Most of my summer was spent writing, which is kind of opposite to what most other artists are doing. They're all out there performing as much as they can during the outdoor event season. I missed it, yes. A lot. However, there was something extremely nurturing about giving time to my craft, and allowing the words and music to drift about my life so completely I realize I'd forgotten what a powerful state of mind that is. Living it in a major music location like Nashville, New York, or Los Angeles, songwriters can't help but eat, sleep, dream and live songs. I've done it. Now I find I have to make that time elsewhere in order to get anything done. This past summer was my chosen time, and as it turns out was extremely productive. Since I chose a place other than my own home--the Banff Centre for the Arts--I think I couldn't help but be productive. (I applied for and got an independent artist residency thank goodness) With the woods, the Bow River and the town of Banff below me, and the great mountains at my back, I sat each day facing a large window and wrote. The wind, the rain, the ravens came and went as I wrote leaving me in the comfort of my own creation. I even composed about five songs on the piano which is a feat unto itself since I hardly play the piano. Setting down my guitar, and using the other instruments to play with the ideas worked, rekindling and stoking a fire that I occasionally wondered had it gone out? (Old songwriters never die, we just change the strings...) I noticed something else. That within hours of setting up the writing space, and getting to work I found myself operating almost as if I were back in a music city songwriter mode. Except without all the crazy roller-coaster days of writing, pitching, wondering, etc. This time, the intent was to create new material for a new project that will stretch my creativity beyond the edges of the envelope I have so safely kept my music in. Time, and a new production will tell. In the meantime, huge nia:weh thank you to the Indigenous Arts Program, Sandra Laronde and her team, and my road warriors who stopped and picked strawberries with me when it was time to take a driving break and never let their teenaged angst and boredom get in the way of having fun. Now on to the next great adventure! And I think....piano lessons?
I recently read a blog by the Gibson Brothers bluegrass group relating the information on a stolen guitar and musical equipment that belonged to a young player. They've published a detailed list, if you care to forward it on your media sites to help out in the search. I immediately remembered the long-ago loss of my Guild D35, and a few other instruments and valuables that were taken from my apartment in Nashville. People kept saying to me, "It's just a guitar, and at least you're okay. What if you were home at the time?" Who knows what would have happened? What I do know for that boy, for myself and I'm sure millions of other musicians--it isn't just a guitar. It's not the brand, the colour, the type of wood, or the kind of strings that are on it. All of those can be replicated. In fact when I sourced a dealer to get a price on replacing mine, as a struggling songwriter at that time I couldn't even afford to because it had appreciated so much value. However, I knew that wasn't really what I was looking for. Friends loaned me instruments while I searched, grieving the loss of that musical partner that had always settled into my arms like a trusting lover, that resonated with tones that struck places deep inside my soul, and had remained steady and true every time I played. I knew as soon as I played it that it was mine. It must have been a year or so later, having given up looking for an exact replacement, and miserable without my Guild, on a visit to family I ended up in the Cambridge Music Store (which no longer exists) in Ontario, Canada. I was looking through the variety of instruments not finding anything that I liked when one of the salesmen said he had something just in and maybe it was more to my liking. He brought out a Takamine EN-10 and handed it to me. I was pretty skeptical. It wasn't a Guild, it wasn't even a North American made guitar, but as soon as I pulled it into my lap I knew it was mine. It was beautiful, it resonated clear to my bones, and without hesitation I bought it. Thieves, in their own world, do not think of those attachments and responsibilities to objects. Their only consideration is the value of the object, the when and where they will get it by fencing the object that belongs to you. Your own shock and myriad of emotions mean nothing to them, let alone your responsibility to your job and the work of your craft. There is only monetary value to the pieces of equipment and instruments you have carefully acquired. And like any other loss you feel that shock, that empty space, and for awhile you wonder how you'll get along without. So what have I learned? I like having the choice of whether or not to let something go. We all do, and no one likes having anything taken away from them. That boy is hurt, but he'll grow and heal and move into his own future knowing that the universe is his. The thieves, however, will forever have nothing. By stealing the prosperity of others they will remain frozen in a paradigm of their own making, always circling, repeating the patterns and living in the past. It's kind of like holding a grudge. Thievery does not allow a future. Kind of like the quantum physics of "What goes around comes around." So whether it's corporate sized or small change, thieves abandon their honour and their future while hopefully we salvage ours and leave them behind. Yes, I'm glad I wasn't at home when thieves broke into my apartment all those years ago. Yes, I'm glad the Gibson Brother's young friend is safe and secure. But sometimes a guitar isn't just a guitar. Like Willy Nelson's "Trigger", sometimes, it really is a best friend.
I've been trying to catch a weekly jam session that happens around town, and lately I haven't been able to arrive until the night is nearly over. For about an hour I play along and listen. I find song choices, playing styles, and voices fascinating, and really enjoy, for even one hour, a small visit with the local musicians. Sometimes strings are out of tune, sounds clash, sometimes they blend, and everyone seems to have a great time. I know I smile a lot because people are interesting and funny, and regardless of the expertise they are passionate about their music. I love this. They are of all ages. Every time I go there I learn something new or remember a song I'd thought forgotten. The best of all is it makes me think "What songs do I know?". Then I think of old Flatt & Scruggs tunes like Rough and Rocky or I Still Miss Someone. I recalled my oldest brother belonged to the Capital Record club, and bought one of their albums and that's where I first heard bluegrass music. Funny. At the time (I was nine yrs old) I thought it was country music.
I don't very often play the song "Dreams Die Hard" in my sets. It's a slower tempo and a heavy topic as the lyrics are pretty straightforward about domestic violence. But the other night I was prompted to play it near the end of my show and for the first time realized something interesting. As I sang I noticed every single woman in the room sat up in her chair, remaining still and focused throughout the song. Some men leaned forward and listened while touching the woman they were with in some protective or comforting way. Realizing this I had a momentary panic in the middle of the chorus that I was upsetting someone--making them uncomfortable, and that maybe I shouldn't sing this song, and oh, what am I doing? I should've sung something else. On and on and on chastising thoughts rolled through my head as I continued through the chorus and into the next verse when suddenly all the self-doubting misery screeched to a halt. I noticed one man squirming in his seat, slouching lower, even putting his chin in his hand, not looking at me or anyone in particular. And I realized, seeing the angrily twisted look on his face that every single word I was singing was hitting on some truth inside of him. He did not like it. In that moment I also realized that I could easily cut the song short, slide out of the chorus and segue into another song saving him and everyone else from discomfort. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone especially if I'm supposed to be the entertainment! But I didn't. I managed to catch his eye and sang harder, sweeter and as clear as I possibly could while emoting every syllable of that song. He liked that even less. I put as much love into that three and a half minutes as I could muster for the women in that room and the men who accompanied them. For souls everywhere who love and live with violence. For this squirming, uncomfortable, angry audience member who stayed right where he was and listened. And for myself. For so long I know I've the habit of protecting others from their own discomforts and truths--perhaps so they don't reflect mine. Who knows? But in that short few minutes I saw healing happening right in front of me. For some it came in quiet tears leaking out the corners of half-closed eyes, for others in shifting and restless movements in their seats, for one man in the flashes of hurt, rage, and even fear across his face and for me the dropping of a burden on my heart. I couldn't feel sorry for him without feeling sorry for myself. I couldn't stop singing without stopping my own voice. I'm not willing to do either. Music is the voice of Creation. Wherever it goes, however it moves us whether to write it, to sing it, to hear it, to move to it, when the first note is sung it has moved beyond our control. When the last note rings into silence who knows where it goes or what it does. Music is medicine. As performers we always want to see happy faces in the audience, but I will always be grateful for those faces that reflect a great disturbance for only then do I know for sure that I've truly done my job.
It's interesting to watch the climbing pressure in the media world to be more--more talented, more beautiful, more rich, more clever, more everything. Media spins to create a perception of excitement for the reader to want more. The pursuit of more is a global phenomenon, and as we move through a powerfully restless world of discontent it seems to be spinning totally out of control. If I get caught in the spin, and I have, I lose sight of my artistry, my gift, my purpose in living and breathing music and art. It manifests daily sometimes in songs, sometimes simply as a beautifully well-baked loaf of bread. If I see more, want more, reach for more I can no longer hear my own voice, my note--the sound of my soul, the voice of my spirit. Perhaps the Artistry of More can be the simple task of being more of myself, my I AM presence in the world. To reach inside and allow the more of me to sing, to dance, to play--play my own note, I become that which I cannot hear, or see, or feel, but a part of a great sound, a living song that reverberates through every human being. It is that which keeps us all breathing, hoping, and creating. If I pursue more, I will miss it. I would be like a surfer that cannot catch the wave, the kite that misses the breeze, and I would miss the thrill and power of allowing the more of me to be a part of the wholel. I have no need to pursue more. I am more. We are all more.
When thinking about the changes that have occurred over the years, some that matter greatly others not at all most lacrosse players wouldn't think much about the change from wooden lacrosse sticks to aluminum. Except that they hurt less when they get hit with them. But somehow I think that the player who knows how the hickory rolls in their hand, how over time the stick becomes a part of them, alive and powerful in every movement throughout the game it is a substance of the game that is now missed. Although a titanium or aluminum stick does the job--it's just not the same. Someday each step that is taken to build a lacrosse stick from choosing the tree to tying the last knot in the lacing may be forgotten unless we continue to teach and practice the making. For the magic is in the making as much as it is in the hands of a gifted player.
ElizaBeth Hill and Deep Woods, (Paul Langille and Steve Clark) blending sounds and skills old and new original tunes, performed in the deep woods communities of northwestern Ontario. We appreciate the amazing support from all, and are cheering on all the amazing talent of the budding y singers, songwriters and performers!
Happy New Year! Exciting news! My newest CD "Too Long Away" is ready for release on the Music Masters label partnered with Awake Now Records (U.S.) Promotional tour dates are being set up as we speak and will be uploaded as they are confirmed. As the title says, I've been too long away from my fans (for personal reasons) and am looking forward to seeing you out there at one of my performances. In the meantime, look for the television premier of "Kissed by Lightning" (Shelley Niro-Turtle Night Productions) on TMN (The Movie Network) in February soon to be followed by another broadcast on APTN. Music by ElizaBeth Hill, the soundtrack is a collection of works created and performed by lil' ole me, plus super talented artists such as blues vocal virtuoso Faron Johns, traditional Iroquoian singer Sadie Buck, and the late and much lamented violinist Oliver Schroer.