Blue O'Connell / Blog

Beer & Hymns brings holiday cheer!

Last night I attended a most unique and enjoyable event that takes place at Trinity Pub on the 1st Monday nights of the month across from the U.Va campus. "Beer and Hymns" has been happening for 3 years and enjoys a pretty good attendance. Last night about 30 people gathered to sing Christmas hymns from the St. Mark Lutheran Church hymn books. There is no better feeling that being in a room full of people who love to sing. Even better--who sing well! The harmonies that wove through the room were heavenly! I absolutely loved it. Here is the link to my blog "Blue O'Connell's Musical Adventures" http://blueoconnellsmusicaladventures.blogspot.com/

Charity Update & your support

I hope life is good in your corner of the world. I thought I'd give you an update about the donation I made to the Music Resource Center of the guitar I bought from Dave Matthews 22 years ago. The guitar was an Ovation pictured above and signed by Dave with an inscription reading, "This Old Guitar I play for many years". It was his main guitar during the years of 1991-92, during the time when "Remember Two Things" was being recorded. (which is to be reissued soon). The guitar was auctioned off on CharityBuzz.com in May and sold for $41,000! What is also cool is that DMB has a song called, "#41" --how cool is that? All proceeds went to the Music Resource Center in Charlottesville which will help about 100 low income kids to receive music lessons. We all know what a gift music is in our lives! Many people have told me what a generous thing I did to donate that guitar. They have asked how they may support me in return. Thank you for asking! You may purchase my CD, "Choose the Sky" via CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/blueoconnell2) or you may get a signed copy directly from me by emailing me here (blueoconnell@gmail.com) In addition, for every sale of this CD, I will donate 10% of the profits to go towards the Healing Music program at the University of Virginia Hospital where I am employed as a Certified Music Practitioner (CMP) trained to play live therapeutic music and "in-the-moment comfort care" that is tailored for a specific person/patient. I graduated from the Music for Healing & Transition Program in 2005 and have been employed as a CMP at the University of Virginia Hospital since 2004. Your support of me helps many and thank you!

Dave Matthews and the Shiny Black Guitar

Back in 1992 I bought a shiny black guitar that now has the ability to change lives. This is because this guitar used to belong to Dave Matthews during the years 1991-92. It is quite likely Dave wrote the songs that became the foundation of the DMB career with this guitar.

The guitar is going to be auctioned off at CharityBuzz.com in May with the proceeds to benefit the Music Resource Center here in Charlottesville. It's a guitar I used to record my first album "Lines of Change" on too.

The story of how I came to own this beautiful guitar and donated to the Music Resource Center (MRC) is best well summarized by the story in the Daily Progress article here.

Above I am pictured with the guitar on the steps of the MRC in October of 2013, the day I donated it.

Here is a link to my blogsite called, "Blue O'Connell's Musical Adventures" http://blueoconnellsmusicaladventures.blogspot.com/

The Tao of Music

There is a good book, "The Tao of Music" by John M. Ortiz that teaches you how to make various "musical menus" to help process feelings and create a soundtrack for the meaningful events in our lives. In one "menu" it has you choose a specific era in your life that you have a happy memory attached. I decided to choose my early childhood. It was a great exercise because I had forgotten so many happy times I had as a child. It is said that our brains are like Velcro to remember the bad things and Teflon to recall the good. So choosing songs that focused on happy times was great fun.

I made a list of those songs and downloaded them from iTunes and burned them onto a CD. I still remember the day I listened to it on a two hour drive for a job interview. By the time I got to the interview, I was in such a great mood from listening to the happy soundtrack I had created.

Here are some of the songs:

For Once in My Life-- Stevie Wonder Classical Gas- Mason Williams (inspired me to learn guitar) Alley Cat ( did a tap dance to this song) Love Child- Supremes and so many more.

Try it sometime --it is such fun!

When singing with a group, I think of soundtracks from our life. When we sing an old song from camp or school, we are all bonding with our happy memories. Last week I sang with a group of people who are closer in age to me, so we all have a similar soundtrack in terms of what was on the radio when we were growing up. I brought a bunch of new songs to sing and we had fun with: "Penny Lane," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "Moonshadow", "Rocket Man."

I never tire to sing old songs that bring us together. What are some of the songs of the soundtrack of your life?

The Universal Mind and The Erie Canal

There is a great video called, The Universal Mind about the musical genius Bill Evans who was a master improvisor on the piano. In it, he reveals his secrets about how he excels at improvisation. He talks about focusing on the fundamentals and breaking learning something new into small bits.

Somehow this reminds me of the magic and challenge of group singing. Imagine a collection of elderly folks who may not remember their names, who mistake me for their daughter, or think they are "going home" and all the confusion this causes. When we sing we become like a "universal mind". We are all on the same page. We all know the words, everyone is contributing, everyone is important.

I have to improvise when one of them begins to yell at the activities director when she does not sing the right words. I have to find a way to please the woman who only likes country music and the man who prefers Gershwin. I have to find common ground for these people who for some reason ended up unlikely neighbors and roommates. Singing favorite songs does this.

Today the song of the day was the old one, "The Erie Canal". Do you remember it?

I've got a mule, and her name is Sal, Fif-teen miles on the Er-ie canal, She's a good ol' worker and a good ol' pal, Fifteen miles on the Er-ie can-al, We've hauled some barges in our day, Filled with lum-ber coal and hay, And ev'ry inch of the way we know From Al-ba-ny to Buff-a-lo

Low bridge ev'-ry bod-y down, Low bridge for we're com-in to a town, And you al-ways know your neighbor, You'll always know your pal, If you've ev-er navigated on the Er-ie can-al

Written back in 1905, it was recorded by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and many others. A song about a bridge and music is the bridge. We crossed one together today.

Sound Healing, singing bowls and my old frequency friends

Have you ever experienced the sounds of Tibetan & Crystal singing bowls? It is a powerful experience! Today in my Integrated Therapies class we experimented with these sounds and frequencies. What happens when the bowls are struck, waves of sound fill the room and you can feel these vibrations in your body. We were focusing today on body awareness and how sound affects our bodies.

Do you remember that old TV commercial with Ella Fitzgerald where she sang a high note and shattered a glass? The commercial advertized Memorex cassette tapes (now obsolete!) and the slogan was, "Is it live or is it Memorex?" Ella was able to sing a note/frequency so powerfully that she shattered a glass! Imagine that the glass is a blockage in a cell in your body (which creates pain), how the sound/pitch/vibration can shatter that blockage? This is what sound healing is all about. There is a lot of scientific research out now about all of this.

What I felt like old friends have come back to me when I closed my eyes and the singing bowls were struck and their sounds filled the room and touched my body. It was like these frequencies were people I once knew and haven't seen for a long time and they have come to visit. It was such a nurturing feeling. I said to myself, "Oh hi, welcome back!" It sounds a bit abstract but sound has a way of putting you in a zone that is far removed from the mundane.

Today was the last session in my Integrated Therapies Certification Course I took. We met over a period of 7 months and each session we focused on different modalities such as; GIM (guided imagery to music), mandala, journaling and poetry, clay sculpture, meditation/mind body techniques. The facilitators are from the Integrative Music Institute in Charlottesville. If you are local, I encourage you to check out their programs!

VSA Art Show

The VSA Art Show is one of my favorite events of the year. VSA (very special arts) is an organization I work with that promotes experiences in the arts for people with disabilities. I lead sing alongs with several groups per month and as a result I have gotten to know many gifted and inspiring people.

The evening got off to a friendly note when I walked in carrying my guitar and a woman came running up to give me a big hug. "We miss you when you aren't there!" I was a little caught off guard because while she looked familiar to me, I could not place which group I knew her from. I said, "ah... which place is that?" She laughed and told me JABA. That's a place that has a very big group (over 30) and I'm not there as regularly. Anyway, what a nice way to be greeted!

I've been part of VSA Arts for over 8 years now and so it was wonderful to see all my friends beaming with pride with their artwork showcased on the walls at the MLK Performing Arts Center. Even the local TV station came and a few were interviewed! See this link for that. The event was very well attended (well over 100 people) in spite of the rain and cold. I feel so lucky to be part of this community.

I am pictured above with my friend Carol as I hold up her artwork in the new VSA Arts Calendar.

Beauty is Everywhere

I went hiking at Ivy Creek Foundation yesterday and came upon some interesting mold formations that looked like flowers. I also saw some bright orange mushrooms out there but I regret I didn't take a picture. (will do next visit!)

So what does this have to do with music? To me, it is a metaphor in finding beauty all around us. Even a clump of fungus can be beautiful if we see it that way.

It's the same with music. Not all songs I sing with others at the nursing homes are the most earth shattering gems you hear in concert halls. But that is what makes it beautiful for me when I sing with others . The unpolished, unadorned, muddy shoes, earthy old folk songs. The beauty is how our voices blend and create music out of simple melodies. Some voices more like flowers, others (like mine :) more like mold--they are real and true and even mold can be beautiful. Don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't sing. It is not true. We need the weeds as well as the leaves, the roots as well as the branches, the flowers as much as the fungus. Beauty is everywhere.

Here's the link to this entry on my blog:


Bye Bye Blackbird

Today I sang out at a senior home that is still pretty new and the personnel has changed so many times that I am still learning my way around there. I have sung there a few times before, so some of the residents look familiar but they have been pretty shy in terms of response to me until today.

Sometimes a new group takes some time to warm up to me. They look at me for the first few songs as if to be sizing me up and I think that is fair. In a place where so many have come and gone, I can understand their hesitancy to sing with me. I think singing is a very personal thing too and many are shy in public to do it.

So is it a great moment when I choose a song that brings a smile of recognition and eyes alight. That song was "Bye, Bye Blackbird." It is a song I don't sing a lot but I will from now on. Check out the lyrics below. I think the lyrics speak of finding your way in a new group, "no one here can love or understand me" At least for me that is a line that stands out.

From there I sang other songs that were also well received "Sentimental Journey", "I'm Looking over a Four Leaf Clover', " Five Foot Two". When I finished playing, many told me it was "tremendous", "wonderful" and their applause and smiles made me see the music had won them over.

Sometimes I wonder, when I am their age, what will the song(s) be for me that will make me smile?

How about for you? what song would make you smile?

Bye, Bye Blackbird

Pack up all my care and woe Here I go, singing low Bye bye blackbird

Where somebody waits for me Sugar's sweet, so is he Bye bye blackbird

No one here can love or understand me Oh, what hard luck stories they all hand me Make my bed and light the light

I'll arrive late tonight Blackbird, bye bye

Growing older is a privilege

Today I visited an assisted living center where I have gotten to become friends with some of the residents. After we sang, "The Hammer Song", Melanie told me about when she saw Peter, Paul and Mary in concert years ago. This led to talking about Pete Seeger and I mentioned he was still alive and still making music in his 90s. Then Helen said she is 93 and we all agreed she didn't look it. All of this led to talking about aging and I said I thought it was a shame that so many people talk so negatively about getting older. Then Melanie said, "it's a privilege". And when I asked her why, she said, "because we have wisdom." And then I remembered the quote above and told it to her and she said, "yeah that too." I feel lucky to have elder friends who inspire me. I don't dread my elder years because like the saying goes, it is a privilege denied to many.