Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Adventure Chicken

We have been tempted to call her Houdini, or The Escape Chicken, but her name is actually Speckles. She is a beautiful brown and white speckled chicken with a huge personality. Oh, yes she could be mistaken for an aggressive chicken, a chicken of questionable integrity, since she seems to need to peck at a leg or ankle. And she is sneaky, giving the peck when you least expect it after you’ve fed the chickens or tidied up the chicken yard. Then Speckles sneaks up on you and pecks the back of your leg. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this is just how she expresses affection or how she bonds with humans, and it doesn’t really hurt anyway. So we give her a break.

All the other chickens in the flock remain in the chicken yard safely behind the fence or in their even bigger yard behind their even bigger fence. But of course Speckles is different. She is both escape artist and Adventure Chicken. No fence can hold her. No yard can restrain her.

I watch Speckles as she minutely examines with her sideways chicken eye the mesh fencing material. She locates a weak point. She jams her chicken body into the fence where the seams overlap. Her feathers ruffle,  they catch and complain, but Speckles persists. She pushes with all her chicken might and then, Speckles is through the hole and on the other side of the fence.

What does a freed chicken do? She travels to have adventures with the neighbors. One of our neighbors has a relationship with the local foxes. One of them, “Foxy”, has been coming to visit this neighbor for years. One day Speckles came to visit him while Foxy was there. My neighbor feared for Speckles’ life. But the fox and the chicken miraculously were peaceful together. And Speckles got to landscape his yard at the new plantings.

Another neighbor reports that Speckles comes every day and rearranges the oak leaves in her yard, looking for worms and bugs. Speckles the landscape artist. This neighbor has an outdoor cat, but the cat is afraid of Speckles. She’s just too big a bird. The cat is now spending more time indoors. Our neighbor wanted the cat to become an indoor cat anyway so this is another Speckles triumph of social engineering and pet repurposing.

We look out our window every day and there she is eating the bird seed we put out, or walking around the house exploring far beyond the chicken yard. But If we bring out the dried worms, the chicken treats, then Speckles will thrash thorough the brush surrounding the chicken yard until she finds a way out of the gap between the bushes and the fence. Then I simply open the gate and she leisurely strolls through it as if nothing happened.

Among her peers, Speckles is one of the lowest in the pecking order. Our oldest, Brownie is at the top. Brownie can give out pecks at will and Speckles may be the chicken on the receiving end. But I have noticed that If the pecking incident becomes more violent, then the other chickens form a sort of protective phalanx for Speckles. They surround Brownie and act like they are all going to peck her at once. I have never seen this before in our years of relating to chickens. It is usually every chicken for herself in the pecking order.

But Speckles is in some respects their lead chicken, first out of the house and down the ramp in the morning. And she is definitely their representative to the Greater World beyond the fences, Ambassador Chicken. Maybe they feel she deserves their protection and good will.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The following short story was written by Aren Cappella who transitioned from this plane of existence in June of 1998 at the age of 41. This story tells of what it is like to find one’s way as a human. It is written in the form of a Native American fable.

First Woman

Long, long ago, when the world was young, back in the time before time, the Great Mother Wolf bore all of Earth’s first creatures. At her final bearing many creatures were present, as always, to laugh, talk and tell tales until the great event. And at last when she was done, she had brought forth a fine litter of eight fat healthy pups, all as alike as acorns. In a short time Cougar and Skunk were discussing the futures of each of the pups, as they always did.

“I think this one will be an eagle,” said Cougar, though Skunk looked doubtful but then said “Perhaps so, but I think this one will be a buffalo.”  “It is too early”, said Porcupine, “I really don’t think you can tell.”

In time, as they grew and changed, they became less and less like the wolf pups they were born and more and more as their spirits prompted them.  It could be seen that one was very like Wolf, and another like Skunk, and yet another like Buffalo. But She was the different one.  Not like any other they had seen before.  She grew differently and She grew slowly.  She was a child for many seasons and She grew differently than any they had known before.

“She stands on her hind legs like a bird, but she cannot fly,” observed Salmon to Eagle.

“Yes, and she’s naked as a fish, but She doesn’t swim,” remarked Eagle to Salmon.

“And She’s got no claws,” worried Cougar, how will She protect herself?”

“How will She stay warm,” asked Raccoon. “She’s got no fur.”

“Well, She’s got food teeth for chewing,” noted Buffalo, “but She won’t eat grass.”    
In truth, everyone wondered what would become of her.

And when the time came for her to do so, She went in search of her way as had her brothers and sisters before her. She traveled over the mountains and into the valley beyond, stretching gently down to the sea. The first person She met was a bear, who looked at this strange creature and asked, “Who are you and where are you from?”  This question was new to her and She was not sure how to answer it, but all the same She replied, “I am a child of the Great Mother Wolf and it is from her that I come.”  The bear was also a child of the Great Mother wolf, and so he welcomed her and gave her the gift of knowing what to eat and where to make her home.

Later, She passed a heard of buffalo, who wondered to each other who this strange creature was. Finally one buffalo stopped her and asked, “Who are you, and where do you come from?”

A little more surely this time she answered, “I am a daughter of the Great Mother Wolf and all the Earth is my home.”  This was something the buffalo could understand and they blessed her on her way, a blessing that would be with her for always and with her children and with their children. She thanked them and continued on, knowing that this was not quite what She sought, following only that subtle call that led her on.

A little further along, a fox stopped her and asked, “Who are you, and where is your home?”  And now She answered firmly, “I am a child of the Great Spirit and my home is where I stand.”

This was something the fox could understand and he gave her a gift of knowledge and blessed her on her way.

And so She continued, being guided only by that spark that She was born with, but did not yet understand.

At last She came to where the stream widened and went down to meet the great water which was the ocean, and here she met Otter, who asked her, “Who are you?”

I am a daughter of the Great Spirit and was born of the Great Mother Wolf.”

“So then we are sisters,” said the Otter. And She knew She had reached her destination.

Otter was older and had already found her way and been given her Magics. Otter understood what the new creature sought and so she made a Magic then and there. “Come little sister, I have something to show you,” she called over her shoulder as she dived into the sea. She dived in right after Otter without a second thought and the next thing She knew, She found herself swimming. Not like an otter, nor even like a fish, but like a bird flying through the water.

They came at last to Otter’s home and climbed out of the water and lay on soft beds of kelp. Otter fed her fish that night and told her many, many tales of when the Earth was young.

On the second day Otter taught her how to make nets and how to fish.  And on the third day Otter taught her to weave in fine colors using shells, coral and seaweed. And Otter said to her, “You must place the threads where you want them.”  She nodded and continued to weave, wondering what Otter had meant, for surely that was what she was doing.

“Remember,” said Otter after a while, “they won’t fall into place by themselves, you must place them.” She nodded again and continued to weave, still not sure what to make of these instructions.  And while She was engrossed in her work, Otter set about making another Magic.  Soon the threads took on a different light and seemed almost to glow and She was fascinated to see that even She seemed to glow.  And Otter spoke gently in her ear, “What you see is pure spirit, of which we are all made, of which we are all a part. It is you who must decide where to place the threads of your life. It is you who must arrange it. This spark of  spirit will get for you whatever you most desire in your heart, but you must tell it what you want.”

That night her quest was finished, and in the morning as She prepared to leave, She stopped to thank Otter.  And Otter said to her, “Little sister, this day you are no longer a child. This day you know your way and you know your Magics - and now you are First Woman.”

As She made her way back, She again met with fox and buffalo and bear, and She said to them, “I am First Woman, daughter of the Great Spirit and of the Great Mother Wolf. I am a daughter of the Earth from my head to my heels and all beings are my family.

And they all agreed.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


I walk out into the silky smoothness of the night air after heroic rain storms have washed clean some of the toxins of years of draught. I am coming from an oboe lesson with a student. I will try to teach him the difference between playing chamber music and orchestral music as played by the musicians of our era. When he plays in orchestras, he will project his sound at all times if I am successful in conveying the idea, and if he receives it. When he plays in chamber groups, his sound will flow like water. His fingers will move like a rippling brook dancing to the melodies of of the music in all venues. His ear will seek out the nuances of the harmony and his body will adjust the pitch accordingly.

Projection is an exercise in selective hearing. The oboe reed vibrates inside the player’s head, so the instrument creates the false impression of sounding loud to the player when in fact it’s not loud at all. So I tell the students, do not listen to the sound in your head. It is not the way you sound to the audience. The way you actually sound is only what is conveyed by the room. If you succeed in making the room vibrate, and the walls themselves dance to your sound, then the sound that comes back to you is what you actually sound like.

We start into the great oboe solo in the second movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto, trying to make the walls themselves vibrate to the melody, seeking points of climax, seeking the high point of each phrase and the backing off in preparation for the next phrase, looking for the phrases we will connect, and the ones that will stand on their own with a slight pause before the next phrase begins.

We give ourselves over to the work. Time disappears. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Auntie Gravity

Now for the few of you that might actually be paying attention to this drivel:

Anti-gravity has always fascinated me. I have featured symbols of it in a few of my art works. I have recurrent dreams about floating down hallways without putting a single foot down to support me or to propel me in the direction I wish to go. Sometimes I am in upright standing position while floating. Other times I am sitting as if at the wheel of a car that is not there.

One never puts wire on an oboe reed to compress it, unless of course, you're me, which you're not because I'm me. (all this is debatable from a physics or a metaphysical perspective). I put the wire on the reeds to compress them to a point where I can just play the oboe the way I want to, and my poor mouth doesn't have to do the compression work, which, of course, is like floating down a hallway the way I want to go without using legs and feet for support.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Teaching Notes

 Serious musicians are vulnerable people. Trying to express the inner and outer world in sound is a spiritual pursuit. Some musicians tap deeply into their emotions while performing. The result is music that is very moving both for the performer and for the audience, and this effect outlasts the performance. The memory of music can continue to elicit strong emotions, and in this way enrich the lives of both performers and their audiences. For some, the music and the associated feelings play over and over again in the inner ear, and some particular music becomes the theme of life events.   

Vulnerability can make music students reticent about exposing the desire that drives them into this art. It can also make them self protective about the process of improvement and feel badly about where they are in the process of making music. I believe it is important to cherish such people and to make them feel comfortable so that they can express their gifts, and so that the world can receive their gift. As an instructor, I try to make it very clear that I am not there to embarrass students, or to find fault with their personalities or their learning processes. I also have no pre-conceived notions about what they should or should not already be able to do well “by now”. Instead, I make it clear that I am on their side and I that I genuinely want them to succeed.

 In the process, students sometimes express hidden beliefs, but only if they trust me as an ally. I asked one student, “What happens if you make mistakes?” The answer was very honest, “Then you are a failure”.  The statement is judgement on the individual who makes mistakes, and, of course it is self judgement as well. Who doesn’t make mistakes? But, the statement goes on, that person is a “failure”. 

If I genuinely believed this myself I would have given up music long ago. I was a poor sight reader, very slow to take in information from the grid of ink dots and lines that is written music. I was miserable at playing scales. But I didn’t stop, and I was able to achieve quite a lot by engaging in the process of constant learning and self-reflection about my own learning processes, as well as tons of patience, which, of course, would sometimes explode in anger, frustration, cursing, crying, and other demonstrations. But that is all part of putting desire together with patience with the self.

Since I am very aware of my own slow processes, I endeavor to convince my students that they too are involved in musical learning processes.  Every processes is multi-dimensional. Each process includes takes that are not perfect, or mis-takes. That is how we find out what needs technical attention. The ideas, expressions, and associated emotions in music need to be communicated both to ones self and to the listeners if the music is to succeed, so we need to get the technical aspects out of the way of the music.

The technical processes of playing music, in my case a wind instrument, include hand positions, mouth positions, tongue patterns, breathing places, phrasing, the understanding of music theory, interpretation of rhythms, ear training, eye patterns for reading the musical grids, listening to other players while playing oneself, sound projection, dynamics, and much more. All these skills are required, and all this evolving understanding needs a big supportive space to unfold. 

Progress is beyond dualistic concepts of failure and success, but concepts of failure and the spirit-crushing feelings associated with it can keep understanding from unfolding, or delay it by a lot even if somehow the desire is left intact.

Not everyone is gifted with the same set of musical skills. Some are gifted at reading musical grids. Some are gifted at musical phrasing. Some understand theory and harmony superbly well. Some are gifted at composition. Others are gifted at improvisation. Some have a superb ear for intonation. Some are gifted with great technique. Some are gifted only with an intense desire to express, and none of the rest. There is room for all of these musicians and more.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


At one of my baroque trio rehearsals, my colleagues’s husband remarked that even with all our years of practice, the two of us still could not play together. Very funny, since the music we play is contrapuntal. The themes are all stated as a round, so we rarely if ever play the themes together.

A great skill for any musician is to be able to keep the rhythm and line of his or her own part no matter what the other musicians are doing. This is true come hell or high water, since conductors also make mistakes. The conductor might be in the wrong place in the music or distracted by some anomalous event at the concert, like an audience member coming in late and disturbing everyone. The conductor may be in the middle of a personal crisis. In any case, you may find yourself blamed for their mistake or someone else’s mistake unless you can keep to your part no matter what, be flexible, and move to a new place in the music if you have to. If you can do all this,  you can sometimes prevent what is known in concert lingo as a “Train Wreck”, where the music comes grinding to a halt because no one knows where they are in the music. If not, then, as stated in the classic movie, “The Russians are Coming”, “World War Three is starting, and everyone is blaming you!

My training at the art of being able to keep my own line and rhythm no matter what came early. After all, my family was the only Jewish family in an all Irish Catholic neighborhood. Isn’t this counterpoint in itself? 

We were living behind and above a grocery store on a corner in Southwest Philadelphia, connected to everyone else in the neighborhood not only by our family business, but also by the fact that all the houses on both blocks were row houses with a common connecting wall between each house. My brother and I attended the local elementary school where I played E flat alto saxophone in the band. This was my first foray into the entertainment industry that was later to include car sales, a stock brokerage license, and computer network sales.

The only possible place for me to practice in the household was in the kitchen behind the grocery store. I dutifully practiced there every day. My practice sessions were invariably accompanied by loud banging noises with no particular rhythm. The noise was present at all my practice sessions, and somehow I chose to ignore it completely. Can I explain my attitude in this? Nope!

Our immediate next door neighbors were an elderly couple, the Zimpsons ( I was 9 years old with a different viewpoint on “elderly couple” than I have now). Mrs Zimpson seemed frail and very quiet. From my 9 year old perspective, she was always reading her Bible, whether she was indoors or out, moving her lips while reading the passages. Her husband, Mr Zimpson, was more outgoing, always dressed in pants and a sleeveless underwear top. He expressed anger and frustration every time I saw him, not at me, but at something or someone. 

When Mrs. Zimpson died, she was carried out with her Bible. I was outside the house to witness her exit, and it was a remarkable event for a small boy who lived next door. I wasn’t there when Mr Zimpson was carried out about a year later. But I was in front of their house when a policeman came out. He saw me standing there, and he took the time to tell me what was so strange to him about their house. He said that one of the walls was completely covered with nails. Then it dawned on me. While I was practicing the saxophone, Zimpson was driving endless nails into the wall connecting our two houses!

To this day I am grateful to Mr. Zimpson for training me in the art of keeping to my own part in the face of an angry and determined distraction that has no real sense of rhythm.