together classes with preschool (and pre-literate) human beings.
However, thanks to the safe (and challenging) container that Jan helped to create and a process which helped to facilitate focus and a timeframe to produce a song to share with the rest of the community at the end of the retreat...I found myself rejuvenated and refreshed!
 My "office" on the bridge and my explorations of the external geography (which paralleled and revealed my internal geography) led me to produce not one but two songs!  

This earned me the title of "overachiever"!  lovingly bestowed upon me by the rest of the group.

Demo recordings of Barefoot Ballet and The Center Calls have been shared with my patrons as rewards on my patreon page  and are in consideration for a new recording project as well.

Three Times

"Three times, you may deny me, as Peter, before the cock crowed two...."

I was still in high school when I penned these lyrics, working the song over and over in the lounge of my home church in Pemberville, Ohio.

As is common with vibrant teens, my heart was longing for a just-out-of-reach love focus, and it was all mixed up with my faith language, in the traditional (although I didn't yet know it) vein of pietist poetic verse.

And these interchanges between Jesus and his disciple, Peter, had always held my fascination.  In one of the King James Gospels the archaic "thrice" was used for three times and I latched on to that word, and from there the story, not of betrayal, but of denial and disappointment.  I supposed this echoed my own life more than the out-right betrayal by Judas, and seemed a little more "acceptable" even thoguh it was really a "I'm scared and I'm going to try and lie my way out of danger" story.

So after all this is predicted and occurs, we then hear what Jesus didn't speak in the story so directly.

"...but I'll still love you."

Three Times (listen)

As I began playing this song for the worship around the tables in the fellowship hall of the church where my spouse is pastor, my mind simultaneously flashed through 40 years of Maundy Thursdays and other performances of this song:

Singing with Beloved, a youth singing group from my home church, Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran, from beside the choir loft, the first time it was sung in worship—on Maundy Thursday.

In concerts with Beloved, including a set at the Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE) Congress in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sharing the song with the LYE team who came and worked with our youth group for a summer week of faith and fun, and then hearing that they took the song back and sang it for the final gathering of all the summer youth teams where it was a hit. (!)

Singing this song on a television interview program, taped in an actual television studio in Columbus, Ohio, (although the interview was for a college class on television production.)

And then (I believe) in every congregation I've been affiliated with throughout college and seminary, in Columbus, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Fort Collins and San Mateo for 40 years.

And as we sang the song last night, feet and hands were being washed as a sign of service, which some people call the other sacrament commanded by Jesus in the gospel of John; voices were raised in a reminder that even though we fall away, even though we deny, even though our courage falters...

...that love remains and holds us.

After publishing this post, I learned that YouthEncounter, the subsequent name of Lutheran Youth Encounter, is closing its doors on April 3rd.  While I am sad to learn this news, I am also grateful for their service and inspiration since 1965.

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Now for something different on Valentine’s Day!

by Steve Eulberg

Dear Patrons,  (This post was originally written on my PATREON page.  If you'd like to be MY supporter, you can click on this link to find out how your support helps me.)

This post is unusual because it isn't about what I've been able to produce, but it IS about how art inspires art.  

Grit Laskin,  a member of my union local (Local 1000 AFM-American Federation of Musicians), is a builder of amazing guitars.  (I have loved every one that I've had a chance to play!)

Grit's artistry is not confined to the sonic qualities of building, but he is particularly known for the visual artistry in the one-of-a-kind inlay that he custom designs and builds on the headstock and necks of his guitars.

I have only seen a few of these in person, but I was transfixed by his now-out-of-print coffee table book, A Guitarmaker’s Canvas—The Inlay Art Of Grit LaskinThe beauty and imagination from those pages inspired me.

As my local 1000 sister, Cathy Fink, says in the video above, not only is she fortunate to be Grit's friend for 40 years, she and Marcy are stewards of some of his instruments, which inspire them in their music-making and creation.

So, on this Valentine's Day, here is my Valentine for you, my patrons:  this art, to which I have no connection other than being drawn in and bewitched by its beauty, gives me encouragement to follow my muses as they whisper and beckon me forward on my creative path.

Your support helps me to keep my focus and move forward on the stumbling steps of creativity.  Thanks for being my Valentines!


FINALIST in 2015 Song Contest!

I received the following email this morning:

"Dear Steve,

  Congratulations The MY HERO Project  and Guitars in the Classroom have selected your song "I Am A Pond" to be a finalist in our 2015 Hero Song Contest. 

Voting ballots are going out to teachers and music professionals and winners will be announced on March 1, 2016

Thank You,
Stuart Pearlman
MY HERO Audio Manager"

Of course I am tickled by this!  (I believe it was entered into the ECO Song Contest).  
Both of these organizations are pretty amazing groups of people with life-changing and affirming goals.

So there you go.  Inspired by the curriculum of the naturalist director of a youth camp, I wrote this theme song, which has been endorsed by a macrobiologist at Colorado State University as "true and accurate in every part."  It has been used in a middle school science curriculum and sung at church camps and youth events.

It was recorded in 2001 and now, 15 years later, a Finalist for an award that didn't exist when the song was conceived and born.

Ain't life grand?

Watch a live performance of the song below:

Listen to (and purchase) the recorded track here:

This tune was recorded on my 2001 CD, Soaring

The Playalong Book is downloadable here
The Soaring Recording is downloadable here
The physical CD can be purchased and mailed to you here.

Ashes sung by a Children’s Choir

Many years ago, as Ash Wednesday approached, I found myself singing the ditty, "ashes, ashes, we all fall down."  As I began to ponder what song to use for the imposition of ashes in our service, I was suddenly stuck in the spell of the songwriting muse when I was able to do nothing until this song was complete!

The "ashes, ashes" theme became the spark that I developed into a hymn for Ash Wednesday (which begins the Christian liturgical season of Lent), building on the traditional text from Matthew, but also including Job and Luke in the verses.

This song has been sung for the Ash Wednesday worship at several different congregations through the years since it was composed, but this year I was offered a special treat.

My Music Together colleague, Liesl McPherrin, wrote and asked if the music was available for her 3rd-4th Grade Choir at St. Matthew's Episcopal School to sing for their chapel service on Ash Wednesday.  After she received it and began rehearsing, she requested that I come to a rehearsal and let the students "meet the composer."

So early this past Wednesday morning I met the students in their Music Room before school and they warmed up and sang through the song.

I sat there with chills, hearing these children's voices.  I had never heard a children's choir sing the song, but their voices were the perfect match.  And the accompanist was hearing the music I intended and often perform, but which wasn't written on the page in order to keep it accessible for the majority of accompanists.  It was a taste of heaven!

Together we talked about how the song came about and I gave some feedback on their delivery after we explored the meaning of the text.

They sang it again with attentive response to their director and then were eager to join me for this selfie before I left to teach Music Together Classes.

Liesl, their director, asked how many children were alumni of Music Together.  They looked puzzled until I started singing, Hello, Everybody... and then there was much recognition.  As I left, I sang the Goodbye, so long farewell my friends, closing song and they all joined!

What a treasure this day was!

“Shaped Wind, Breath, Spirit, the Animating Force…”

...is how I began my multi-cultural educational presentation at the Peninsula Multi-Faith Coalition meeting this past Monday evening.

Starting with Native American flute and then moving to Australian Didjeridoo, I demonstrated this animating force and commented on the connections it has with all of the various faith traditions gathered in the room.

Then moving to djembe, a drum that was designed for healing (like a chalice) in Mali, I recalled that some people believe that our first religion, as humans, was dance, right after we started drumming.

(As a parent of two, and a current preschool music teacher in Peninsula Music Together, I can attest to the truth that we are all percussionists First!)

Another characteristic of African drummers is the awareness or belief that the rhythms are eternal and that what we are seeking to do is to create the conditions for them to come and inhabit us for a time, flowing through us for the good of the community.

After this I demonstrated how the music of Chinese, Arabic and African-American people can be played on the Hammered Dulcimer without retuning, simply by starting in a different place and playing the scales native to each.

Contradicting scholar Stephen Pinker, who once declared that music was "auditory cheesecake," I shared what the rest of the scholarly community knows about the power of music:

It helps us get together to find partners to keep the species going.
It helps us build group identity and cohesion.
It can soothe infants (and perhaps keep them safe in times of danger).  [The brain waves and heart rates of both mother and child have been documented to settle into very calm rhythms with the singing of a lullabye, a condition which lasts for more than 30 minutes after the singing has ended.]

I related a story from my own parenting:  When my son, Zach, had night terrors, the only song that would calm him was the African-American spiritual, Wade in the Water (which we had just gotten done singing as a group.)

I shared Pete Seeger's Preface in the new Rise Again Songbookwhich I just received as a gift for Christmas.

"The older I get, the more I am convinced that if there's a human rase in a hundred years, one of the main reasons will be that we found ways we can sing together.  Different religions, different languages—the act of singing together makes us realize we're human beings.  We can't put it in words.  To a certain extent all the arts are important—the dancing arts!  Cooking arts! Humor arts! Sports!

But if we're still here I believe singing will be a main reason why.  Not solo singing, singing together.  Families can sing together.  Strangers can sing together.  People who think they hate each other can sing together.  

And perhaps if we find the right songs, even people who are so filled with hate they are ready to pull the trigger on somebody—we can reach them too.  Who knows?"

I then sang a snippet from a Russian lullabye:  (phonetically spelled here)

Poost veg dah, bood yet solhnsay
Poost veg dah, bood yet nyaybah
Poost veg dah, bood yet mama
Poost veg dah, bood do yah.

May there always be sunshine,
May there always be blue skies,
May there always be Mama,
May there always be me.

It was been said that when the soldiers were called to the Kremlin at the end of the USSR, their mothers and babushkas lined the roads and sang this to them, and they didn't fire upon the crowds.

Music is powerful.  They found a song that kept them from pulling the trigger.

Then my wonderful spouse, Connie, joined me in singing Santa Cruz songwriter, Jon Fromer's amazing song:  Gonna Take Us All

It IS gonna take us all, and we CAN do it.

Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival

Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend, Machinist's Hall, Burlingame, California:

Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival

It was supposed to be both the 30th Anniversary and the final celebration of an amazing gathering of poets, singers, songwriters and artists from labor unions in the west.  The inspiration of Jimmy, a singing mail carrier who attended the Great Labor Arts Exchange in the DC area and decided that the West Coast region needed something like this, it was carried forward by Jon Fromer and David Winters and Shelley (I'm Not Your Mother!).

The terrific news I was greeted with as I arrived this year is that there is an energetic group of young workers who have formed a team to continue this festival in a new way.  So the wake turned out to be a Wake-Up and holler in joy!

I was particularly moved this year by workshops:

By the silver-and-acid-tongued Professor Louie, the Brooklyn Street Poet who has won the Poetry Prize at the Great Labor Arts Festival for multiple years, whose workshop on humor and stories was insightful and entertaining.

By the dedicated, careful and direct songwriters, Charlie King and Dave Lippman, whose workshop on Writing Parodies unveiled a level of care and sophistication that put me in a state of awe and inspired me to think in much broader and more careful terms.

Instead of mourning the passing of this powerful gathering, I am celebrating and eager to see what will come next!

I Wonder as I Wander Bass Mountain Dulcimer Solo

Sometimes the road leads right back home,

but the wondering doesn't stop.

Here I am playing a bass solo on the bass mountain dulcimer I converted from a Hughes Church Dulcimer kit several years ago.

The tune is "I Wonder As I Wander" and is featured on a baritone mountain dulcimer on my CD

'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime and an arrangement of it is is included in my book Dulcimer-Friendly Worship, Vol III: Christmas in a Mellow Mode. 

An .mp3 and the tablature for this arrangement is a reward for supporters of my Patreon Campaign at http://patreon.com/steveeulberg

I also teach this tune on both mountain and hammered dulcimers at http://dulcimercrossing.com

Invitation to Advent Dulcimer Devotions

Here is an Invitation for you!

I have put together some Advent Dulcimer Devotions, delivered weekly to your email inbox for the 4 weeks of Advent.  

These are instrumental recordings of Advent hymns, played on various ensembles of mountain and hammered dulcimers, sometimes with additional accompaniment.  

They can be just what your centering practice desires for the hectic days and weeks before Christmas actually arrives:

You can sign up here:  http://eepurl.com/bFCEhD

or go to my website and sign up in the middle of the page:  http://owlmountainmusic.com


Steve Eulberg

PS I will also be giving a Concert Window Concert of Advent Tunes on Monday, Nov 30 at 5:30 pm PST, 6:30 pm MST, 7:30 pm CST, 8:30 pm EST