Musicians Are Both Particles and Waves

Just like light, we exist in distinct packets, each with our own ideas about music, our own instrument, our own methods, our own instructions for creating a structure of sound and silence. We combine our packets of distinctness, and music is born.

And yet, when we bow or pluck a string, strike a stretched skin or a disc of hammered metal, or use our breath to set a column of air in motion, we are waves. With every dance with our instruments, we create waves of vibration that excite and move the molecules of air and matter, of skin and bone and the tiniest membrane of the human body.

Our waves of vibration travel outward from our instruments, joining the vibration of every living and non-living thing, onward to infinity, echo of the Original Vibration.


Listen as a particle would listen, from the the center of your distinct and solitary being, from your seat of separateness. Listen to one pure tone, be it bowed or plucked, blown or struck.

Listen. Follow the sound with your eyes as it leaves you. Do you see the air shimmer as it passes through?

Listen. Follow the sound with your ears to the very edge of audibility. Do you still hear it in the silence?

Listen. Follow the sound as it enters your body. Does your heart quicken in recognition?


Become the wave.

Now, fly.


Holiday Lights at the Garden – 2017 Edition

On a balmy night after Christmas, and before the arrival of the “Arctic Blast,” I made my annual trip to see the holiday lights and orchids at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Once there, I found out that my camera wasn’t working. So for the first time, I used my iPhone 6 to take the Garden photographs.

I hope you enjoy this bit of holiday magic.

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From the archives: A Christmas Story

I first posted this story in November 2010. I needed to read it again, and thought others might enjoy the trip in the Wayback Machine.

There were two women waiting together for their order at a coffee shop on a sunny afternoon, just a couple of weeks after Halloween. The shop was already decorated for Christmas, with red ribbons and sparkling lights strung throughout the crowded space. Muzak-ed Christmas carols could be heard under the din of coffee grinding and espresso brewing.

One of the women complained about how annoying it was to be bombarded with Christmas music and Christmas decorations and all the Christmas marketing before Thanksgiving could even be thought about, let alone celebrated.

The other woman had lived in Spain for a time, where, she said, not so much was made of Christmas – it was a day, not a season. One of the things she said she missed the most, and most enjoyed when she returned to the States, was all the lights and decorations and music that is so much a part of Christmas here.

The first woman listened to this story and wondered, “Who said that Christmas decorations should wait until December? Who said that this season of joy and good will should be limited to a week before Christmas? When did sparkling Christmas lights and decorated doors and shop fronts lose their magic?”

She looked around her, really seeing the twinkling lights draping the menu boards and window frames, taking in the sight of the baristas in red Santa hats pulling espresso shots. She could hear the melody of an old carol under the noise of people ordering drinks and milk being steamed. She inhaled a deep breath of air spiced with coffee and gingerbread, and smiled as this little bit of Christmas magic entered her heart.

And still this Christmas season, the sights of houses outlined in colored lights, yards festooned with inflated snowmen and Santas, Christmas trees viewed through neighbors’ windows, and the sounds of Christmas music both old and new make her smile; make her happy that this season of joy, peace and goodwill begins earlier and earlier in the streets and storefronts and in her heart. All because of a 30-second conversation while waiting for two cups of coffee to be poured.

We rarely get to know how what we say influences a life, how our story helps rewrite the story of another, or what gifts our words may become. To my friend, waiting with me in the coffee shop, I say, “Thank you – for your story, and the warmth of that cup of coffee, and the delight in Christmas that returned to me on that November day.”


Where Is Winter?

Where is winter? Yes, I know, it’s another 24 days until astronomical winter. The solstice will duly arrive on December 21st, at 11:28 am EST. But meteorological winter should have made an appearance by now.

I remember Novembers with both mountain snowfall and frozen Piedmont ponds. Instead, it’s 65 degrees outside. Spring-blooming ornamentals, like my neighbor’s azaleas, are in full flower. What passes for my lawn sports new violets and buttercups. The cannas outside my front door don’t have the first hint of frostbite.

At least the maple trees have finally assumed their seasonal responsibility for providing autumnal color. They set scarlet, orange and gold leaves adrift on today’s all-too-warm breezes. But none of the oaks, be they red, white, willow or burr, are contributing to the fall color spectrum. They still appear fully foliaged, and are only hinting at the russets, browns and bronzes their leaves are destined to become.

This endless warmth and green and sunlight has to stop. I need winter. I need to light the first fire on the first frigid night, and lose my thoughts in the dance of the flames. I need to rest my eyes on tones of brown and gray, need to see the still hidden bones of the trees silhouetted against a steel-gray sky. I need to hear the cold silence of a dark morning as stars still sparkle overhead. I need to feel the fierce bite of the north wind wresting the warmth from my face as I pad down the driveway, wrapped in fleece.

It’s been a hard year. Too many hours spent in emergency departments and hospital rooms. Too few hours spent with my dear friend before she was gone. Too much fear. Too much dread. Too many goodbyes.

I need winter. I long for dormancy, for the deep winter sleep of trees. I need to be winter-chilled like a tulip, left undisturbed, underground, to gather life and the promise of growth from the dark earth. I need the coming months of palest winter light and cold, need frost to cover me like a blanket, need darkness to be a bed in which I may rest.

I need winter. Where IS it?


Harp Lesson Take-Aways: 3/7/2017

Every week, after my harp lesson, I pull out my practice planner and write down what I want to make sure that I remember from my lesson, what workshop facilitators and teachers call “take-aways.” This week’s lesson went deep. My teacher and I discussed a post from The Bulletproof Musician, about musicians being on the same path, and passing the same milestones. Some are just further down the path than others.

My teacher talked about the challenges of working on new music while knowing harpists who might sit down and play the same new pieces in half the time. I talked about my challenge with still having to program every bit of playing choreography into my fingers, slowly repeating each movement until left and right hand can dance together on the strings. I long for spontaneity, for being able to combine accompaniment patterns without first writing them out and programming them into my fingers.

Yet the real challenges are being kind to ourselves, and accepting and welcoming being exactly where we are, and recognizing and celebrating what we have accomplished so far. And from that kind and welcoming place, sitting down on the harp bench and doing the work, whatever that work is right now, today.

For me, the work is to become automatic with more left hand patterns, and to be quicker to knit these new patterns together with a melody line. My teacher assures me that as new patterns and hand shapes become imbedded in my musical vocabulary, the more I will be able to draw on them to express what I am trying to say with my music. Spontaneity will emerge naturally as my vocabulary of patterns deepens, as I carefully teach each finger how to play with these new accompaniment ideas.

I pulled a notebook off my bookshelf yesterday, the one labeled “Left Hand Patterns and Accompaniments.” I remembered that when I first started this notebook, playing a 1-5-8 left-hand pattern was still hard for me to do. I remembered that when I started harp lessons I could not play that pattern at all. For years, every time I found anything about playing the left hand, I put it in this notebook. It’s been waiting for me, waiting for the day when my brain and my hands could understand these new and different ways of moving.

Reading through these handouts, I found out that my left hand can play all of them. My fingers can find the right strings and pluck the correct rhythms of all these complex left-hand patterns. What ever magic happens to create new capabilities of muscle control was at work behind the scenes, without fanfare or my noticing. Now my challenge is to pick the left-hand patterns that offer me the widest range of useful possibilities, and begin to match new left-hand patterns to right-hand melodies and improvisations. I reached another way-marker on the path, without even realizing that I was traveling forward.

My lesson: Whenever I am sitting on the harp bench, present and aware of my practicing, mindful of my work, I am progressing. I am traveling forward on this path of being a musician. I am learning, I am forming new neural connections, I am expanding my possibilities. The magic is at work, making me a more skilled and confident musician, whether or not I notice it happening. What looks like being stuck, or at a plateau, or making no progress at all, is in reality a mysterious and secret consolidation of intent and experience; a process that keeps its own private timetable of completions, of announcing that I’ve taken another step forward on the path.

My harp mantra, the one I routinely forget, is “It takes what it takes.” However much time and repetition it takes to secure a new point of mastery will not be determined by my desires and demands for quicker learning and quicker results. I can’t demand a seed to sprout sooner, to grow faster, because I want to eat a juicy , red garden tomato next week. It takes what it takes to grow a tomato. And it takes what it takes to grow a musician.

My job is to sit down on the harp bench with the harp and do the work. To keep the weeds of expectations and comparisons out of my musical garden. To stop whining about what I can’t do, and what I think I should be able to do, and play. And then, just for a moment, appreciate how far I’ve traveled from when I first pulled a harp to my heart and for the very first time, plucked a string.


Holiday Lights at the Garden 2016

I made my annual trip to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden to see the holiday lights last night. The night of my visit last year was uncharacteristically balmy. This year it was just plain hot-67 degrees at 6p.m. No fumbling for the camera through coats and mitten-encased fingers required.

The new light exhibit this year is called Blue Arches. Come enjoy the garden with me!


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My Christmas Tree Is Full of Stories

I know many people who view decorating their Christmas tree as an art form. Their Christmas tree is the centerpiece of their home for the holidays. Perhaps all their tree lights are white, or only one color of ornaments hang from the branches. Or maybe there is a theme – Santas, or snowflakes, or even favorite sports teams.

That’s not for me. Anything that glitters and can be held by a hook might find a place on my tree. And so, my Christmas tree is full of stories. Every ornament has its own memory, its own story that it holds in safe-keeping year after year. These are a few of my favorites:


My first grade teacher, Sister Mary Cecelia, gave all the children in her classroom a music themed ornament for Christmas 1958. Sister Cecelia was my introduction to music. Because of her, we sang in school every day, and learned all manner of music via call-and-response and Kodaly. My first grade class sang Gregorian chant in Latin before most of us could read “Run, Spot, run.”

This little angel holds her bow with her palm facing upwards, which means she is playing a member of the viola de gamba family. Fifty years later, I begin playing early music in a recorder ensemble and hanging out with a vexation of viol players. If only Sister Cecelia could have known what seeds she planted.



My college roommate gave me this tiny crèche the first year we roomed together. It hung over my desk while I was in college. It has hung on my tree every year since, reminding me of that sweet friendship so long ago.





My first Christmas out of college, my housemates and I were much too poor to buy a tree or ornaments. We found a discarded Christmas tree at an elementary school that was closed for the holidays. (In the ancient days before fire codes, classrooms could have live Christmas trees.) With a couple of dollars worth of felt and embroidery floss, we stitched our own stars. The Grinch is right – Christmas doesn’t come from a store.




My niece and nephew, aged 6 and 4 in 1990, made applesauce and cinnamon ornaments and mailed them to us from Birmingham. The cinnamon scent of Christmas faded away long ago, but this one ornament remains intact, telling the tale of tiny hands wishing their Aunt a Merry Christmas from far away.





Christmas is different in the Southwest. Santa might wear a cowboy hat and bolo tie. Coyotes, not reindeer, roam the range. And Spirit Bears help Christmas wishes come true.



What stories can your Christmas tree tell? Please share your tree tales in the comments section! And on this Christmas eve, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas!







No right way. No wrong way.

No judgement. No comparison.

You belong.

Just breathe.

Just live. 


Holiday Lights (And Orchids!) in the Garden – 2015 Edition

After 18 straight evenings of rain, the forecast called for a dry night on December 27th, and I made my annual trek to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden to see the holiday lights.

Usually I pick the coldest night in December to do my wandering in the garden. But this December temperatures were in the mid-70’s, and the evening was balmy. The garden’s flowering crabapple trees and ornamental cherry trees and witch hazel were all in bloom. Lenten roses decided to be advent roses. A cold craft-brewed beer was more welcome than hot chocolate.

I beat the lines of evening crowds by arriving about 5 p.m., and then waited for sunset in the orchid house. This year the orchids stole the show from the light displays. I’ve never seen so many in bloom at one time. These were my favorites:

The light displays are more beautiful every year.  I hope you enjoy this year’s slide show of Holiday Lights in the Garden.

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For a look at previous years’ holiday lights, check out this post.

I wish you all a most magical and joyful New Year!