Sunday, October 10, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
"May the road rise to meet you,
the wind at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again -
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand."
The words fit the melody perfectly, so I decided to forge ahead with some lyrics. I had no real inspiration, so I decided to make up a fictional story about a couple in PA who felt conflicted between reality and big dreams for their life. I put the song down and just let it sit for a while, since it wasn't really a major project for me at the time.
That is, until the last week of my time in PA.
One Saturday, a couple of friends and I decided to introduce ourselves to a homeless couple living under a bridge in Pittsburgh. Driving past one afternoon, my friends had noticed quite the set-up under a few of the bridges: queen size bed, bed frame, grocery carts as closets, lawnchairs, etc. It peaked their curiosity so much that they just had to sit down with the creative minds behind it all. I decided to tag along for the adventure.
We introduced ourselves, explained our initial draw to them, and planned on coming back and sharing dinner with them on the following Monday. They were more than happy to sit down with us so that we could all learn more about each other over a few spare ribs and some corn on the cob.
That Monday night dinner was a truly beautiful experience: sharing stories about our pasts, our relationships with our families, the 60's (them, not us, of course), and what a typical day looks like for each of us. At one point, it was brought to the couple's attention that my friend, Dorian, and I had been working on an album and they requested a song. Dorian pulled up the music on his phone, began rapping and I began singing. It did not take long for our new friends to stand up and start dancing and singing along - even the husband, who was using a cane!
Two and a half hours later, we were in our car headed home, minds freshly challenged by the new knowledge of our friends' situation under the bridge, hearts growing with a love for the oppressed who were bound to us by the shared bond of humanity.
I walked into my living room that night, picked up a guitar, and began singing the words of that old Irish blessing. I stopped as I reached the verse and glanced over the words. Once. Twice. Slowly, the realization that I had found the rest of my lyrics for the song began to wash over me. I tried to recollect as many stories and events from the evening as was possible and began writing the second verse.
Sometimes, you just have to let the story start telling itself.
Monday, August 9, 2010
I pull the Stanleys' car forward into Parking Space #8, turn off the engine and open my door, amazed I am still awake at this hour. I turn to see the quickly brightening skies greet me, almost smirkingly, as if to mock my lost sense of time this morning.
Speaking of, let's move the hands of time back a couple of hours.
I am watching the slow, steady movement of Dan's hand on the soundboard as he fades the music to silence. These are the last remaining seconds of time before this song is completely finished and ready for the rest of the world to hear. I hear the drums and piano chords that I know all too well from weeks of dreaming and structuring an instrumental track for the students to sing and rap over.
I am sparse on the amount of bold statements I lay out for the public ear to hear, but I deem this a moment worth boldly stating.
I truly feel like this recording has huge potential to do great things: change hearts, grab the attention of those who do not give Aliquippa a second thought, inspire youth and encourage children. It's really such a beautiful song and the students sound amazing, singing and speaking the words they have spent weeks working on in their journals.
"Dan the Magician (of Funk)," as I have taken to calling him, is the talented producer/owner of the studio we have been working with. He stayed with me for hours tonight, rummaging through rows upon rows of audio files until I found the perfect beats and instrumentation to polish up the song.
I felt a second wind all night. This was an amazing moment, a rare and precious opportunity. I was not about to sleep through it.
On the drive home, I popped the CD in so that Dorian and I could do a "speaker check" on the song. I was smiling so much, I thought my face was going to split in half. There were small spots where I felt like the volume levels needed adjustment, but I was too excited to dwell on it. All of those long hours staring at a computer screen earlier, editing vocal tracks and photos from the students' album photoshoot, seemed like a small price to pay for the end product.
My thoughts return to last summer, where the idea of having our kids recorded in a real studio was a nice dream, but seemed out of financial reach. We did the best we knew how at the time (especially it being our first experience) and left with a few songs in our possession, ideas on what worked and what could be improved upon, sweet memories of our youth slowly blossoming with confidence in their previously-untapped creative abilities, but knowing how much more we could do for them. We just needed the connections and the resources.
With everything that has been produced during a month's time, I believe last summer would smile on this summer like a proud and knowing mother.
Praise God that good things have been done, are being done, and will be done in this town.
The best-looking crew you've ever seen set foot in a studio. Probably around 3:30 or 4 in the morning.
[L-R: Dorian, Dan the Magician, myself]
Hear Dorian's music here.
2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday night. Absolutely mindless pop songs pumping through my headphones. Well into my fifth game of Spider Solitaire. Click, click, click. Staring blankly ahead, just attempting anything to briefly get my mind off of what will absolutely consume me for the next week and a half - the final project of my music students from this summer.
I remember my college days (I really lack an excuse not to, seeing how they were a mere two years ago) - piles of projects weighing on my shoulders, rehearsals, tests, hours in practice rooms preparing for recitals and lessons. I used to spend almost as much time stressing out about responsibilities as I did actually working on them. When I felt everything crowding in around me, I had a very familiar routine: head straight to my computer, slap some headphones on, and play multiple rounds of Spider Solitaire - mindless activity that would distract me from the insanity.
Tonight is the first I have thought of Spider Solitaire in quite some time. Since I automatically relate the game to the busier times of my life, I thought it best to close down my game early to reflect on just why I went straight into stress-recovery mode tonight. (I suppose it does not help that I had a cup of coffee around 9 p.m. either).
I think big. I dream big. I have ambition that often wears shoes bigger than I am ready to fill. I have perfectionist tendencies. My expectations for myself and my projects are high and my frustration is just as high when those expectations are not met.
This summer, I am dreaming big for my music students. In a month's time - two days a week and only 40 minutes with each class at a time, I decided my students would have a song written, rehearsed, and recorded by the time I had to leave. I truly believe they will be able to do it, but the focus has to remain strong in the short amount of time I have left. I also believe my Father knows my ambitious, big-dreaming heart and loves me enough to show me what can be done when one will combine hard work, prayer, and selfless ambition for the purpose of the kingdom.
I also went into the studio this past weekend with my friend, Dorian, to help record songs for his upcoming album. This was my first time in a real studio; my first time really recording songs. As I walked in and heard the first strains of a guitar part for one of my songs, I just stopped and shut my eyes, trying to take it all in. When I opened them, Dorian looked at me and said, "Erin, I feel like this just became real to you."
He could not have been more right.
When I was ten years old, I secretly decided that I would write songs and perform them for the rest of my life. I did not have a clue as to how or when, but I knew I wanted this to be my main pursuit. Over time, I lost that vision due to several factors: insecurities, detrimental rationale (not that all rationale is detrimental, but was so in this case), and fear. I had almost completely talked myself our of the idea by the time I entered college and found that it is so much "easier" to hide behind teaching piano or looking for other routes to take under that huge umbrella of "music."
But lights are not meant to be hidden under a bushel. Trust me - I have tried for years. I chose to let stubbornness take the wheel in my life for a long time, but it only drove me even further towards the emptiness I felt without the pursuit of what I felt born to do: write songs and perform them. Funny how the ten-year-old Erin Dalton knew so much more than the 24-year-old version of me could understand.
All of this to say, I have no idea what direction is beginning to take shape in my life in the way of music, but I can feel it turning somewhere that I am not ready to face yet. I need prayers. I need wisdom. I need patience. I need trust when this direction does not go as I might expect it to.
Which explains why I am sitting in front of my computer, headphones on, and an unfinished game of Spider Solitaire. Tonight I am on autopilot; mindless activity. Tomorrow I hope to return to mindful thinking.
Monday, August 2, 2010
After searching piles of pages and words, I stopped short at the sight of one student's lyrics. This particular student had written words of deep pain and struggle in her life - not exactly what I am used to seeing in the writings of my students. Lines such as, "crying out and no one hears me," and "nobody's seen the things I have/sometimes so hard to get through this," caused me to bring my evaluation to a complete stop. Was this a cry for help? How much do I ask about? Do I pry or just sit back and wait for her to talk, if she talked at all? Can I include this in the summer song project or is it just too personal?
The next class time, I had the students write more verses and they were given the opportunity to sing, rap, or speak their writings in the last portion of our time together. I was amazed at the line of students willing to voice their work in front of everyone at the end of class. (Typically when I ask about a public display of their work, you would think that I had asked them who wanted to get their teeth pulled out). I was especially impressed when the student who had written such personal lyrics was the first in line to share her work. I watched as she poured her whole self into every word, every note of a melody she was creating out of a desire to finally be heard.
During the next class, I pulled her aside and talked to her about the deep value of expressing our innermost frustrations and hurt through writing and song. I made sure she knew that a pen and paper is there for the purpose of talking about things that you feel like you cannot verbally communicate, but that, at some point, it's also important to find someone you can trust to talk about it to. As her class was lining up to go to their next class, she walked up to me and said, "Hey, I just needed you to know that this song is about my dad. I haven't seen him in six years." Then she walked away.
I have since then heard her make comments to other students about her hatred for her father - the things she would do if she saw him, past experiences of disappointments, etc.
I am completely aware of the broken world that I have entered when I walk into my classroom. I realize that a consistent, present father figure is rare among my students. I know that there are situations of hurt and abuse everywhere. The process of healing and change is a long, blurry road. I am not expecting lives to completely turn around within a summer's amount of time.
But if one child expresses herself through songwriting and finds a creative outlet there, I know that I have, in some way, helped to pave the way on that blurry road. That need is discovered and I pray that I can be used to meet it as an encourager; a healthy enabler of expressing oneself through creativity. And I pray that this child can find the source of creative outlets, the true Creator of life breathed into our expression of art - that this child can find the mender of our brokenness and the healing that our needy lives so desperately cry out for.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Sitting atop Mt. Washington yesterday, I shared an incredible view with friends and fellow staff members, one that overlooked the entire city of Pittsburgh. It has become my favorite spot for watching fireworks: set high above the connecting rivers in the center of the city, not only can you see the huge Pittsburgh firework show at eye level, but you can also see the multiple other smaller firework shows from neighboring towns. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some pretty spectacular firework shows in my young life, so I don't really think twice about seeing another one every year. I suppose, growing up in this country, it's just "what you do."
This year is a little different.
I spent my time on Mt. Washington with a friend who grew up in the little town of Aliquippa, PA (where I am working for the month of July). I had been observing this friend, as he seemed deep in thought: set slightly apart from the rest of the group, face buried in his notebook, looking away only to lose himself in the view; only to reflect on his writing. I decided to join him. As we sat on that hill, waiting for the sun to set over the city, he began to share his recent past with me. Exactly a year ago, my friend had been watching the firework show from a television set - the television set inside of the jail he was in at the time. He began to recall his thoughts at that time with me - how somehow he just knew, even sitting inside of a locked down building, that next year would be different. Next year, he would be watching those fireworks from the mountain. Next year, he would be surrounded by people that truly cared about him, not people that only looked to him for "financial benefit."
And here he was, a year later: sitting on the mountain, watching the fireworks show and surrounded by a group of people that loved and cared for him.
If anyone understands the idea of liberation or freedom, it's my friend. Not even a year ago, he was a slave to the idea that, in order to be somebody, you have to feed the unhealthy addictions of others. He is now totally sold out to what it means to be the image of Christ - to changing the world through being the hands and feet of a Love bigger than anything he has ever experienced before.
Amen. [photo: Erin Dalton. Heart-shaped fireworks over Pittsburgh, PA.]
Monday, June 28, 2010
"Quip is the city
Quip is the town
We are together
We're never goin' do-own."
Lyrics that are dear to my heart. Did they win a Grammy? No. Were they written by a famous singer/songwriter? No. Did this song make its' way up the Top 40 chart? No.
These were written by youth of Aliquippa, PA, who attended an arts camp last summer through the nonprofit, Aliquippa Impact. For two months, a small group of youth met with myself and my co-teacher, Bill, three nights a week to learn about different music genres, composers, rhythmic styles, types of instruments, song structures, etc. Some of them had private instruction in piano, voice, and guitar. We spent the majority of our time learning about basic pop songwriting structure and had the youth write their own verses, choruses, bridges, and melodies. The song that came to complete fruition by the end of the summer was titled, "Quip Is the City," and it featured a short 3-4 line verse by each student, along with the chorus and bridge that they had created as a group.
Why is this such a big deal? Can't kids and youth be taught this anywhere? What makes it so different from any other learning environment?
Welcome to Aliquippa, PA: home to the negative views of nearby towns, a reputation that I felt rudely awoken to every time I encountered someone outside of Aliquippa and, after hearing my response to their question of my location, would respond with fear, disdain, or both. From my understanding, Aliquippa is thought of as the town where nothing good happens; where prostitution, drug trafficking, gangs, and crack houses serve at the town's present identity. You'll find plenty of news articles like this and not enough like this.
Those of us that have lived or worked in Aliquippa beg to differ on this overly pessimistic view. Establishments such as Uncommon Grounds Cafe or the nonprofit of Aliquippa Impact are two of the brightest beacons of lights to shine in an otherwise darker city. The vision and heart behind the actions of their staff are beautiful examples of the love of Christ for those who desperately need to believe they are created for purpose - for something far greater than what they have been deceived into thinking life is all about.
I love the collaboration between Jay-Z and Alicia Keys for the song, "Empire State of Mind." I think it is such a beautiful concept to find pride and purpose in the places that you are from - the experiences that made you a stronger person, the sights and smells that leave you nostalgic on a rainy day, the memories you held with friends and families. I feel the need to clarify that this is not my attempt at painting a naive picture of beauty or of warm, fuzzy historical backgrounds. I realize that there is a lot of pain and places gladly left behind in our pasts and upbringing. But I also believe there are a lot of places in our lives worth remembering and worth using as markers of lessons learned. There is good and beauty worth writing and singing about all around us.
My music students last summer were told to keep in mind this idea of telling their own individual stories as they wrote their lyrics. I cannot express how moving it was to watch them slowly but surely find written ways of expressing the parts of their life worth celebrating - a kind word, a good meal, a favorite sport, a favorite family member, future career ambitions. Bit by bit, bright lights of hope emerge from the creative outlets discovered by the youth of this town.
I return to Aliquippa on Thursday morning to teach a similar course for the month of July. I ask your prayers and encouragement, friends.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The organization, Falling Whistles, was created in order to raise awareness of this injustice. A group of five guys are traveling across the U.S. on their bicycles to raise awareness for the campaign for peace in the Congo. They are stopping by in Charlotte tonight for a potluck and night of sharing their passion for this cause at my house from 6-8pm.
I do not have very much time this morning to write more, but I ask for your prayers tonight as our hearts are burdened and (hopefully) will be driven towards action in whatever ways we are able.
Please visit the website and read the stories: Falling Whistles
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
I'm working on edits of photos from India. Finally.
Just before leaving for India, I contacted a camera repair shop to inquire about a small damage on my camera. I was crushed to discover that the repair would cost me almost as much as I had originally paid for the camera itself. So I decided to go without it.
As a photography-loving woman, I held the photographic documentation of my trip as a high priority. Deciding to not spend money that I did not have on the repair was a decision that I knew would be right, but far from easy. My mother, knowing my predicament, offered to let me use her point-and-shoot instead, which I was surprised by and very grateful for. I knew it would not have the features that I would have liked to have, but it would still, at least, capture images.
A few days into the trip, her camera began malfunctioning on me. (I still, to this day, have no idea why.) I had taken good care of it and the batteries were fine. I knew instantly that I would have to start returning to my original mindset of living without something I loved, but would certainly wake up each morning breathing without. After settling this in my mind, I remember feeling a strong peace wash over me, a reminder that I was still taken care of and thought of by my Creator. I know it may not seem like a big deal to others, but I believe that my Father knows my heart and was doing His best to take care of it through the lesson of letting go and living without.
My dear friend, Kevin (who was part of the group living in Manali for six months) decided to lend me his point-and-shoot camera for the remainder of the trip after hearing about my recurring predicament.
I am truly blessed to have such beautiful, generous hearts placed in my path. I am truly blessed to have the peace of my Father, who provides for and teaches and waits patiently as we are learning what is necessary to grow.
Ironically, when I returned to North Carolina, I had enough money in tax returns to replace my old camera with an upgraded version.
Such is life.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
It's here again - that familiar, yet uncomfortable feeling that I get whenever all of the strings attaching my heart to multiple places begin to stretch and pull wildly, stealing all of my attention away from those around me and forcing my mind to only think of where I need to be in life.
My heart easily attaches to situations where the potential is high, but accessibility is low (if ever existing) and I can easily fit the position of accessibility. My heart attaches whenever I am with students that could move mountains with their artistic abilities, but just need some pushing and belief from someone who is willing to invest in their lives.
My heart is torn when, on the first day in India, I am told by the pastor of the Lady Willingdon church that I am "the one;" that they have been praying for God to send a musician/keyboard player for two years and now I am here.
I don't know that he has any idea of the conflict and torment that adds to my heart's tugging and pulling. Surely not.
Why am I only here for eight days? This is another question that I have been battling with all week. I suppose the purpose of this trip was designed to be for encouragement of the team that is already here for six months and that is an awesome purpose, to be sure. For some, the purpose of this trip is for exposure to cultures other than their own. For some, it is for a new burden for the lives of those hurting or struggling around the world.
For others, it looks like a foggy, blobbing mass of gray, with no real peace or answer - just another string added to the tugs of the heart to go and serve where needed.
Here I am, on the final day of this trip, and I am face to face with a foggy, blobbing mass of gray. No peace, no resolve. Just a desperate attempt at holding to the hope that answers will come in time. That these strings will, one by one, quiet their flailing until only one remains in the fight for where I will go next.
I don't mind vagabonding at all. As a matter of fact, I am an advocate and practice it frequently.
I also know now that I don't want to vagabond for the sake of vagabonding. I want to go where I can be used. More specifically, I want to go where I can be used to inspire and encourage others in their untapped abilities.
I won't get into the most specific details of my daydreaming within a move-to-another-country-and-teach-music context. Those are dangerous thoughts for me right now, especially with such a delicate heart situation.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
"That sounds amazing." (first thought)
"Way out of my price range." (second thought)
$1600. For everything included in that price, the deal was not so shabby. For my rational, disbelieving mind, the idea was outrageous. Me? Asking people for money? No way. That concept was nowhere near the vicinity of my comfort zone. I hated "bothering" people for their resources and I have always held strong tendencies towards inefficient (more so than not) stubbornness, independence, and pride.
To make a long story shorter, I decided to write support letters for the first time in my life. I had been asked to join a number of teams for out-of-country trips, but this was the first that I really felt a strong pull towards. A good friend of mine had given me $200 towards it because they "really believed in me and what was going on in my life." Awesome. What's even more awesome? The campus ministries department of Gardner-Webb University had a missions' fund set up for a student interested in summer missions. And, with it being dangerously close to the end of the spring semester, it amazingly had not been used by anyone yet. I, for whatever reason, told them the wrong amount needed, so they wrote me a check for $1400. But wait. I already had $200 towards the trip. Perfect.
That story is a strong marker in my life. I get so caught up in financial issues much too often (and I don't think I am alone in this) - to the point that I lose that familiar faith and trust that I always come back to when all my other flailings fail me. And where does excessive worrying ever get me? I can tell you that - a snappy attitude, in tears, and usually catching a cold because of all the sleep I lose. Tell me that result isn't sooo appealing to you.
Like I previously mentioned, that story is a strong point of reference for me. When I decided to go to India, I felt that familiar stress make its' way towards me again: "Where would the money come from? Am I just another person looking for others to pay for my world travel? I just quit my job - how will this scheduling work out?" I lived in these questions and concerns for a couple of weeks before I came to the realization that I didn't have to fall to that same dead-ending pattern I so naturally gravitate towards. I could actually choose to be obedient and trusting instead.
That choice works. This time around, the process has been much less stressful. I have had a few days of frustration here and there, but the majority of these past couple of months have found me resting in a deep-rooted peace. Why am I going and what do I hope to accomplish once there? I don't know. And that's okay. I know that I am serving alongside of brothers and sisters in need of encouragement and fellow willing hearts. I know that this deep-rooted peace resides in me to serve as an affirmation to my travels in the next couple of weeks.
Now to the most important part of this post: my humble thanks to everyone that has supported through finances, verbal encouragement, listening ears, prayers, thoughts, and letters. I am deeply moved by the selflessness I have seen in others. Taking a moment out of one's day to give thought to someone else and how they can be used to be a part of that person's life is a virtue that has not gone unnoticed.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
So...speaking of leaving these "narcotic fields," I will be leaving for Manali, India, on April 8 and returning on the 20th. I thought I would address the background of this whole shindig a little bit:
Last fall, upon returning from a summer of teaching music in Pennsylvania, I began seriously considering the idea of putting money back to spend a month in India. My daydreaming consisted of living and working alongside of two dear missionary friends already stationed there and spending a considerable amount of time studying the native music of that region. I have always wanted to study ethnomusicology, either independently or through a graduate program, so the idea of visiting friends, leaving the country, and embarking on my first ethnomusicological endeavor seemed like the perfect plan.
It was around this time, of course, that my heart began to direct itself (or be directed, however you see it) elsewhere: towards living in a city again and the higher likelihood of having music-related opportunities that didn't include being a music minister or a music teacher in a public school system (no offense, non-cities). Of course, the opportunities started showing up unexpectedly and I didn't feel that it would be the wisest decision to ignore them. So, as you've probably guessed, I put India on hold to move to a city and pursue music.
Fast forward to a month (ish) ago. I get a call from my good friend, Justin Brock, asking me if I want to join a team of people headed to Manali for the month of April. My first response? "What's the cost?" When I was given the answer, I immediately shut the trip out of my mind. There was no way I could come up with that money while transitioning out of a decent-paying job to a much lesser-paying music teaching job. In addition, I was content keeping India in the backseat for a while longer if it meant I would be pursuing what I loved.
Sometimes you get the feeling that you should be somewhere doing something. It could be completely random, so completely left field, so far from good rationale. But the idea just grows and grows and becomes completely unignorable. I tried to shake it, I really did. But it didn't take very long for me to realize that this was a place and a time that I needed to be a part of for whatever unknown reason. I always find it amusing when you leave an idea or dream behind, find contentment without it, and it still finds its' way back to you when you least expect it. I mean, not only will I be working alongside of those same missionary friends, but I will also be given opportunity to teach and assist in music projects in the orphanages and schools there.
So here I am. Gearing up to go to Manali, India, in a couple of weeks. And I am ready for whatever is unknown to me now.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
“There is much to enjoy in their lazy company, in these long Sunday afternoons spent at brunch, drinking champagne and talking about nothing. Still, when I am around this scene, I feel somewhat like Dorothy in the poppy fields of Oz. “Be careful! Don’t fall asleep in this narcotic meadow, or you could doze away the rest of your life here!” –Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love)
I am only recently leaving the life of a small town. There are many aspects of small town life that are absolutely breathtaking; aspects I wouldn’t trade for the stereo-typed coldness of a city crowd any day. There is also a certain stagnancy I felt come on as strong as a midwest tornado – the storm of complacency that raged so heavily inside of me that I nearly missed my escape back to the reality of who Erin Dalton, at this moment in time, really is: needing to be on the move and not in the mood for stagnant complacency. Now the need for clarification comes once again: complacency is not bred by living in a small town. I have seen beautiful, monumental movements and actions in small towns. It is all dependent on where you are at the time and how wisely you are using the time spent there. At the time, I was feeling a very strong urge to live in a city again and I felt that I would better thrive in an area where there would be more of an arts-focused crowd. (Though not impossible, I have found that this rarely, unfortunately, happens in small southeastern U.S. towns.)
As all of this was coming to grips in my mind, I had the opportunity to move to Charlotte. This was certainly not the first city on my list of places to move to, but I was not about to pass up cheap rent and good housemates in a city. Not to mention the higher probability of opportunities in the arts (which I have been hugely blessed with since moving!).
"Narcotic fields," in my case at this point in time, have little to do with leaving for the sake of leaving. I have had my fair share of antsy moments - feeling the wanderlusting urge to pack my life belongings and move to another part of the country or world. These "fields" are much more related to the stagnancy that I let myself fall to when I feel like I am lacking the courage to pursue what I was created to be.
I created this blog to document my journey away from the stone walls created by remaining always in narcotic fields; to serve as a reminder that I am not created for stagnancy, but to live and breathe and move as a child who is created for a purpose.