Will Taylor: Burning "bad" violins to bring music to Texas foster kids

Photo courtesy Will Taylor

This is one of the most unusual benefits ever, by one of the most unique music groups ever. My friend Will Taylor and Strings Attached will burn BAD violins on Friday night, April 29 at Nutty Brown Cafe to bring awareness to National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Kids In a New Groove. KING provides musical instruments and instruction for Texas children in foster care. Will is donating part of the profits from his Classic Rock Weekend concert series to KING, and promoting the donation of playable instruments to the non-profit program.

Emphasis is placed on burning BAD (unplayable) violins in order to gain resources to purchase or prompt the donation of decent, playable instruments. After taking music lessons for 30+ years, and teaching music for 45+ years, I can attest to the importance of having an instrument that works and can stay in tune. Check out Will's Facebook page for LOTS more information.

The healing power of music is well documented. Next to family, music is certainly the most important thing in my life. It has comforted me through death, illness, divorce, isolation, heartache, and is absolutely THE best high in the universe. I've been contemplating getting a tattoo for many years now. The only reason I don't already have one is because I could never settle on what I wanted. Why is that relevant to this post? Because my niece recently got a gorgeous one (from Tattoo Bob) that states in super delicate/elegant script "Music is the lamb that made a lion out of me." That prompted me just a scant two weeks ago to finally commit. As serendipity would have it, my choice is "Music heals," in the same script. So tonight I get this message from Will about Kids in a New Groove. See how that wacky chord resolves?

Will has carved a truly dynamic niche in the overloaded Austin music scene. A classical and jazz violinist and violist, Will writes, performs, and records groovy string arrangements of various musical genres, in collaboration with local and nationally renowned musicians. He just completed House of Wills, featuring the music of Willie Nelson, in the style of Bob Wills. The Friday concert at Nutty Brown rocks the music of Led Zeppelin, and a Classic Rock Retrospective (think Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, and Stevie Wonder!) hits the Continental Club on Saturday, April 30.

This is all happening as we speak. Will is a Master of Momentum. He picks up on an idea and builds creative flow through networking and social media that appeals to broad musical audiences while promoting good causes. In this case, within a very brief time frame!

I met Will about 10 years ago at St. David's Episcopal Church here in Austin through David Stevens, tenor extraordinaire and St. David's Music Director. I was hanging out waiting for a rehearsal to begin, and Will was feverishly copying string parts for an early Strings Attached project. I could tell even back then that he was headed for greatness. Sure 'nuff!

So it is my pleasure to get this project in front of all my friends, especially those of you who 1) want to hear some very cool music, 2) would get off on watching a pile of violins burn, 3) are Zeppelin fans, 4) can donate playable music instruments to Kids in a New Groove, 5) can volunteer music instruction for KING.

Kids In a New Groove is going to hear from me very soon...and I'm calling Tattoo Bob tomorrow. Of course, I'm still facing the dilemma of WHERE to place it. I think this one needs to be in a visible location. Any suggestions, y'all? I may even bust out of my hermit shell to go watch those violins burn!


Earth Day, 2011 aka Retirement Month: Seven/Eight aka 52 Weeks

The Bromeliad I got when I began 52 Weeks to Awesome is still alive! And that's Awesome!

I distinctly remember where I was on the first Earth Day in 1970. Topanga Canyon, a mild, sunny day; listening to the coverage on NPR and thinking how great it was to be a gypsy musician hanging out in the canyons loving the Earth. It was also in 1970 that a wildfire threatened our little canyon which prompted one of my earliest-published poems. That might be putting too grandiose a cover on it--it was a college underground newspaper. Ah, the 70's. Especially after those heady 60's.

And that somehow brings me to fear. The universe has thrown some clear directions to pay attention. People I trust have blogged about fear. 52 Weeks is into fear evolving into self-trust. Ryan talked about it and we sang about it last Friday and Saturday. Mark Silver, Havi Brooks, shoot, a big stack of writers are talking about it in this particular nexus of time.

The hard fact is that we have not been treating our Mother Earth or Our Own Sweet Selves very well at all. I look back in my mind's eye to 1970 and the urgent destruction we knew we were headed for. Forty-one years later and I despair for the time we've lost. I never dreamed back then that we would let it get this bad. Let Earth Day remind us that we need to take care of our earth's resources, including ourselves, every day.

The fear thing. Looking back through the Retirement posts, I'm reminded of what stark terror feels like. And have gained the space to be curious about it. Examine it. See what I can find out or learn about it. And if it's not working for me, banish it. Poof.

Here it is post-tax day and I'm not a bag lady. So what if Teacher Retirement and Social Security don't even cover monthly expenses? Working smaller gigs has been fun rather than work, so no complaints about that. Not to mention meeting new people, which always sparks my brain. I can finally let go of that ghastly vision of me pushing a grocery cart under the bridges and along the creeks of Austin, living with the stray cats and dogs. Yeah, I really thought I'd end up that way. Not this year, though.

Kyeli (as we begin Module the Second of 52 Weeks to Awesome in which we learn to work through fear (!) and trust ourselves), reminded me of mindfulness, talking about hurting her knee and having to slow down a bit. Running a cognitive behavioral thought record through when that old fear creeps up my back. Is this a familiar or even a friendly fear? when I get that gut feeling that I should absolutely NOT do something...but I do it anyway, and learn, once again, that we ignore our instincts at our own risk.

If we've already come to some agreement, I just smile, wave, and move on. I can go incognito and walk around a new fear for quite some time, just hanging in a safe place, watching. That's what I was doing with this bag lady fear, until folks started showing up with new ways to think about and deal with fear. Bam, bam, bam, one right after another.

Singing about it was surely the most helpful this time around. Yeah, life is messy, all stuck together with wars and greedy, uncaring people and governments. Flow with it. Turn whatever you touch into the most hopeful, compassionate experience you can. Sunday's concert took place right across the street from the ACC-Pinnacle wildfire. I could look out the entryway and see the plumes of smoke rising overhead. I felt not one pang of panic--not one iota of distraction. Oddly enough, I think I was inspired to sing even better. Pumping healing vibrations and hopeful words directly into the fire, along with the helicopters overhead dumping flame retardant.

I have been through wildfires. You don't live in SoCal or Australia or Texas or any other dry environment without them running into you. So in a mangled way, my head mashed fear, wildfires, Earth Day, nostalgia, music, retirement, and a bunch of bright bloggers all into one messy post. 

Speaking of messes, The Great Unmessing of 2011 is galloping along, thanks to Bonnie. Fifteen + boxes emptied, car packed full of stuff to give away, rough plans for space usage, the rugs are even washed. I am loving it big time. Next project: take photos of stuff, both to sell and to archive. So many projects...

It's also sparked me to go walkies around the neighborhood.  Awesome.

The Randy Dude stats--read them and be totally awed.


AVAE concerts--R.I.P. composer Lee Hoiby

Contemporary composer Lee Hoiby passed away recently. I was privileged to meet Mr. Hoiby at a Chorus America convention in the late 1980's. Performed his Shakespearean songs with Princeton Pro Musica, a lovely collection.  PPM also performed his oratorio Galileo Galilei. Composers frequently give away music samples, and I picked up a couple more of his songs at other Chorus America conferences.

From the NYT obit:
In recent years he turned toward choral works, including “The Christmas Tree” and “Last Letter Home,” set to a note written by a soldier before his death in Iraq.
More about "Last Letter Home" from NewMusicBox:
There is an exceptional quality of emotional immediacy in Lee's music that can be disarming to some, but that never fails to move even the most jaded listener. When Lee threw himself into writing Last Letter Home, which sets a poignant text written by the fallen American soldier Jesse Givens in Iraq, the music could have easily veered towards maudlin sentimentality or kitsch in the hands of a lesser composer. Not, however, in the hands of a master like Lee Hoiby. Instead, Lee produced a deeply felt, rigorously composed harmonic masterpiece for a cappella men's chorus. Following the premiere and repeat performances, the letters poured in. Rarely had I seen such a flood of comments from listeners and performers. Listener after listener, performer after performer wrote to Lee to remark on his "beautiful, singable, and deeply moving" setting. The work has since gone on to be performed countless times and in various versions for mixed chorus, solo baritone and piano, and chorus with orchestra.
The Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble will perform "Last Letter Home" as part of the "War and Peace" concerts at 8:00 p.m. Friday, April 15, Hope Presbyterian Church, 11512 Olson Drive in Austin; and 3:00 p.m. Sunday, April 17, Oak Hill United Methodist Church, 7815 Highway 290 West in Oak Hill.

Also on the concert are selections from Figure Humaine by Francis Poulenc, and the stunning "Suite" de Lorca by Finnish composer Rautavaara. This piece was indelibly branded in my ear/brain when I heard the formidable Dale Warland Singers perform it at one of the above-mentioned Chorus America conventions. It shook my bones, especially "El Grito," (mp3) which is one of the most hair-raising pieces I've ever heard OR performed. The only other piece that comes close is the Wolf's Glen scene from Der Freischutz (Carl Maria von Weber), which I performed with PPM/Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall and Richardson Hall (Princeton Univ.).

Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble, along with the San Gabriel Chorale, will present the Brahm's Requiem as part of the Georgetown Festival of the Arts at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 5 at the Alma Thomas Theatre on the campus of Southwestern University. Put it on your calendar NOW. Here's a performance by UC Davis, featuring a friend of mine, David Arnold, as baritone soloist: