Monday, January 30, 2017

Needing a musical massage

I was driving home from Orlando listening to NPR but the news, as it often is of late, was too depressing. So I turned off the radio and switched on a music file from my phone.

Much better.

Before long I was being serenaded by one soothing song after another. Instead of hearing repeats of the same upsetting news stories I’d been listening to all morning, my playlist of favorite tunes filled the air. Like a musical massage, melodic messages of hope and encouragement began to untangle my mental knots.

I didn’t grow up in a musical family. Neither of my parents listened to music or played an instrument. Although I took guitar lessons for a while and briefly attempted to play cello in high school, I failed to achieve a level of competence on either instrument.

Nonetheless, I’ve always been drawn to songs. Every night during my teenage years, I’d stack three LPs on the turntable in my bedroom and drift off to sleep before the last track of the final record finished playing. It was during those formative years that my love of folk music, show tunes and musical satire took root. Like a seed in fertile ground, it grew with gusto.

Shortly after my first child was born, I began writing songs of my own. While uncomfortable singing in public, I was completely at ease sharing homegrown story-songs with my family. Music poured out of me during that tender period of sweet baby hugs and sticky toddler kisses.

Somewhere along the way, the kids grew up. New songs were written, but not nearly as many. More often than not my musical cravings were fulfilled by others. Troubadours like Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Bill Staines, Tom Rush, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Dundee, Chuck Suchy, Priscilla Herdman, Kate Wolf, Anne Hills, Carole King and so many others became the backdrop to my life. I listened to their heartfelt lyrics while working in the kitchen, driving in the car or working in the garden.

Pete Seeger at the Clearwater
Festival several years ago
During the ‘70s and ‘80s when we lived on Cape Cod, Ralph and I were regulars at First Encounter Coffeehouse, an intimate acoustical venue in Eastham, Mass. where local and national artists performed to a small but appreciative audience. Forty-three years later, First Encounter still remains a sought after venue for both listeners and performers and while I haven’t been back on the Cape for years, memories of those long-ago concerts remain an integral part of my musical background.

Since moving to the Sunshine State, Ralph and I have continued to attend live concerts whenever one of our favorite folksingers come to town. Most frequently, we go to the Third Saturday House Concerts sponsored by Lake Eustis Folk at Trout Lake Nature Center, but we’ve occasionally traveled to Orlando, St. Pete or Gainesville for a special concert if a performer we like is in the area.

Cindy Mangsen and Steve Gillette playing to an
appreciative crowd at Trout Lake Nature Center
It’s through these type of intimate, low key ‘house concerts’ that we’ve enjoyed the work of songwriters like John McCutcheon, David Roth, Carla Ulbrich, Mike Jurgensen, Dave Mallett, Amy Carol Webb and Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen. What a joy it has been to see these talented individuals in person and to leave the venue with their wonderful songs running through our minds.

It’s the need for soothing, uplifting music that brings me back to the playlist on my phone. As much as I’ve always been a supporter and loyal listener of National Public Radio, my need for sanity in an increasingly insane world finds me turning more and more often to songs instead of news stories.

“I’ll take the back roads home through the open countryside,” sings songwriter Kate Wolf as I travel back from the city along I-4, “Letting things slip by in drawn-out time. I’ll take the long way home on the back roads of this life. Taking time to see what goes by…”

I needed that. Thank you, Kate and Tom and Bill, Priscilla, Anne, Steve & Cindy, Pete and Arlo and all the rest of the acoustic songwriters whose music and melodies have given me so much over the years. As Kate Wolf continues so simply but elegantly, “Anyplace you’re bound, you’ll get there someday. You’re the one who chooses what to see along the way. And when the heartaches seem too much for you to bear, There’s a back road winding everywhere.”

Back Roads

Words and Music by Kate Wolf

I’ll take the back roads home through the open countryside

Letting things slip by in drawn-out time

I’ll take the long way home on the back roads of this life

Taking time to see what goes by

Coming and going, there’s no dividing line

What you’re headed for, someone left behind

And the shortest road ain’t always the best

Sometime let a back road take you home

A back road is so easy, it just rambles on and on

Take it or leave it as it rolls along

Drifts through things it cannot change, and doesn’t even try

Wouldn’t that be something for you and I


Anyplace you’re bound, you’ll get there someday

You’re the one who chooses what to see along the way

And when the heartaches seem too much for you to bear

There’s a back road winding everywhere


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