Blue O'Connell / Blog

Keep the Dream Alive

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr day. A time to remember all the lessons and teachings he left behind.

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." - Martin Luther King, Jr

Whenever I hear words from Dr. King's moving, historical speeches, "I have a Dream," I am deeply moved. Now more than ever, we need to remember his words and teachings.

Yesterday I was playing my guitar on a dementia unit at an assisted living center. In honor of MLK day, I played a series of Patriotic songs. When I finished playing our National Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner," I looked up and was greatly moved to see an elderly woman standing out of her wheelchair with tears streaming down her cheeks. As I had been reading the music, I did not see her until I was finished playing. When I looked up and saw her tear-streaked face, she smiled a sad smile and saluted me and got back in her chair and left the room. A few moments later, I heard a door slam down the hall.

It made me stop and take note of all that is going on in the U.S. now. So much blatant disrespect, violence, chaos and turmoil. I remember a day as a child having to sing the National Anthem in school while facing the flag and with our right hand over our heart. I did not fully understand why we did this but I am saddened it is gone from our schools now. There is no sense of allegiance to our country right now. At least, not with those I come in contact with.

May we find out way back to the guiding principles taught by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” - MLK "I have a Dream"

Visit my blog here:


Silence Made Visible

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Silence Made Visible

Happy New Year, everyone! I wish you all much happiness, prosperity, good health and success.

Recently, I have been asked many times if I listen to music. For some of my old friends, it is a shock to them when I tell them these days I prefer to be in silence. This is because when I was younger, I was a voracious listener to music. Back in the days of vinyl LPs, I would often walk into a record store and buy 5 new albums and go home and listen to all of them. I would buy albums I knew nothing about and listen with such a hunger and curiosity. I loved discovering new artists, sounds, instrumental combinations, lyrical messages. I was also a radio DJ for 20 years at WTJU.net. I loved creating musical tapestries that would engage listeners in hopes of grabbing their attention away from whatever they were doing. I loved getting phone calls from drivers who pulled over to the side of the road to ask me, "What was that song you just played?"

So now silence is my great friend. Many years ago for a humorous gift to a friend, I gave her a recording of an "Interview with Silence." In this interview I asked things like,:

"What is your favorite sound?" "How did the expression, 'Silence is Golden come to be?" "What has been your greatest challenge being Silence?"

After each question followed a silent pause that really felt as if Silence was answering! I had forgotten about this interview until I thought about my sister asking me over Christmas holiday, "So, you don't listen to music?" I tried to explain to her how I love to go home and be in the quiet peace of silence. This being the New Year, I thought it would be a fitting topic to share with all of you. The picture above was from the view outside of the window of my train ride of the Hudson river. It's a picture of "Silence made visible. "

How is silence made visible in your lives? I'd love to hear from you.

Enjoy and thanks for stopping by! Below are some favorite quotes on silence.

"Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence."- Deepek Chopra

"We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls." - Mother Teresa

"Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment; that background which the painter may not daub, be he master or bungler, and which, however awkward a figure we may have made in the foreground, remains ever our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail, no personality can disturb us."- Henry David Thoreau

Link to blog: http://blueoconnellsmusicaladventures.blogspot.com/2018/01/silence-made-visible.html

Heart and Soul

Sometimes I am surprised by their openness to me. It is as if having my guitar in hand is like having a key to their secret garden they let me into. We enter into a very private place together as we share important memories from the soundtrack of their lives.

I'm thinking of Thelma (not her real name) and how she transformed from a appearing to be very quiet and untrusting to completely open and singing with the most heart felt abandon. When I saw a picture of Jesus on her wall, I decided to sing, "Amazing Grace" and she said it was her favorite song. She sang loudly and with the conviction of a professional singer even though she insisted after I complimented her, "I can't sing, I just love music!." Her love for music was so apparent. She went from being listless and detached when I entered the room to vibrant and joyous as we sang through some of her favorite songs.

Read the rest on blog: http://blueoconnellsmusicaladventures.blogspot.com/

Rewrite Your Endings

Here is an excerpt from my blog at this link: http://blueoconnellsmusicaladventures.blogspot.com/

I have a classical guitar piece I learned nearly 30 years ago that I play each day as a warm up. It's not a piece I'd ever perform in a concert but it is one I want to keep in my repertoire. Recently, I developed a memory block on the ending of the piece. Though I can hear it in my head, my hands do not remember how to play it. So, I was faced with the option of giving up on the piece (I'd never perform it anyway), or getting the music out and spending time re-learning it or I could improvise a new ending! I went with the last option and today I had so much fun with it!

For me music is not only a source of growth and self discovery, it is also a source of joy. Today I played this piece (Weiss Prelude in Em) over and over and gave it a new ending each time. It made me laugh to do this. I have to admit, I do prefer the "real" ending that S. L. Weiss composed but making up a new ending opened up new possibilities for me. It made me see that I don't have to do what someone else wrote down, I don't have to "color in the lines" or think in their box. I am free do see this piece of music as a recipe where I can add my own spices and flavors and herbs and make it my own. It is such a freeing and empowering feeling.

It makes a good metaphor for my life too. If I see this old piece of music like an old story from my life and one that I have told the same way over and over --am I not free to give the story a new perspective, a new ending? I know that endings of stories generally have a resolution or some kind of impact. What if we didn't keep the same ending? What if we improvised as I did and let the music take me to a new place?

I invite you to try this in your art or writing or music or your life. See where it takes you. It may make you laugh!

The picture above is from a gazebo in a park near where I live. I like to go there and let my mind wander. In fact, that's where I am heading now. Have fun rewriting your endings! :)

What I Learned from Pachelbel Canon in D

Everyone is familiar with this beautiful piece "Pachelbel Canon in D" from the baroque era. I was hired to play this piece for a wedding recently and here's what I learned from studying and practicing this piece over six months.

Firstly, I see that musical lessons run parallel to life's lessons. For instance, if you have a problem with rushing through your day, chances are good you tend to rush the tempo in a given piece. I have that problem somewhat. Not because I am trying to get through a piece quickly but because I am so eager to show the listener how beautiful the next passage is. With a piece like Pachelbel Canon though, the timing must flow slowly with clarity and precision. I worked with a metronome for months to train myself to play the piece in a very steady, precise rhythm.

I learned a lot about bringing my own colors and musical phrases into the piece too. I have to admit, coming up with my own arrangement that would honor the tradition of the piece and also have my own unique touch was pretty challenging. I liken it to having to wear a beige colored outfit --something plain which would not stand out in a crowd. That was where my Pachelbel Canon was heading for a few months. It was ok but it was not "me." I knew that I could wear a colorful sash or scarf to bring in my own colors while respecting the required dress code. To find my own colors and voice I turned to other guitarists who are known for never playing anything in a boring or redundant way. Here is Sungha Jung playing Pachelbel Canon.

From him I got the idea to create my own introduction before the well known opening chordal passage and then I used the melodic idea in the outro/ending of the piece. That helped shape my vision of the piece to be more "me." I then asked myself, "How would You play this piece?" I am not really known for playing baroque music and since it was for a wedding, I needed the piece to sound like what others expected it to sound like. So it was a challenge to me to put in elements of my own guitar riffs and embellishments.

link to 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.