Music for a therapeutic musician

No pictures again with this blog, unless I post some sheet music. I was just thinking about how my repertoire has been moving as I continue my CMP internship. I think many musicians playing therapeutic music may come to similar places, but …

I play the hammered dulcimer, which lends itself to dances, fast celtic and old-time music, luscious tunes with lots of chords, intricate classical pieces. Many different genres. However, for therapeutic work, I am finding that some of my repertoire is right for more situations. Also that the type of music that I keep returning to has words to it! Songs, ballads, lullabies of all kinds seem to bring the possibility of one gorgeous tune or melodic line that can be added to, but can also stand on its own.

So I have been adding to my collection with some Really Lovely Tunes, in addition to some that I have known for a long time:

Rose of Allendale
Drink to Me Only
Eriskay Love Lilt
O Waly Waly
La Ci Darem La Mano (Give me your hand fair maiden)
Sally Gardens
Mairi’s Wedding
You are my Sunshine
The Ash Grove
Come into the Garden (Maud)
Annie Laurie
Blow the Wind Southerly

I did recently have a lively conversation about steel drums with a patient and tried out “Yellow Bird”, which worked quite well with a lot of tremolo but may not fit the “really lovely tune” label.

More of a mumble than a thought, but it is interesting to me how these simple tunes reach people. Also how minor keys can bring calm and repose … more on that when I have a coherent mumble!

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Shared memories … music and stories

Today I went to the hospital near Annapolis to continue playing for my music practitioner internship. For the past month or so I have been going over on Wednesdays to play for patients at this really well-run and lovely hospital. They have started a therapeutic music program and the staff (nurses, housekeeping staff, doctors, aides) all seem uniformly appreciative and also knowledgeable about music in a hospital setting.

I have also been playing for Montgomery Hospice, who are also a wonderful organization … maybe more of that later.

Today, before I set out, I was unenthusiastic about my drive of over an hour, and it was cold out. However, on the way home I felt so differently. Mostly because of two conversations with two different elderly women patients that I had met. These women deserve to have stories (or herstories) written about their lives. Both in their eighties, one of them was lively and feisty and shared with me her time (28 years) working with battered women in her home town. She had had an abusive first marriage but had turned it into a lot of energy to help and was interesting and outgoing. I could not get her to relax as she had too much to tell me.

The second woman patient was quieter, but reflective. She loved my music so much and asked me a great deal about it, so I asked her if she was a musician. This brought forth a long history of her childhood. Her father had worked in steelworks in Pittsburg and there had been precious little for them to live on during the depression. Certainly no resources for music lessons or even musical instruments. She shared many other details of their moves and her life and I believe that I talked with her for as much time as I played music for her.

When I get home I need to write up “logs” of each patient visit. These are taking too much time, and although it is good to reflect and document, they have no space or time to document the personalities of women such as these.

Well, these past months of retired life have flown by and I have been busy with many activities. Pottery is one, and has been rewarding, but I am so glad that I started my CMP course during my last year of work and can now put my music to use. Besides the wonderful contact and sharing of lives with these women today, I was able to share something calm and beautiful with them, and to appreciate that learning a skill like music is a privilege.

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Pottery – a new obsession!

I am experimenting tonight with my new iPad and trying to post photos. Here are some recent bowls that I have been making in pottery class. They came out so beautifully – the glaze worked, and they are improving in shape and quit usable.

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In which I attempt to use the WordPress app!

… To include photos. Well, this worked but it seemed to want to become a post all on its own, so I shall let it!

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Summer memories – hammock time!

the mona lisa?Meg has just put up a beautiful post about looking at leaves through the trees in the sunlight, and remembering the hammock (see mudandmiscellany). So … what better memory of the summer to start with than the first day that Meg arrived back home for a visit. Of course we got the hammock out for her. And a little pink champagne.

Since I retired at the end of June, I have been so busy, and it’s hard to say now how I have been occupying my time, memory not being quite as it used to be! The past four months have been occupied with visits from the girls, painting and decorating, visiting the UK myself, and trying to find out what it is that I want to do now that I have all the time in the world to do it in.

Looking back over my (rather sparse) mumbles so far, it seems that they are mostly for me, and for anyone else who wants to look over my shoulder. Like someone’s diary that you pick up by mistake. So whether anyone else is out there or not, I think I would like to mumble about being a retired person and see what changes that brings. Among other random mumbles about my life.

Really, hammock time should be a metaphor for all the good times that we can spend doing less than seems useful, but re-charging our batteries. Meg lives in England now, and although the weather there is much maligned and can produce wonderful skies, full of sun, rain clouds and rainbows at the same time, and perfect crisp clear sunny days in autumn, or even in summer, it does not often produce warm, warm days. Warm so that the air is warm until ten in the evening, and you can lie in the hammock at night and watch the stars with some bug lights and candles around, and no blanket!

So it was a joy to have her here visiting us. We went a small trip to Fallingwater while she was here, which I think will be a mumble for another day …

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More ice cream … white peach sorbet

Just a little mumble about using up some delicious white peaches that we bought at the farm store last weekend. White peaches are not in season in Maryland yet, so I am not sure where they came from, but they were fresh and absolutely delicious. And very beautiful as well:







I made some white peach sorbet for two reasons – firstly because we were not eating the peaches fast enough before they went overripe, and secondly just so that I could keep the taste of white peaches around for a little longer! I do not really have a proper recipe for sorbet – last time I made strawberry sorbet to use up a lot of strawberries, I just blended (whisked) the strawberries and added an egg white.

This time, I blanched and peeled the peaches, revealing their baby-bottom colours for all to see. Then I cut them up with some lemon juice and sugar and a little dessert wine. Not too much of any of these – just a hint of the wine and lemon. I left them to soak and ooze for an hour and then whisked them into a sort of puree, but with bits still in them. Then I beat an eggwhite with a little more sugar and added that to the peaches.

It only took a short time to freeze in the ice cream maker. It looks suspiciously pink – that’s because at the last minute I threw in a spoonful of the remains of the strawberry sorbet, because it was all tasting just a little too delicate. The result is really good – white-peachy and with a hint of something else. And it is such a beautiful color too. Since it looks like roses, it had just ONE DROP of rosewater in it.

I think my next experiment with sorbet will have to be a savory one – tomato or bloody mary sorbet is in my mind. Or cucumber and cumin. Or maybe salsa, like a solid gazpacho?

Well … enough “cooking” for now!

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Flowers for you …

… or in this case, for me. There is not much that reaches my heart more quickly than a bunch of flowers. I looooove being sent flowers and this past week or so has been full of so many beautiful bunches of flowers. In particular, PINK roses are my best and most favourite flowers to be given. Viola the cat likes being given roses too, as she eats them gradually by nibbling at the edges. Both my lovely daughters and my lovely husband have given me pink roses this week to celebrate my retirement:

… what could be more joyful? These are pictures before Viola got on the table and found the roses. She says thank you to all of them! I also liked the vase … a lovely hyperboloid!

As a random thought in the mumble, which just wanted to come in, I have also been reading several books about dying this week for my CMP course and it does occur to me that it’s much nicer to get flowers when you are alive to appreciate them. That was not meant to sound as morbid as it probably does. These books have actually been very good – honest and wonderful examination of the emotions and process of dying and helping others to die with as much peace and dignity as possible.

The last module of the CMP course is next weekend and I have been reading, thinking about playing music for different types of patient, and trying in vain to play slow enough to be a steady 50 beats per minute. This is very hard to do. 60 beats per minute is easier and sounds like a resting heartbeat, but the idea behind this CMP guideline is that if you play slightly slower than a normal resting heartbeat, someone with unstable heart rate may match the beat and relax. I did manage to put Pete to sleep, but he was in the hammock and it was a gorgeous evening, so that may not be the best test.

End of aside … this has been quite a week of changes and the roses and other cards and good wishes have made it so much easier. I am sure that my days will become filled with trivialities like cleaning the family room sofa because it’s a sunny day, but I hope that they will also become filled more with music playing and other interests.

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What do we keep?

This week has been my last week of WORK! I have been packing up my room at school, saying goodbyes all week long. It’s been really hard to do. Usually at this time of year, I am ecstatic … all the exams are graded, hugs given, goodbyes said to students, but we know that everything will start again at the end of August. I have had a large number of pictures, posters from students’ work and other memorabilia stuck on the walls and pinned to the boards all over my room.

One row of polar graphs has changed as I add the new year’s creations, but there is always an amazing set – it’s SOOOO easy to make cute pictures using polar equations and we really only just scratch the surface of possibilities.

Then there is my growing windowsill of odds and ends :

This is only part of what was on the window – there was a toy radio, another monster head and more origami. This origami was made by different students – Alex made the pine cone, Jennifer gave me the coloured crane last year as a gift, and I think Alex also made the flower and the other crane (he usually had a lot of time to spare while other students in class caught up with the ideas of the day).

And the dude on left is Jimmy Kline – a great student though not the best academic student, but one of the funniest and happiest, captured in clay by a classmate a few years ago. This has kept me amused every time I look at it.

So … how much of this should I keep, I asked myself? If I pack these into a box, when will I open the box and look at these treasures? Where will I put them in my house (which is already full of similar objects – see previous blogs with the baby rabbits on the window sill!). How do we decide what things to keep in our lives?

I think that we need to depend on our thoughts, our memories, our wonderful expansive brain cells to keep around us what we treasure. So I had already thrown away the rest of the window sill and I have kept the two cranes and Jimmykline as a token of my school treasures. That’s about all.

I have left behind all my notebooks and folders. I have thrown away 5 filing cabinet drawers of old folders and countless useless old pens and broken pencils. I have with heavy heart taken down the “Blondes or Brunettes – which do you prefer?” biased survey project which made me feel amused and also a little politically incorrect. I threw out the confidence interval survey which asked teachers if they gossip about students (more than 70%, with a moe appropriate for n=60). I threw out the poster made by three students, one of whom died in a car accident last year.

I will forget the details of each of the things in my room, but I know that I will not ever forget the experience of knowing these young people and working in the school with such wonderful fellow teachers. I feel a sense of the fulfillment that comes from accomplishing something that was really hard to do at first and ended up being a joy. That’s really all I need to keep.

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Slug and …

It’s been a gorgeous spring so far, and a little while ago Pete took advantage of the weather to plant lettuce and spinach seeds. This has grown into our best bumper crop of lettuce ever. Usually the weather gets very hot and sunny very quickly, the lettuce bolts (upward, not at rapid pace towards the end of the street) and we end up with a few small leaves. Here’s a broader view than the new header …

This lettuce tastes so much better than shop lettuce, and I only wish we had either the patience or the know-how to thin it out so that it turned into great big heads of lettuce … still, just snipped off with scissors and washed it does very well and makes more salads than I think we will be able to eat in the next month.

As I was washing the lettuce a little friend of lettuce appeared and reminded me of all the different slug associations from the past … starting with Sligo, the slug, who was part of a middle-school project and unfortunately, just like Bunbury, exploded! Then there was the partial slug in the salad … and then finally the unfortunate experience of having a child living in Fulham near one of those pubs.

I have just been distracted by a complicated thought which reminds me how much mathematics there really is to know and understand. I thought idly that the lettuce was like a fractal shape, which made me think of fractal cauliflowers, which made me go to that reliable research tool and “google” ‘fractal lettuce’. Quite interesting. A picture of a Julia Set that looked like lettuce came up, and I rapidly progressed to the wonderful “Mathworld” where I found more definitions of Julia sets than I could explain or understand. Except that the pictures are amazing and there is the idea that Julia sets are the complement of Fatou sets. Julia sets contain all the domains that are unstable or divergent under a complex function, while Fatou sets are the domains which are stable. In this picture, the white is the Julia set and the other regions are the Fatou sets in the complex plane. So lovely … brain hurts!!!

I think I need to go and make some salad … I named the little slug Julia before I took it out into the garden with its small piece of lettuce.


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Dulcimers – padded hammers

I realise that I do, and think about, an awful lot of stuff that I don’t put on my blog. During the coming year I may try to change that as I come t0 the end of 38 years of paid employment. Yes … I have handed in my notice at work and will join the ranks of the retired/part-time employed come the end of June. More on that later …

In the meantime, I have been spending more time with my dulcimer; several activites have inspired me to spend a lot more time playing during the past few weeks. One was our English Dance last Saturday, where I try to keep up to tempo and hit some of the right notes as part of a group who play old English dances. I love the tunes and the tempos (3/2 time is lovely and almost always has subtle syncopation in it) of these old dances.

I also recently went to a workshop taught by the amazing Andy Young:!/AndyYoungHammeredDulcimer

on playing “gypsy swing” music. Well … I am a very long way away from being able to fling out riffs on those amazing Django Reinhart tunes like Andy does, but I learnt a lot about chords for jazz – tritones and diminished 7ths in particular – and how to find them on the dulcimer (quite a long way apart!). I also today adopted a secret recipe of Andy’s for getting just the right amount of soft and hard from hammers – wrap cotton around them. Since I acquired my new dulcimer about two years ago, I have been playing around with different types of hammers and never found quite the right balance. Here is the answer:

These are my fast, light, wooden single-sided hammers with some cute pink cotton around them! Just the right amount of softening to the blow, without changing any of the speed. Brilliant!

.. and here is quite a bad picture of my dulcimer. I love the sound of it most of all, but the next thing I love about it is the shimmery cherry wood that is around the edge – it is a piece of 30-year old cherry that Nick Blanton had in his woodshop when I went to choose all the details for my dulcimer. So I tried to show the edge as well as the top! Anyway … this is what takes up quite a bit of my time, and in a funny way I don’t always seem to have much to show for it – tunes are not necessarily any clearer or better-played at the end of a week. In fact, what seems to be most frustrating is that keeping repertoire going is like juggling spinning plates. Still, I do love the playing and even more when it sounds good … these nifty bits of pink cotton around my hammers will definitely help!

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