Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the category “Made for Music Mayhem”

Hygge and Marriage

Weddings grow families. This simple fact was woven throughout the sweet ceremony my dad and his wife Florence had this past weekend to formalize and celebrate their long-term relationship.

Surprisingly enough, theirs was not the only wedding on the week’s agenda: a couple days ago my stepbrother Waldo was wed in South America and this weekend my sister Gemini will tie the knot in Asia! And my family is roughly quadrupling in size… Which combined with the multiple continents thing must make us something of an international sensation.

Unsurprisingly, I have had marriage on the mind as of late. I have also had “hygge” on the mind ever since reading The Danish Way of Parenting earlier this year, a book I definitely recommend. Hygge is difficult to define succinctly but easy enough to comprehend once you’ve been given a description or two. (The best definition I’ve found is this one.) Essentially, it is a cozy, everyday delight in togetherness. Hygge is highly prioritized in Danish culture and is theorized to be one reason they are the happiest nation on earth.

We’ve experienced a lot of family gatherings this year — my mom’s side assembled for my grandmother’s memorial back in May, we attended the annual reunion my father in law’s side has every July, my dad’s side had the first of what will hopefully be many reunions in August, and this weekend some of dad’s and Florence’s children and siblings came together for the wedding.

During all of this extended family time I was delighted to notice lots of hygge. I hadn’t really realized it before, but my little nuclear family is surrounded by hygge experts. In addition to all of the above, my mother in law’s side and my first stepfamily are also experienced in the art of hygge (and both are overdue for reunions of their own). Perhaps this combined heritage is why Thor and I recharge best in a little familial cocoon at home doing nothing in particular?

During the ceremony my dad talked about their reasons for choosing marriage over simply continuing to enjoy life together without that particular label. Chief among reasons was this: the formal extension of family. As a couple, marriage was a nice symbol of their connection, but beyond that, within the larger context of their families, they each wanted to formally induct the other into the sweet, sarcastic, weird, wonderful bunch of people they grew up with or raised and clearly treasure.

My dad also asked the assembled, his family by blood and his new family by marriage, to encircle him and Florence, to support them when needed and help them remember their origins and their best selves and thereby strengthen them individually and together.

It made me consider that hygge may be as important as romantic love in the making and keeping of a marriage. Whether that hygge is with a family of birth or one of choice, time spent with those who have loved us unconditionally for as long as they’ve known us may be what keeps us sane, helps us delight more fully in our blessings, and allows us to better weather the inevitable jolts along the journey.

With that in mind, best wishes of much hygge to all, especially the (many) newlyweds!


And now, for your enjoyment, here are Owlet and Platypup reenacting their wedding contributions. (Their new cousin was part of the live act, so imagine a third adorable imp in the first two videos.)

First, a song:

Skiddamarinky dinky dink
Skiddamarinky do
I love you
I love you in the morning and in the afternoon
I love you in the evening underneath the moon

Next, a poem by Ogden Nash:

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

And finally, a Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton:


Singing at the Threshold

“Excuse me, Wanda*. My name is Deirdre* and I’m here with Threshold Choir. Would you like us to sing for you today?”


“We are here to sing if you’d like.”

Curious expression unchanged.

“Would you like a few songs?”

Slow, impossibly delighted grin. “That would be lovely, yes, thank you.”

And so begins my first afternoon of bedside singing.

Last December, as my grandma’s grip on this world was slowly loosening, my friend and cello student Pythia* happened to mention her mother’s involvement in Threshold Choir. I believe she had referred to it in passing before but this was the first time we’d discussed it at any length. I immediately recognized the group as mine as clearly as if it had borne my signature, and in early January I attended my first rehearsal.

Within moments I knew my hunch was correct. These were my people, a small group of women varied in age, occupation, and temperament all called to musical heart-work. And this was music that spoke to me, a huge, eclectic bundle of songs intended to soothe and buoy the wild soul encased in failing flesh. We sang softly, voices delicately blended together, gently moving from unison to harmony and back again at a slight gesture from whomever was leading for the moment.

To my amusement, I found myself heralded for my music-reading fluency and willingness to carry any part needed. Sometimes I am so locked into the infinite quest for musical mastery that I forget to take pleasure in the skills I have already dialed in. This was a pleasant, welcome reminder.

Over the next several rehearsals I came to experience the singular joy that is singing, Threshold Choir style, which encompasses not only the music-making thrill I remember from my childhood and young adulthood in assorted choirs, but also the companionable silence between close friends, the introspective growth of a therapy session, the quiet devotion of a convent, the spark of endless possibility inherent in casting a circle.

Now this week, nearly four months later, I am “graduating” to bedside singer. Singing to the dying is oddly comfortable. Deeply meaningful, musically satisfying, emotionally strengthening… Just one more of those many little and not-so-little pieces that have been falling into place lately.


*names changed, of course

Embracing the Salmon Leap

It is always hard to lose a student. And it happens to even the best, most highly regarded educators. When you teach a musical instrument, sometimes people quit, for all kinds of reasons that may or may not have the slightest sliver of a reason you could have influenced.

And yet every time it hits me like a breakup. My pulse races and I feel weak and trembly and attacked and unappreciated and pretty much like a complete failure.

I used to fight that feeling. Used to get angry, and defensive, and eventually go do something not so much soothing as mind-numbing, like watch tv and eat too much. But it would pursue me, sometimes for weeks, once or twice for months, until I finally acknowledged the wound that had been dealt me.

And then, a la Rumi, light would enter.

There was always at least a small nugget of uncomfortable truth I was avoiding. Facing the pain is only difficult to begin. Once I have turned toward it, I pass through like a juvenile salmon leaping blindly over the dam.

And I emerge a better teacher. Every time. Even when the student has loved me and I them and they are leaving for reasons like moving out of state (or, hell, even when I have left them by moving across the country and they in fact stuck with me right up until my departure date). There is always something I could have done differently.

I don’t fight the feeling anymore. I let it roll through me and within a few days (sometimes even a matter of minutes) light is already shining through the wound and I am off and running, evolving as a teacher once again.

Occasionally this even happens in time to keep the student. But even when they still go, the parting is always graceful, not just on the outside, sealed with plaster of professional decorum, but on the inside too.


Speak to me only with thine iPhone? Nope.

I have a blog. So obviously I love to write. And I am more at ease writing than speaking. It is not uncommon for me to fail to accurately convey all of what I wish to say to someone in the moment, in conversation, and as a result I will zap a message (perhaps bordering on a treatise) at them later, after the kids are asleep and my synapses regain the will to fire.

But the question my pal NaBloPoMo asks is not where I am cozy and warm and safe and able to edit ad nauseam.

No, the question is stated quite clearly: “How do you communicate best? Speaking or writing?”

The key word is communicate. So key I felt it should be both bold and italic. Huzzah. Communicate, meaning to share thoughts and ideas (thanks, Google).

People are lazy listeners every bit as much as they are lazy readers. And yet there are so many ways of communicating face to face that go beyond the words. Gestures. Tone. Tears and laughter. The impossibly vital role of silence.

Not only am I willing to hang my hat on my being a more effective communicator while speaking than while writing, but I am willing to bet a hefty percentage of beings in this world are, too.

Writing is a tool. A wonderful tool. And if you are trying to, say, schedule an appointment or give directions and are fortunate enough to have delightful but horrendously noisy children in the background, the written word is almost always superior to any attempts at verbal communication.

But every poem, every novel, every textbook and nature guide and blog post I have ever loved is ten times more informative, emotive, and simply more vivid when spoken.

That being said, if the question were simply, “How do you communicate best?” without the focus-narrowing second question, my answer would be prompt and as deeply true as true can be:




My whole self

“I always felt that my speaking words was inadequate. When I was able to write words down, I could put them in order and make them say what I wanted to say better than when I spoke them. Saying words was the hardest thing, writing them down was better, but singing words I’d written down was the best thing. The words combine with the music and I felt I was able to express my whole self.”

— John Gorka

I have begun writing songs singer-songwriter style. It suits this place in which I’ve found myself. I wrote a handful of songs in college, none of them stellar, and two between then and now which I know I loved but cannot remember well enough to play, possibly because I was so lacking in confidence in my vocal abilities that I insisted Thor sing them instead of me. They are archived somewhere. I will dig them out eventually.

The new ones are just right. I don’t even care if anyone beyond my immediate circle ever hears them. The process of writing and playing and singing is enough.

I like the immediacy of it. The ease with which I can put it down and return, unlike composing a more complex piece or something for a larger ensemble. I like that I don’t need to obtain outside help; I even like the challenge of working with my own hands and voice, their quirks and limitations acting as my guide, though if the music demands that they be pushed then push them I do.

Just a moment ago I found myself full of doubt, fearing I was not truly growing. Sometimes growth feels dubious, enigmatic, impermanent. But as I sat down to play a song I’ve been wrestling with, it occurred to me — when looking for progress, it can help to feel the absences. The loss of negatives, sloughed off like dead skin.

I no longer feel stagnant. I no longer wish I had time and energy to pursue the things I love because I am now. I no longer languish on the couch every night watching tv and snacking endlessly (although I did both last night, and it was nice, but only like a place I enjoy visiting occasionally).

And most importantly, I no longer feel disconnected, like a piece of me is lost, or missing, or buried.

I feel whole.

I feel present.


Video killed the radio star and then the internet frankensteined it back

In other words, I was on the radio today discussing teaching and learning with my student, who just so happens to channel a wise collection of entities known as Eloheim. Check it out!


And a gratuitous photo of Owlet.


Finding My Nice Magic

Today I saw a friend I had originally met at Meeting. She asked what I am doing these days to nurture my spiritual side, and I said I had spent awhile at UU, and then recently had sort of fallen out of the habit, at least for now.

“I guess I’m just getting better at finding it myself, you know?” I said. She nodded; she totally knew.

There is nothing wrong with a structured spiritual community. And I would not be surprised if the desire to seek it out returns at some point down the line. But I’m just not feeling the need right now. More than that, I am feeling strongly lured by simpler, less formal things. Hiking in Annadel or visiting the creek. Risking waking the kids by sawing my strings late at night. Basking in the joy of my favorite people. Writing music, writing words. Becoming ensnared in my daughter’s lively hazel eyes. Feeling my son’s heavy, sleepy head against my heart, his heartbeat pulsing against my sternum in just exactly the place where all of this delightful opening up is happening.

I often tell my students not to pin their hopes on perfection. Something is bound to go wrong in any performance. Instead, focus is better spent learning to recover as seamlessly as possible from any mistake. I also try to warn them that holding back out of fear only strangles their tone.

Things are still as challenging as ever around here, really. I still lose my temper too often. I still make mistakes, occasionally colossal ones. But I am more graceful in my recovery, more earnest in my approach. I hold back a little less each day, I am sure of that. My tone, like that of my students, is improving.

One day I shall be the sort of mother-wife-teacher-friend I was born to be. And then some. I have potential coiled tightly within me. I am learning to twist the locks.

I am finding it.

2014-06-07 07.52.11

(They were squabbling despite attempted interventions, I told them if they were not going to follow my suggestions I was going to leave the room and they could find their own solution. This is what transpired when I peeked back in at them a few moments later.)

Owlet: Mommy, I got back into my nice magic.

Me: Your nice magic?

Owlet: Yeah. Because I have a switch in me, and it goes, and then I slowly get back to my nice magic.

Sung moonlight

Voices call, frolic, caress
Lyric vines twine, then pull free after just
The right amount of dissonance.
Songs bud, blossom, petals collapse
One flung after the other in a spectacle of careless exuberance
To tease the composer, intrigue the poet, rile the critic
Warm the senses.

All, ultimately, a prelude.

Steel core bound in a braid of purest silk, at last unleashed
Pure love, dressed in too-brief song, rendering
Any words, any notes

Blessed be the ear, so nearly drowning.


Owlet rocks

In case you were wondering where I’ve disappeared to lately, well, I can blame at least a bit on preparations for my students’ annual concert this past weekend!

Platypup jammed along enthusiastically with the Little Uncaged Musicians and then was not inclined to stick around for more than a few songs, meaning Thor missed most of it. But they both did get to see Owlet play (actually, she and Thor even played together: a cute jazzy piano improv trio I dubbed “Strawberry Jam” with a first grader I teach).

I was so proud of my Owlet. She really listens to herself play, and has a great big full tone to show for it, with spot-on rhythm and better than fair intonation for a not-quite-four-year-old. I’m also blown away that she sat attentively while the other students played instead of joining the pack of monkeys, er, other little kids who were playing inside and out for most of the concert, which is held in our backyard. But then again, she was about that focused last year, now that I think of it. Music is something that captivates her. How did I get so lucky? Fingers crossed we keep fostering this appropriately… It takes some self-restraint not to push, but I am quite committed to letting her play for her own sake and not mine.









(All photos by M. Knight)

How’s my December going, you ask?

On the first night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
A reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the second night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Two cranberry chains and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the third night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Three silver bells, two cranberry chains, and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the fourth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the fifth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the sixth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the seventh night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the eighth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Eight ceramic apples, seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the ninth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the tenth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Ten crystal birds, nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the eleventh night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Eleven wooden sleds, ten crystal birds,
Nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks

On the twelfth night of Christmas, my mommy had to fix
Twelve broken light bulbs, eleven wooden sleds, ten crystal birds,
Nine santa beards, eight ceramic apples
Seven drummer boys, six paper penguins
Five hanging loops
Four shiny balls, three silver bells, two cranberry chains,
and a reindeer made entirely of sticks!



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