Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I climbed a mountain. I found more trees.


Let's do a quick survey: when one climbs a mountain, what does one expect to see at the top? Yes, that is correct. Grandeur. Miles of glorious scenery. Wide open spaces where one can feel limitless and free. 

Today, I climbed a mountain. Do you know what I found at the top? Trees. More trees. 

Now, is that not a better analogy? Trudging and bushwhacking through miles of uphill and overgrowth, only to get to the "top" and find more of the forest? 

I understand and embrace the analogy of mountaintops/valleys - how glorious the view, that endless sea of beauty, is after blindly feeling our way through the darkest of valleys. 


These are incredibly rare moments. And when they show up, I find them to be brief. Their brevity does not take away from how amazing or needed those moments may be. I am really not a complete cynic here, but I am a realist: these moments are rare. 

I climbed a mountain today. I reached the top and saw a ridge line of forest. Sat down on a rock, slightly disappointed. I mean, how dare this mountain offer me such limited views?! I invested my time and energy today into climbing up a steep, rocky trail and I need my mountaintop experience! Did I not work for this?

Then, something miraculous happened: I started looking around. Really looking. The waves in the formation of the rock resembled great sand dunes of the American west. I was the only person here, but the land was alive with insects, winds and small animals rustling in the evergreens. At least five different shades of green in the moss under my fingers.  The reds and yellows of the trees in fiery contrast to the grey clouds moving swiftly overhead. 

Details. Small victories. All around. 

Were it not for the forest, would I have noticed the trees? No!

A cheesy play on phrasing, yes, but I felt and I still feel its truth deep in my bones. Whatever beauty or encouragement I find in the present - perhaps, only in my peripherals - is worth acknowledging. Even embracing.

Yes, details. Small victories. All around. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wasted Time.

Jill Andrews has written many beautiful songs. I couldn't get one of them out of my head this past weekend, so I recorded a cover. You can listen.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Stayed up past my bedtime a couple of weeks ago to mess around with vocals and Garage Band samples.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday night vocals.

Night #2. I'm getting addicted to these layers.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thursday's Tale: We Three and the Silver Brass.

"It's so great to meet you - I've heard so many good things! Thank you for having us over. Wow, your garden is so beautiful!"

"Well, now, you've said all the 'right' things, so come on in and meet my husband."

And, thus, the tone for my Thursday evening was set.

I have a close friend and musical partner who frequently invites me over for dinner and music. I had been traveling for a couple of weeks and she had asked me to catch her up over the course of one of these evenings. On this particular occasion, as I was nearing the end of my travel stories, Sarah peered over at me and announced, "Erin, we have a concert tonight. A one-song concert. For my neighbors." I cocked my head to one side and raised a curious eyebrow. [I should also note that this same friend has a strong tendency to spring spontaneous ideas on me - I've learned how to roll with it.]

"You're going to be playing their trumpet. It belonged to their son. He died."


My dear friend had been growing close with her neighbors, just a few doors down. They were an elderly couple and I was told they kept a beautiful garden in their backyard. I knew little else.

We grabbed our gear and began to walk. I was introduced to *Jenny, who then proceeded to introduce me to her backyard, which housed the beautiful garden I had heard so much about. After chatting for a few minutes (see introductory dialogue), we were invited to come inside.

I was introduced to *Paul, seated in an armchair next to a portable oxygen tank. He immediately rose out of the chair to warmly greet the two of us and proceeded to walk towards his office where the old trumpet was kept. He placed the case in the sunroom and then rejoined us around the dining room table. *Marcy, their therapy dog, curled up behind a wooden chair. This couple frequented the same assisted living homes that Sarah and I would play music for each month and Paul began to recount stories of the characters we had encountered there.

"Do you remember Victor? When I first met him, I said, 'I'm good for two things: I'm good for nothing and I'm no good.' He still remembers that and says it back to me whenever I visit."

I excused myself to go into the sunroom and warm up for our "one-song concert." I picked up the silver brass in my hands. How long had it been since this instrument had been played? The valves were well-oiled. There were two mouthpieces, each finely polished. What was the story here, little trumpet?

Sarah grabbed her guitar and motioned for me to join her in the kitchen.
Smiling mischieviously, she said, "Just two gals and the *Johnstons. What sort of trouble do you think we can get in?"

Strumming. Swaying. Sarah has a way of entrancing a room with her stage presence - subtle, but commanding. We began the first strains of "Moon River." Paul's eyes glazed and shifted somewhere just above the dining room table. Jenny's lips parted into a small smile as she formed the words along with us. Marcy lay on the floor, eyes partially closed, easing into the calm of the melody. I looked up again and I could see his face slightly clouded over, face slightly flushed. He was somewhere in his memories and I dare not ask the location. Letting them be where they will be. I could only sing these words as deeply as I knew them to be sung. Perhaps, as deeply as they were written to be felt. I played, and though it was nothing extraordinary in technique or skill, I played because it needed to be played.

The last note and last word faded off. A moment of quiet and then all quickly moved back into conversation again. Did I play around the city much? What university had I attended? How many dogs had they raised? (They spoke of their dogs as others might speak of their own children.) Curiousity still grew in my mind. What was the story behind the trumpet?

As the hours grew later, so did the depth of the conversation. I eventually found out the answers to my questions. A tender, devoted son, repeatedly drawn back into his addiction to the drugs that would eventually end his life. Another son, still living, but out-of-state, married and out of contact with his family. It seemed to me that Paul and Jenny had attempted to cope with these situations by pouring their lives into a local church family, gardening, raising dogs and visiting assisted living homes. I did not press for further details. The stories were laden with despair; their courage, moving to all who had a glimpse.

Jenny had made a dessert cake and some Southern sweet tea. She served each a plate and we moved on to digging up old photo albums: times when their boys were young, military graduations and their '61 wedding. We sifted through yellowing pages and giggled at Paul's observations until it was time to leave.

Jenny waved to us from the door.

"You were probably bored as a gourd."

We waved back and walked out into the night.

(Marcy, the dog)

[*real names protected for privacy purposes]

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Question of Pursuit; The Gospel of Finches.

Is it true?

Does Love really continue its pursuit after me?

On dusty chairs,
Behind the glowing light
Of a television set.
Polished shoes, walking these
Same lines
For too many years.
Is something brewing
Just between the cracks in the sidewalk?
Have I missed something in this air...
The finches they know -

Yet, mystery
Of being.

Is it true?

Does Love really continue its pursuit after me?

After too many drinks
On too many evenings
Faces pass; I judge.
I scowl.
I laugh and it's not amusing.
Day in, day out.
Grows tired!
My footsteps grow curious of the lines, leading

What's the cost?

Is there Love worth pursuing?

Make do, we can make do
With lesser forms, it seems.

So, I continue to walk these
Breathe this air
Though, I must admit,
The mere thought of



So abstract, so


So innate.

Pushing through the cracks.

Seeping into the soils.

Streams, creating the tiniest of canyons.

It's enough for me to wonder,

Enough to toe these unfamiliar shorelines

And say hello to the finches.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Etiquette: One Definition?

She sat five or six rows behind me. She may have had a little too much to drink or she may have been in a complete state of unawareness. I'm not certain of which or either. She was screaming out the words to the songs she knew, yelling out her responses to the lyrics being sung on if it were a conversation demanding answers, rather than a song sung by one person.

"Tell the truth, no lies..."

You get the gist...

I found myself bordering maximum annoyance with the girl and her verbal fists of affirmation, arising with each new feist-provoking lyric. The words were bursting inside of her chest and they refused to remain indoors. They were ripping open the locks, shattering her windows and blasting full force from her lungs. As far as this girl was concerned, no one was inhabiting this room, save herself and Sara Bareilles. I felt myself peering into the private, poster-lined walls of an angsty teenage hurricane.  

I am a concert etiquette snob, I cannot deny it. Born and raised in a classical/quietly-churched world, I learned to keep my hands in my lap and my mouth shut until the correct time to acknowledge. I learned the ins and outs of watching performers and knowing certain pieces well enough to clap at all of the appropriate times. If you happen to be the performer, there's a whole new set of rules to learn and follow. I learned them and, for the most part, followed. Initially, I resented the stuffiness of sitting still, denying oneself commentary and waiting to applaud. Over time, I grew to love the practice of allowing the stillness of a place envelope the listener into all that was being given, without interruption. I learned to fully embrace every last millisecond of a bow across a string or the faintly disappearing final note of a classical sonata, fading from auditory view under a 16-foot grand piano. What I initially viewed as stuffy, upturned-nose discipline became my fullest idea of the listener/performer intimacy.

Tonight, I am jamming one finger in my left ear and trying desperately to pull all of my focus's weight into the performer on stage and not the screaming behind me. I feel that I am not getting the experience of what the performer is trying to convey, simply because ONE person is yelling out her responses to an artist that has no intentions of responding back in such a manner. My brain begs the question, "Where are the ushers? Can they not just throw this woman into a Lilith Fair event? Or a PETA presentation? She'd be far more comfortable dressed in a meat suit and weeping over Sarah McLachlan, I am certain of it." 

Do you know the 'ole devil-on-one-shoulder-and-an-angel-on-the-other metaphor? That is an accurate description of my brain - twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Immediately following this thought (and in keeping with the trend of my overly-analytic brain), I could not let this situation stand with only one opinion in tow. A new thought began to form in my mind: "Wait...shouldn't music be calling out for this sort of response in us? Is this not also an intimate form of responding to what moves in us as we hear certain words or hear certain melodies?" Maybe we don't have to yell out in the middle of a crowded room (preferable for those seated nearby), but..then again, maybe we DO. Maybe everything within us is just BURSTING at the seams and the faces around us don't matter enough to keep it in any longer. Maybe?

I'm currently debating this in my mind.

I took a lot of mental notes at tonight's performance. The strongest (perhaps, the darkest ink) impression I left with is that THIS is exactly the response I want to be digging for when I create. To write and sing and play, honestly and brutally enough, that it evokes emotion and response in the listener. I am teaching myself to grasp with a different form of listener/performer intimacy. Though, at times, it seems more of a wrestle-to-the-ground than a simple grasp, I am trying to love and appreciate all of the different colors and shapes we take on as we are moved to respond. To sit quietly and shake our heads. Or, on occasion, shout from the rafters.

And for the record? Honey, I've learned you've gotta learn the rules so you'll know how to break 'em.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I needed a vacation.

I could have gone on one if I had also wanted to lose my job, but I've decided against that option tonight.

Instead, I have driven my car to the nearest park, put on my tennis shoes and I am walking as far away from this parking lot as I possibly can.

Well, I'm walking.

And walking.

And walking.

Still walking.

The air is perfect, the earth alive with growth and fragrance. I'm taking long, quick strides - a girl on a serious mission to an unknown destination.

My life has felt blurry for months. If one were to ask, I would say that I had been working a lot, sleeping a little. Head buried in piano keys, song arrangements, ukulele strings. Counseling my way through a past of hard self-criticism, discontentment, failed relationships. A head full of grey, mostly. Makes it a bigger exhalation when I catch glimpses of color.

It all brings me here - fast paces along paved paths, suburban neighborhoods, patches of early spring growth.

I've spotted some large, flat rocks lining the creek to my right. I am releasing control - my feet carry me over. Drawing close, I can smell the rich mixture of water and earth. I am, once again, a small child standing in a creekbed, turning over submerged rocks in hopes of finding an orange newt or a brown "crawdad." A wave of peace surges through me in this moment of nostagia. I am young and free.

Muscles release tension, head slowly falls forward. Eyes shut and the scent of my memory is exemplified. The breeze blows through a patch of reeds to my left. I open my eyes and the sun births a dance of shadows through late winter branches.

All feels well here.

There is a therapy in stillness. In quiet. In just not thinking. In being. A discipline worth worth the practice for the preservation of sanity.

I return to my feet and begin the walk back.

I am ready to return.