New Music Coming

I have been so busy with writing in the past year that music took a back seat in many ways. It is time to get back into creating new music as well as keeping up with the old. Many of my readers were after me to begin the sequel to my novel. My mind wanted to complete my short story collection. My muse, however, has other ideas and they are all musical!

 

Dan Shepherd and Robin play guitar for congregational sing-a-long. Photo by Pan McCaslin

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I have always loved church music. We just completed a wonderful concert at Holy Cross where we also sang with Banner Elk Presbyterian’s Choir. I hope to have a link later this week on Robin’s Radio for you to hear the concert if you like sacred music. Elaine Kallested*, our choir director, has given me a chance to play on an anthem and play with the congregational sing-a-long. Dan, the guitarist who plays with me here, was nice enough to also allow me to play with the Holy Smokes group and sing a few harmonies.  I loved that we sang some songs I grew up singing with my Whitley family.

 

It was great to be able to play my guitar again. I’ve not played as much as I want since moving here. It also makes me want to play and sing more. I will be playing two solo pieces for worship on June 17th if you are in the area. My hope is also to begin singing in Beech Mountain and Banner Elk

Singing jazz and blues at It’s By Nature Gallery in Sylva, 2012.

when I find the right venues. As I practice, I miss playing with my friend David Brewin and The Shepherd’s String Choir. The difference playing with another artist or a band is that the performance pressure is eased with other musicians. I am still new to the area though.

 

I was blessed to have the opportunity to sing at an event sponsored by the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation. My realtor, Irene Sawyer, helped me find a great place to live AND she gave me the opportunity to sing for an appreciation dinner for patients and their caregivers. The event was held at The Chetola Resort lake area in Blowing Rock and will be held again in the fall. I’m going to be able to sing there again, but my hope is that I can find other ways to sing in this area.

 

For those of you who haven’t heard my music yet, let me tell you a little bit. Though my formal training was in voice (classical), I play guitar and sing a variety of music. These days, I usually only get to sing classical music with the church choir. My preferred genres to sing at gigs are folk, pop, blues, and jazz. You can hear a bit of my original music too. Though songwriting is not my strength, I have written some songs. Ordinary Miracles was my first CD and it came out in 2015 after being awarded an artist’s grant from Jackson County’s Arts Council. The CD has a folksy feel which was my goal.

The next CD I would like to put together is one of the English Country Dance Tunes that David Brewin and I played together. There are not many of these songs recorded. They are rewarding to play and relaxing to listen to. You can hear them and buy them online at J. Robin Whitley’s CD Baby site. Since I no longer live in the same town as David, it may be a while before we can get more of the tunes recorded. He is also back working at his blacksmithing job. As he often says, “blacksmithing pays more than music”. While that’s true, I certainly hope that David finds it worthwhile to record a few more pieces. His musician interpretation and skill as a lead guitarist is a gift to all who listen.

 

 

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*Elaine Kallestad is an Organist and Choir Director based in Boone, NC. Serving as a musician at Holy Cross Episcopal Church for 11 years, her church music career spans more than three decades.  She has worked in both large and small church parishes in Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Freiburg, Germany.  Her work has also been ecumenical as she served in many different denominations, including Episcopal, ELCA Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Methodist, and Evangelical.  Her studies include the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (Organ Performance) from The University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Music degree (Organ Performance/Church Music) from University of North Texas, and additional studies in Organ and Musicology from Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany.

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Random Thoughts on a February Morning

Tree at Beech Moutain’s Bark Park

Random Thoughts 2/2/2018

Just because a person misspeaks once, doesn’t mean the person is all-bad or all-wrong. As humans, we are prone to error. What makes us think another is in the wrong because of a mistake? What makes us think we are totally in the right because the mistake is obvious to us?

 

As I was washing dishes this morning, I rinsed out the small tub I use in my kitchen sink. There’s no dishwasher here but me. When I was drying it off, its white plastic not one I would choose, I thought of my Grandma Whitley. She always had a white plastic container she would put in her old porcelain sink to wash dishes. When the huge Whitley family gathered for meals, I always volunteered to do dishes. It’s something I never minded. It was also a way I could be around the women of my Southern family in a way that didn’t make me so nervous. I could listen and look out the window. They could talk.

We think we humans know how to love. It seems we only know how to create illusions of love. Then, when life gets tough, we take a pin to pop the bubble or the balloon of the illusion and think love is over when in fact, it may only have just begun.

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Sometimes the audio picked up the sound of Birdie swallowing or making a sound in her sleep. The sound is NOT my stomach growling. LOL

 

“The soul often speaks through longing.” ~Sue Monk Kidd

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The Politics of Life and Faith

My friend from India, Reji, a Coptic Orthodox priest gave me this message when I left an ecumenical conference. I asked him, “If you could say ANY THING to the people in the US what would you say?”

I expected him to give me a beautiful spiritual quote on Christianity or living in peace together. He was an Orthodox priest and we were there to study, talk about religion and how we CAN get along even with differences. Here is his response:

“Tell your people to get out and vote. You may not think your vote matters, but for India, it decides whether or not many of my own people can afford to eat. We grow bananas near my town but we ship them to the US and then prices are raised so high we cannot afford to buy our own bananas.”

When there are no more hungry people,
When there is no more poverty (LOTS of artists in poverty)
When there are no more wars or violence against women, children, and those of different beliefs or different races…

Then, and then only will I quiet my voice.

When an artist can make a living doing what an artist does
When a painter can paint AND feed her family
A singer can sing and not have to compromise his or her integrity to make a living

Then, and only then will I quiet my voice.

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The above post is from a writing that I did in October of 2008 on my Redbubble Journal. I was new to the “blogosphere” and trying to find a safe place to write politics. Had hated them all my life until my friend from India gave me the above message.

I can’t say that I like politics any better, but what I do understand now is how political actions or statements can have far reaching effects. I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s journals as a nighttime meditation. His concerns about the political situation in the 60s resonates with now. Some of the things he discusses, I remember from the things I experienced as a child. Politics have always been a part of the life of what it means to be human. The word “polity” implies civility. Yet, our discourse is far from civil.

Mystics, contemplatives, and other spiritual greats of history always call for non-violent change. Choose justice, mercy, peace is a message that dates to Micah in the 8th century B.C.E.

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

 Micah 6:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

We can no longer be silent about what is happening in our world. At the same time, we must stop pointing fingers at each other. How can we change the conversation? Justice, mercy, kindness is my responsibility. Each of us must look in the mirror of our soul and start there. The only change we can truly “control” is how we act or react to life, events, and those around us. I can only begin political activism by starting with me. I choose to love my neighbor in respect, dignity, and mercy. Make your choice. Are YOU willing to change and “… do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

“There is no consolation, only futility, in the idea that one is a kind of martyr for a cause. I am not a martyr for anything, I am afraid. I wanted to act like a reasonable, civilized, responsible Christian of my time. I am not allowed to do this. I am told I have renounced this – fine. In favor of what? In favor of a silence that is deeply and completely n complicity with the forces that carry out oppression, injustice, aggression, exploitation, war. In other words, silent complicity is presented as a ‘greater good’ than hones conscientious protest – it is supposed to be part of my vowed life, for the ‘glory of God.’ Certainly, I refuse complicity. My silence itself is a protest, and those who know me are aware of this fact.”     ~Thomas Merton March 3, 1964[1]

[1] Merton, Thomas, et al. “Part V: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage 1963-1965.” The Intimate Thomas Merton: His Life from His Journals, Lion Publishing, 2000, pp. 215–216.

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December Night

It is another cold December night, silent as it flies by. The dog is sleeping soundly in the bed, growling at something in her dreams. The snow still blankets the forest with soft curves over the land. The clock above me ticks. I always love the sound of a tick-tock. There’s no sleep for me tonight. I think it’s because I’ve slept all week trying to get over a cold and keep it out of my chest. Though, it could be the cup of coffee I drank at ten thirty.

Trying to sleep and thinking about that cup of coffee, I miss those times when I could drink coffee late into the night. Of course, there were term papers to write and I had to stay up. My insomnia never seemed to help me out on those late nights. Tonight wakefulness occurs due to something other than insomnia. It may be the caffeine, but it might also be this beautiful night calling to me. I have no good pictures of the snowy night, only the bright white days.

The last walk with the dog was peaceful. The snow on the path has softened from being solid ice. Birdie just looked for deer. While she looked at the houses below and the woods between them, I looked at the snow. The trees made shadows. Debris from the trees made patterns in the snow. All was silent except for a saw of some sort coming from my new neighbor’s house. The light on the garage was still on. They are preparing the house for their coming marriage. I try to think of something to give as a welcome to the neighborhood or a wedding gift. I don’t know them yet though. Gift giving seems not to be my forte anyway.

Trying to go to sleep earlier, my mind raced about the holidays. I thought of the days past and how little money I’ve had for gifts in my lifetime. Though, I always put as much heart and thought into a gift as possible. I don’t miss the stress of shopping or trying to find the perfect gift. I was never a shopper, though at one time I enjoyed Christmas shopping. I still wasn’t very good at it even then. Some people have a knack of knowing just what a person needs or wants. Gift giving has lost its appeal for me. What I want to give is not as tangible as a present. It is about presence however.

Presence that gives of the heart, mind, and soul imbues me with a desire to reciprocate.  That powerful presence can be given in something as simple as a sincere smile. Kindness goes a long way in these times when everyone seems to be fighting or accusing. Sitting with a grieving friend is priceless. I’ve had friends care for me as I grieve, and there are no words to convey the power of that understanding.

Drinking the last bit of coffee, a community of witnesses, friends, family surrounds me. Those who have died did not abandon me for I carry them in my heart. The last time I saw my dad well was near Christmas. He wanted one last Christmas with his family. Yet, his love is ever with us. The magic of grandparents’ homes still warms my heart. Carols connect me with my cousins and remind us all of singing around the piano in wonderful harmony.

The dog has awakened and sat behind me; her black eyes staring at my back. She wants me to return to bed. Now I hear her hesitant jump as she tries to get back on the bed. She sleeps close to my leg and lets me know if anything sounds during the night. She watches over me. Somehow, I know my loved ones watch over me too. May you have angels watch over you on this beautiful December night and lead you into glorious day.

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Books and Community – Celebrating Diversity

On December 7th, I was honored to present my new book at the Watauga Public Library in Boone, NC. There were about eight of us total. That makes a great group for discussion. One of the challenges in promoting my book has been…well, promotion.

What I really want to promote is well-being, community, and love. Of course, it will be great if folks buy my books, then I can buy wood for the fire or save up for snow tires. But the reality is that I write because I must write. There’s a theme to my life that won’t let me go. Even when I paint or draw, it is with the hope to build comradery or open another’s eyes to the beauty of the ordinary.

Music is the same. I remember listening to Cat Stevens[1] records as a youth and thinking how this stranger could touch my heart, mind, and soul with one song. I was listening to his song, The King of Trees. As I look at the lyrics now, I’m not sure why this song set my imagination soaring so high. Part of it was the music I know. Trees have always spoken to me. Still, through that song, I knew that someone understood me in the world even though I didn’t know him personally.

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 
― Mother Teresa

 

 

Isn’t that one of the many reasons we read? To be understood or to learn to understand our own self? I read for many reasons, escape, to understand the world, to understand God, to seek to know how to live, for entertainment, etc. Books are my friends. It’s rare that I read a book twice, but I love seeing the binding and how it reminds me that the story lives in the book and somehow lives in my own life.

At the event on Thursday, I read from my new novel and made people laugh. We then began to talk about community because my novel, Finding Home, is about belonging to community. It is fiction, but this fiction is also based upon real, rural communities that I’ve lived in during my lifetime. These were places where people care for one another and look out for each other. There are places where people feel they don’t belong. I get that. My point in the novel is this, find the community where you DO belong. More importantly though, be the person who makes your community better.

In this day and time, we are losing a sense of caring for each other. I’m not going to attack social media, though I do believe we must choose better ways to use social media with an emphasis on the “social”[2] portion that emphasizes the welfare of others. When we talk about being social to each other, we most often imply a sense of respect and perhaps even kindness. While there are some of my friends who use social media to post political topics, most of my friends are seeking to remain connected (or become connected) to a community. Even those who post political things are talking about a community. This digresses a bit.

My point is this. Community matters. What does it mean to respect each other regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, political affiliation? Life. We are all in life together. While each person has a different set of circumstances to deal with, we all have more in common than we are currently acknowledging in this divisive atmosphere. Disagreeing with each other doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Letting those disagreements divide us is the action which needs to cause us alarm. Carl Sagan talks how each person is precious.

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

My heart and soul have always believed in the goodness of humanity. Let’s choose to focus on what’s right with our communities. When people are in need, let’s lift them up instead of belittling others. This is not an easy thing to do with so many injustices happening in our world, but we don’t have control over the entire world, just our own actions. I believe in you and your goodness. I believe that when we embrace our own goodness and kindness, the world can deal with anything that happens. We need each other.

 

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

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