Why Blog?

For a long time, I have been interested in the connection between creativity and spirituality. I believe they both spring from the same part of the soul, perhaps the same part of the brain, or are they both divine gifts…? Depends what you believe, I guess!

This blog is a space for some of my musings on creativity and spirituality.

Always

Sometimes I look at the way we are encouraged to live our lives in today’s society, and see that we are encouraged to give all that we can to our children. We are encouraged to earn enough that they won’t go without, but still have time to be emotionally engaged and then make sure they have the resources they need to succeed in their education and growth.

All of this often comes at a cost to ourselves and to the world around us. Whether it is because we are forced into a driving frenzy to get everyone where they need to be, while missing as little work time as possible, or buying more than is actually needed, just so we are sure that our family won’t go without.

But what I want for my kids more than anything is for this beautiful world that we live in to still be beautiful, safe and habitable, throughout their lifetime. I want to pass onto them a healthy world. Without this, everything else is worthless.

I wrote ‘Always’ reflecting on this.

The beach as a church

The beach as a church

Since the start of January, I have been getting up at 6am, twice a week, to head to my favourite local beach (Bar Beach) for a run and a swim.

This idea was born out of my desire to gain fitness and lose some kilos, and to perhaps also conquer my slight fear of the beach. Until I started this regime, I had NEVER been to the beach (any beach) on my own. I had always just gone along because someone else was going and I couldn’t convince them to go to the pool instead!

4 weeks down the track, this new morning ritual has stuck! Amazing really. Despite my return to work and my daughter’s return to school, I am still going! How has this happened, when every other exercise regime I have tried to implement in the past has fallen by the wayside when life got real again?

The secret is, that I haven’t actually gained an exercise regime from this experience. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]

The first morning that I went, I was grumpy, highly skeptical and ready to “just get it over and done with” so I could just say that I had done something active that day. I arrived in my car and looked at the beach seeing waves that looked small enough that I might be able to have a swim, and enough people to feel safe (but not so many that I would feel ‘watched’). You might say that conditions were perfect.

I started to run and surprised myself by not collapsing within the first 30 seconds! I found myself smiling each time the waves came up far enough to get my toes – I guess it was like a game. I watched the surfers heading out and admired their bravery (the waves out the back will always look way too big to me, I think). Before I knew it, I had made it the whole way along the beach without stopping.

I turned around to run back to where I had left my towel and saw that behind me had been the most glorious sunrise! Pink, orange and yellow moving into a beautiful blue in the sky. How could I have missed it all that time, it was right behind me! Staring at these amazing colours, I actually made it the whole way back to my towel, without even thinking about the running. The beach had forced ‘mindfulness’ upon me, without me even realizing! I have had many a psychologist and well-meaning friend suggest mindfulness to me (particularly when they witnessed how fast I eat!) and I have never been a fan of the term, but here was the proof. My mind was so engrossed in the surrounding beauty that I had forgotten I was even running – something that I assure you does not come naturally to me.

Well, the inner joy I was feeling at this beautiful scene, inspired me to step into the water, where I saw a number of other swimmers – safety in numbers! As I entered the water I realised that 80% of the people around me were at least 30 years my senior! One lady who looked to be in her 70’s was entering the water with a surfboard! These people smiled and greeted me, commenting about the beautiful morning. I have never felt so welcome! It was enough to have me just about jumping for joy as I left the water and headed back to my car, via the beach showers.

Upon heading this way, a man smiled and said to me “I just had to sit on the sand and watch for 20 minutes – fascinating”.

So, where am I going with this long-winded story? I wanted to share that though my body was what took me to the beach, it was my spirit that was most exercised while I was there. It is not every day that a group of strangers speak to you to say hello, let alone about how they are feeling and what they are seeing. I experienced a realm of mindfulness that has never been mine, and left with inspiration to do things differently (especially with relation to looking after this amazing planet that we have). I know, it all sounds a bit cheesy, but it is such a strong feeling that I need to share it, regardless of my worry about what others will think of my words and thoughts.

A good friend of mine once said to me that “the beach is my church”. At the time I thought, “oh yeah, I guess you could sit and look at the waves..”, which of course you can, but I now see that it runs a lot deeper than this. Community. Connection to creation. Thankfulness. Inspiration to keep on keeping on. Wow. [/read]

Racist Skin

Racist Skin

I wrote this song over 10 years ago. At the time, I had just had an encounter with a “friend” who had decided to tell me of all the reasons why he would never let his daughter (who at the time was 6) date a boy of another ethnic background to his own – which of course was white-anglo Aussie. A “real” Aussie, he would say.

At the time, I felt SO betrayed. I felt I had been deceived by this person for so long. Why hadn’t they told me this ages ago so I could distance myself from them? How could I have anything in common with this person and have called them my friend?

I tried my best to reason with this “friend” but after a few hours of heated discussion, I decided it was time to walk away. I couldn’t fight any longer without doing something I would regret.

This brought about the song “Racist Skin”. From the moment I wrote it, I loved singing this song. It was my first taste of singing about something I really cared about – a big step away from singing about love and boys. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]

The next logical step was to start playing it with my band. Upon taking it to a rehearsal, the drummer at the time in my band listened to the song and stopped me half way through saying, “you can’t say that – you can’t say those things”. This drummer was older than me and had an ethnic background much more diverse than my English-Scottish-Aussie make up, so I backed down and decided to water down the lyrics so they wouldn’t offend anyone.

Years later, I am back to playing this song in its original state (video below of a recent performance of this song at The Commons in Newcastle, as part of the Inspiracy Festival weekend). I am back to loving this song, and I am not ashamed to sing these words at a loud volume.

Upon the recent events of Trump’s victory, this song and the way it came about came to my mind. Is it time for those of us who are passionate about social justice and equality to speak and sing a little louder? Is that how this world has come to this point of electing right-wing celebrities who seek to divide and exclude in order to preserve white-western privilege?

Let’s turn up the volume and start letting our leaders know, that love and not fear will progress our country.

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Is it possible the HSC is a bit like life…?

Is it possible the HSC is a bit like life…?

I have just had the pleasure of accompanying the last of my HSC students for their practical exams.

I have at least one student (more often than not 3-5 students) per year that are preparing for their HSC music exam. It is something that I enjoy being involved with. After all, it is always great when a student has a goal, and more often than not they produce greatness with the deadline in sight.

It occurred to me this year that each year, about 3 weeks out from the exam I have a recurring dream that I am walking into my own HSC exam and trying to convince the examiners that I have already done my HSC and have no need to be there.

It left me wondering if I am putting too much pressure on myself towards these exams. My role is really just to teach the songs and then accompany for some of them, and yet, subconsciously I obviously feel that I am being examined too!

Today as I was leaving the last of my students exams I rethought this though. The relationship between student and teacher is special.[read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”] One where the burden of something as big as a HSC exam can be shared. But also one where the joy of completing and SUCCESSFULLY completing an HSC exam can also be shared.

A nice thought to take towards other situations in life. Burdens shared can be more easily conquered, and in conquering we can also share the joy. [/read]

Too Darn Hot

Too Darn Hot

While playing some tunes with the Dungeon Big Band at rehearsal last night, it occurred to me how energy-giving music can be. “Too Darn Hot” (Ella Fitzgerald version), was the particular song we were playing when this thought came to me.

When I was learning this song I was on a plane full of people, half-way through a 15 hour flight. This situation is a fantastic example of an energy-draining situation. I thought to myself, “I better take a break from watching movies and learn those songs for the big band”. I put my headphones in, turned Ella on, and within minutes I was dancing in my seat (much to the delight of the people around me…..) and transported to another realm where I was sitting in front of Ella, being filled with the energy that comes from her incredible voice. A complete transformation from the few minutes before when I had been moaning and groaning about the length of the flight.

The fact that so much “happy energy” can come from a woman that experienced more than her fair share of hardship blows me away in itself. But for it to then come through the recording and to me the listener, decades later, inspires me even more![read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]

Last night, I dragged myself to rehearsal after finishing what seamed to be a very busy and difficult few days of teaching, followed by dinner-time with two tired kiddies who put me in an even greater mood (can you sense my tone?). You would think a two hour rehearsal would be an even greater drain on my tired self, but instead I walked out of there singing, smiling and with a spring in my step.

I’m not sure whether it’s the actual content of the music, the way that Ella sang the song (meaning that when I sing it I recall the energy she gave), the community feeling of working with other musicians, or perhaps the ability of music to heal, but I am sure that listening to and more particularly playing music, is just the medicine I need to get me back on my feet a lot of the time.

You too?

Feature image attribution: Ella Fitzgerald, November 1946. Photography by William P. Gottlieb [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Humanity of Classical Music and the Church

The Humanity of Classical Music and the Church

If you’re in Newcastle (NSW), the Newcastle Music Festival has commenced and runs until 21st August – go and have a listen, and dare to clap when the time is right! www.newcastlemusicfestival.org

It’s no secret that a lot of community centres are struggling to continue these days. From churches to community outreach programs, from opera houses to bowling clubs.

The struggle to connect as a community is real. I’m sure it has always been there, but perhaps once upon a time the act of connecting as a community didn’t have to compete with television and the other media that entice us to stay home these days.

Two of those community areas that I am involved with are church and music.

Both are heavily embedded in our western history and yet both seem to be struggling to connect with the population and struggling to stay relevant to current society.This is my perception of these mediums from a generalised and “overall” view.

Yet, I have found, when experienced at a personal level both are often well received and most often welcomed.[read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]By saying this I am suggesting that a personal expression of a faith/religion (perhaps the offering of help at a difficult time) or a personal expression of music (perhaps a performance of a piano piece for friends within a home setting) can be an extremely powerful and emotional experience for a great deal of people who would not necessarily consider attending a church service or a classical piano recital.

Have these two structures (religion and classical music) become too big, too structured, too “un-human” for the majority of society to connect with? Have they lost touch with their roots and the reasons they first came to be a part of our culture and our society?

Early operas were held in small sitting rooms, or if in a bigger opera house, then they were attended by people who were also gambling and socialising (amongst other things…). This is far from the silence and concentration that is expected of opera/classical music audience members these days – a silence that many find has them worrying if they will know when to clap or how on earth they will stifle their cough for another 40 minutes.

And if I refer to the religion of Christianity (as this is the one I am personally familiar with), Jesus himself was fighting against the rules and traditions of the church body, speaking of being governed by love and compassion instead. Can it be said that the Christian church today is known for being governed by rules or by love? (I’ll let you answer that one..)

In my perfect world I would love to see our world-wide society work its way back to inclusive, loving experiences of church (because it CAN be an amazing way to be a part of your community while also focusing within yourself) AND to personal and welcoming experiences of the AMAZING music that has been passed down from generation to generation (or from orchestra to orchestra, from pianist to pianist, from singer to singer etc).

I think this means a level of forgiveness is needed from both sides. Perhaps those performing (church leaders or musicians) could allow people to start from scratch again – no “assumed knowledge” before entering (and in my perfect world, no dress codes either)! And perhaps those participating (congregation and audience) could remember that these people who are presenting either music or spiritual ideas are human too. Their words and their music are designed to connect with us, and tell us a story, that really only the individual gets to truly hear – every persons interpretation is different. How amazing!! But WE have to start to listen.

Maybe dare to have a listen some time soon![/read]

Ride the Road with Me

Ride the Road with Me

I have just returned from a bike ride in the winter sun. Somehow I was lucky enough to score an entire afternoon free of work, children and any other distractions. I was faced with the internal question of, “do I sleep, or do I get out and be active?”

The way my children sleep, leaves me feeling quite exhausted a lot of the time and so I often feel that exercise is a way I can regain some energy, often more energy than I would if I had a little nap (although, sometimes a nap is what the doctor orders)!

Today, I chose to ride. I rode my bike to the Newcastle Foreshore. Even though the air is cold today, the sun is warm. It wasn’t long before I was smiling a little and thinking how lucky I am to be a part of all “this”.

I find at this time in my life I am often faced with the question of whether to sleep or get out and be active. I face it with my children – do I let them watch tv, or do I get in there and do some craft with them? I face it with my work – do I just settle for how things are at the moment, or do I continue to train and be better at my job? I face it within my community – do I volunteer to help out at the school, or pretend I didn’t see that notice? And every week I face it with my church, do I bother with the effort of getting my children ready to go to church on a Sunday or just sleep in?[read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]

I must admit, the draw card of doing nothing seems to be so strong. Why? Why do I crave nothingness? I do believe that we all need “nothing” time to sit and listen to what thoughts, ideas and needs are coming up from within us. But as well as this, I also I know if I choose the “active” option I will feel re-energized in some way. It’s as if the act of connecting with my children, connecting with my working-self, connecting with my community, actually connects me to a greater life-energy source. For me, this greater life-energy source is “God”.

This is where the core of my spirituality lies. It lies in “tapping in” to the people and things (expressions of “God”) that surround me. In experiencing love and appreciation of them, and being amongst them I actually experience love and appreciation of myself, and how I am a part of this amazing world.

It seems apt to me that the winter sun made such a difference to my day today. The days are so short at the moment that I find the lack of sunshine in my life leaves me feeling drained and quite often, very down. But, in the midst of the winter, one sunny day, and just an hour of being out in it, can give me energy to keep pushing through more of that dark, cold winter. For me, THAT is the spirit at work.

I actually wrote this song ‘Walk the Road with Me’ when I was young and naive to the difficulties of the world. Even then, I was pondering what God could be. I found that “blessing” and “expressions of God” could be found all around me when I looked, and that therefore, these expressions must look different for every person at every stage of their life.

Somehow, no matter how far away from faith I have felt, this song has always been special for me. Because even in the hardest, darkest winters, I have had people walking the road with me. Listen to ‘Walk the Road with Me’ below…

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