Sunday, November 27, 2022

Farewell, Yellow Brick Road


I just finished watching Elton John Live: Farewell from Dodger Stadium.
My heart is full and I shed more than a few tears as I watched. Elton John has been a huge musical influence in my life. 

I started playing the piano when I was six years old. A lot of little girls in my hometown took piano lessons, though only a few stuck with it for more than a couple of years or so. It just wasn't cool to play the piano.

Not that anybody teased me or bullied me for playing! But very few friends really noticed ... it's funny that, as important as piano was to me -- after all, piano lessons took up ten years of my life and by the time I was a senior in high school I was practicing up to six hours a day -- as important as piano was in my life, there have been former classmates who have been surprised to learn that I am a musician!

Elton John showed me that there was potential for a pianist beyond the classical concert stage or church musician or piano teacher. I've since realized that there were other examples all along: Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington became famous in the world of jazz long before I was born. Scott Joplin's brand of ragtime music was occasionally heard in old TV westerns and became wildly popular for a period because of "The Sting." There was Jerry Lee Lewis ... but I could never envision myself playing his style of music. 

It was Elton John, with his arpeggiated chords, and unconventional voicings and bass lines, and rhythms that helped me to better understand the piano as percussion instrument, who fired my imagination for possibilities. From the moment that I heard his first single, "Your Song," I was hooked. 

I'd never abandon all the Bach and Beethoven and Chopin that I'd studied for so many years. They are such an excellent foundation for any type of music that one may wish to pursue! And though Elton John was my first "piano hero" from the world of popular music, there are others ... right up there is Billy Joel, who incorporated Beethoven into one of his own songs; and to an extent Barry Manilow, who borrowed from Chopin to compose his hit "Could It Be Magic." Stevie Wonder and Freddy Mercury and Paul McCartney and Carole King and Alicia Keys have all since impressed me in their use of the piano.

But Elton John's my favorite. I've seen him in concert several times -- twice with Billy Joel, and what a treat for me! -- and I'll probably watch this Disney+ presentation a couple more times before they pull it into the vault. 

Thank you, Sir Elton. You'll never know me, but you've influenced me more than you could ever know.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Let's Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello

Bumper Sticker purchased at Ernest Tubb's Record Store

The title of this post is actually the title of a song recorded by country legend Ernest Tubb. I just heard the news that Ernest Tubb's Record Shop is closed as of yesterday. 

Do you suppose that John Hartford had a premonition when he wrote this song?

No, I expect that Hartford observed the trends of 1972 and thought them through to a natural conclusion. Makes me sad, though. 

I don't go to Nashville on a regular basis, never did, but any time I went, a visit to Ernest Tubb's was in order. I enjoyed browsing and exploring the vast array of music, most on compact disc, and made quite a few discoveries. I honestly can't tell you that they carried "hit country" stuff (though it's a reasonably safe bet that they did) -- I was more interested in the traditional country and bluegrass, the obscure and hard-to-find. I enjoyed browsing the souvenirs and memorabilia, and always let my imagination take me back to times never personally experienced, daydreaming about the legendary musicians who performed on Ernest Tubb's Midnite Jamboree Radio Shows.

It's telling that on my last visit to Nashville's Lower Broadway, after an early lunch at Jack's and a visit to the Mother Church -- Ryman Auditorium -- I didn't cross the street to visit Ernest Tubb's; just couldn't stand the noise and the crowds. And maybe it's the recent years' crowds' appetite for the loud and flashy that helped to drive the old record shop out of business; the brief announcement of the closing said only that "due to changes in circumstances out of our control, it’s now clear the best way forward is to sell the business and the real estate."

Linebaugh's, the restaurant/barber shop mentioned in Hartford's song, once served the likes of Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves but is long since closed. The Grand Ole Opry left the Ryman for Opryland almost 50 years ago. At the time there was talk of removing all of the Ryman's memorabilia to Opryland and tearing down the Mother Church! But I'm here to tell you that the Ryman's walls talk, and I hope that enough of the throngs who visit Nashville nowadays will actually listen.

Gruhn's Guitars, another of my favorite Broadway "wonderlands," has moved away from Broadway. Hatch Show Print has relocated. All but a couple of the gritty old honky-tonks have vanished, replaced by glitzy, expensive and L.O.U.D. celebrity establishments. 

And now Ernest Tubb's is gone ... seems like nothin's left of what made Nashville, Nashville.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

How Little Winters Follow Spring

Wind howled all night. It's still blowing and the "real feel" is 26°. Appalachian lore says there are five "little winters" -- Locust, Redbud, Dogwood,  Blackberry,  Britches -- before spring is finally here to stay. 

Redbuds are in bloom, and I've seen a few dogwoods in bloom as well, so I don't know which little winter we're "officially" in. But I'm pulling for Dogwood. 😉

If you're interested to know more about the "little winters," try this link:,t%20very%20long%20or%20cold

Monday, April 18, 2022



Sometimes I drive the Blue Ridge Parkway for -- as Forrest Gump would say -- "no p'ticular reason." 

But the real reason is because there's always something new to see. Not long ago, these trees were completely bare; today they're dressed in the green of early spring.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Loch Norman Highland Games

Attended Loch Norman Highland Games last weekend. Although it was a first for Rita Kochensparger and myself, it felt like Old Home Day, seeing so many friends: Neil Anderson, Scooter Muse, Aubrey Gray, Colin Shoemaker, Stephanie Sellers Morrow, Donald Cameron, Heather Gallia, Celtic Exchange (Danny), The Celtic Bag Co. (John), Chris Kagan, Tawnya Kagan, Jacqueline Murdock Habenicht, Robin Frye, Debbie MacFarland Webb, Sam Moffitt (you didn't see me but I saw you 🙂), Clan Forrester Society, Inc. ... gosh, so many people; I'm sure I've left some people out? 

Pictured are the Tannahill Weavers , one of my all-time favorites and one of my big musical inspirations.

Even though it was C.O.L.D. it felt good to be out festivaling.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

What's Best?

"I believe this to my core—there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor. The creative arts are subjective, and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most. It's like a song or an album is made and it almost has a radar to find the person when they need it the most." ~ Jon Batiste

Tuesday, April 5, 2022


Fog sets in, making for a haunting and mysterious scene. I drive with the window down and all is silent. And even while keeping a wary eye out for deer and bear,  I feel so relaxed and peaceful.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Wake Up to Spring


One of the fun aspects of spring:

Everything doesn't wake up at the same time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

In Appreciation


May I always be as appreciative of my life in this wild and beautiful place as I am today.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

My Daddy


My Daddy.

Smart but down-to-earth, practical yet a dreamer, kind, generous especially with his time, good humored, and deeply spiritual. 
He could grow food, and although he couldn't cook he always made the best sandwiches.  He could fix my car or fix my broken heart. 
He didn't really sing and never played a musical instrument, but he was my most ardent supporter.  Not a day goes by without me reflecting, in some way, how blessed I was to have him as my father!

He'd be 96 today. He's been gone almost 19 years and in each of the 6316 days since his passing I've thought of him - for all of the above and so much more. 

Happy Birthday, Daddy. ❤

Monday, March 28, 2022

Does the World Need Another POV on Smith v Rock? Ho-Hum

The Academy Awards ceremony was just last night, but in one day we've heard a year's worth of buzz ... very little of it focused on the actors or the movies. We're obsessed with a brief exchange between Will Smith and Chris Rock in which Rock made a tasteless crack about Jada Pinkett Smith (Will Smith's wife), followed by Smith striding on to the stage and slapping Rock, then returning to his seat in the audience to yell and curse at Rock. Sad business. Even more sad from the point of view of the Oscar winners, whose achievements have been completely overshadowed by Smith v Rock.

I don't usually watch the Academy Awards and wasn't watching last night (although I've had countless opportunities to witness The Slap Heard 'Round the World of Movies). To me the Academy Awards is Hollywood's version of the high school athletic awards banquet: important mainly to the players. The two events are so similar, even down to the way the attendees dress: some dress comfortably, tastefully understated, while others go overboard with the dramatic. 

Yeah, I can take it or leave it as to the Academy Awards, but it's absolutely hilarious to me how many people on this side of Hollywood trip all over themselves to proclaim how little they care about the Oscars (and other awards ceremonies like Grammys, Emmys, CMA Awards, you name it). Uhhh ... 🤣

While I don't think Smith was right to do what he did (my reasoning is somewhat nuanced) there's a part of me that isn't altogether sorry. There. I said it. Words matter, and it has been shown time and time again that the "scars" from words often last longer than physical scars. I realize that cutting observations and insults are part of Chris Rock's shtick and I'm prepared for it if I go to one of his concerts or watch a celebrity roast. He's so smart and quick and witty ... and in certain situations, a potential liability.

There's a reason why Border Collies, generally acknowledged as the smartest breed of dog, are not chosen to be guide dogs for the blind. They're just not temperamentally suitable for the task. It's probably the same for some comedians.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022


I think of my dad all the time. All the time, and so many different things trigger the memories.

I love it best when some random thing triggers a specific memory, like just now I glanced at the stove to see 1:11. Daddy loved bowling, and whenever someone's frame showed the score 111, he'd draw a little roof over it to make a stick drawing of a house. I haven't bowled in years, but this brought it all back. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

для України

The Bandura, National Instrument of Ukraine

Maybe you’ve never heard of a bandura. There’s a reason for that, and I’ll get into it shortly.

I was first introduced to the bandura by Yarko Antonevych (pictured), the son of a Ukrainian émigré, at the Florida Folk Festival. I’d been playing the hammer dulcimer for a couple of years and was really getting into learning more about musical instruments that were less “mainstream.”

Yarko taught as he performed, explaining that the bandura of today had “evolved” from a lute-like instrument played in Ukraine during medieval times. Although the strings are plucked, rather than hammered, I noted a definite similarity of its sound to a hammer dulcimer, and was fascinated to see another instrument that had so many strings – and was probably similarly difficult to keep in tune.

Beautiful as the music was, my main takeaway from Yarko’s performance was the tale he told about the persecution of Ukraine’s Kobzars – a unique class of itinerant musicians who earned their living singing and playing traditional Ukrainian music. In the late 1800s, Imperial Russia banned stage performances by Kobzars and bandurists; the intent was to prevent any musical performances in the Ukrainian language because the repertoire typically included aspects of Ukrainian history and culture. Kobzars, who had once enjoyed status in society, turned to street performance but in some cities were arrested and their instruments destroyed. They were relentlessly persecuted and all but wiped out.

A few of them survived, however, and a rekindling of interest in them and in the bandura sparked a rise in Ukrainian self-awareness.  There was even a brief period during which the Russian government showed tolerance to Ukrainian language and culture.

Then, the Communist Party launched a fight against nationalist tendencies. Kobzars, and even the manufacture of banduras, were once again restricted, all in an effort to quell a movement for the liberation of Ukraine. Bandurists were harassed, arrested, exiled, tortured, and even executed.

In 1932 (or 1933; accounts vary), on the orders of Joseph Stalin, Soviet authorities invited all Ukrainian Kobzars to attend a congress in Kharkiv. All who attended were taken outside the city and put to death. According to Yarko, the only reason that anyone knows about the bandura today is because of a bandurist who figuratively “missed the train to Kharkiv.”

No documents exist – or at least none have been found – to substantiate the story about the mass execution of Kobzars and other traditional Ukrainian performers. But there’s plenty of evidence that SOMETHING happened, that bandurists died or disappeared in significant numbers around that time, and with all that we now know about Stalin, the story is more than plausible.

And isn’t that the way to subjugate a culture? Over and over throughout history … Irish, living in Ireland, yet forbidden to speak their own Irish language. Native American children sent off to boarding schools, in order to “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” The playing of bagpipes banned in Scotland by the Act of Proscription of 1746. Obliterate any semblance of cultural identity.

Historically, Imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, and Lithuania all have claimed jurisdiction over Ukraine. I don’t pretend to understand all of the complexities that have led to Russia’s current attempt to once again annex Ukraine. But my sympathies lie firmly with Ukraine as they fight, yet again, to maintain their identity as a culture and as a sovereign state. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Weird Observations on Weirdness

Today I had a Facebook comment from a long-time acquaintance: Gilbert Sullivan. Actually, I first came to know him when we were in elementary school, through my younger brother. Gilbert Sullivan’s name immediately grabbed me … and this was years before Irish pop star Gilbert O’Sullivan hit the music scene. Gilbert Sullivan’s name meant something to me because it reminded me of Gilbert and Sullivan, the creative team that wrote comic operas in the Victorian Period. Most of my other elementary-school friends didn't make that connection. (And why on earth would they?) But I was listening to Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and playing their music on the piano … yes, even as a little kid.

As an adult, teaching school, I encountered a student named Nicole Porter. “Cool name,” I thought. It was even cooler when I discovered that she could sing! “How fitting!” I mused to a friend. “How so?” said with a blank look, was all I needed to hear to realize that my friend’s mother didn’t ever sing them snippets of Cole Porter songs.

And these are just a couple of the musical connections made by my brain. I can’t even count the number of coincidences and oddities -- musical and non-musical alike -- that my brain found interesting or amusing but were met with blank looks, and occasionally derisive laughter … until I finally learned to just keep the observations to myself.

Like any other kid, I didn’t want to be weird. Unlike most other kids, I never figured out how to accomplish that.

I’m still weird. I laugh at jokes that are funny only to me because they pull together disparate knowledge and trivia; by the time I explained every little component, the joke would no longer be funny, even to me. As a kid, this really bothered me. As an adult, it doesn’t much bother me any more.

Part of self-acceptance, I suppose.

I have friends whose "weirdness" is genius, in my estimation. There are friends who are considered by others to be weird but in reality are marginalized, because of the unwillingness of general society to accept them for exactly who and what they are, without condition or judgment. I hope they all know just how much I love and admire them for being true to themselves. It can’t always be easy. I know whereof I speak.