Saturday, April 24, 2010


For about twelve years - Yup! - twelve years, Thursday has been music day in my schedule. I have participated in classes and "playing for friends" almost without interruption. I began with a teacher who was new to the E-Z Play program but was totally dedicated to the Lowrey method. The "old folks" loved him. Then a new person came onto the scene. She was determined to take over the program and he left. She drove a lot of people out with her rude comments and over bearing manner - myself included. When she left, an energetic, enthusiastic Lowrey E-Z Play mentor came to the rescue of the program. He stayed for quite a while and the program grew with his enthusiasm, to over one hundred participants. He was willing to do whatever it took to keep new people coming in and the rest of us interested in staying with it.

Times change, people come and go in all businesses. The program has now dwindled to thirty (generously speaking) people who have been reluctant to give up. However, the time has come to look realistically at what is happening. More and more grumbling takes place weekly about the lack of interest from the dealer. Things are not the same. Every ten weeks the same questions come up: Who is continuing? Are you coming back? Are things going to get better?

NO, things are not the same. The group gathers from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 in the "playing for friends" time; the organ mentor comes in for only 1/2 hour to give us his tips on improving our skills; the head of the program comes in at 11:00 to "critique" music which we have worked on during the week. The "critique" is bland. IN MY OPINION, and I am not a trained musician, the problem is, she does not know the organ. She cannot make criticisms on an instrument she does not know. She can criticize fingering and timing. Her comments are always complimentary. Maybe she is too nice for the job. Personally, I really like her. I just am not getting anything out of my time in her "class." I know when I make mistakes. I make a lot of them. What I don't know is how I can improve my sounds, and make my music more interesting to listen to - and to play.

I have always said I would keep the group together as long as I am able. Well, maybe I am no longer able. I don't know. One thing I do know, it is not my responsibility to keep the program going. And THERE is the difference. The group can still stay together even if the program fails. We just have to find a way. SO, instead of complaining, let's start planning. The next gathering at my home in Scarborough is May 8th. I look forward to hearing your suggestions.

Did you know there are a lot of songs written about Thursday? If you go to your search engine and type in "Songs about Thursday" you will find several sites with lists. I had no idea there were so many. I listened to a few of them and didn't find any of them worth downloading. Thursday is just a great day for making music, and I will always spend time on my organ on Thursday. IF you are inclined to write a song, please, write it on Thursday about Thursday.

The magazine "Making Music" has some tips on learning new pieces and some on organizing and making the most of practice time. If you don't subscribe to that magazine, check it out at the library. One minute practice tip: "To help memorization, take a song you enjoy and bracket off sections in order of difficulty. Try memorizing those parts and then put them together with out looking at the page."

Another hint from Making Music: If you are prone to cramping after long practice sessions, on when performing, try drinking a sports drink which has added electrolytes. Since dehydration is often the problem, stay away from colas, coffee and tea which are all diuretics.

Some time ago the editor of the SMAAA (Southern Maine Area Agency on Aging) agreed to write an article about the organ program and music's role in positive aging. She came to the studio and took some pictures which she tells me are great. But the article has never been written. Look for it in the May-June issue. I am working on making sure it will be there.

Some members of the program will be participating in the Kennebunk May Day Festival Saturday May 1. Thanks to Brian, if the weather is good, we ill have the use of his Legacy organ. It should be fun. It would be a good time to promote the program - if we were doing it with the backing of the dealer. Actually, we are doing this on our own. HOw can we possibly promote a program that no longer exists?

We have another event on May 29. Once again, and ideal time to promote the program - if only there was one. Oh, well. Better days are ahead. John, our mentor says it and he is an honest and optimistic man.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, director of USC's Brain and Creativity Inst., says listening to favorite music can stimulate the release of meural grown processes that invigorate and grow brain cells, which leads to keeping aging brains healthy, alery and strong against illness and injury."

SO - keep a song in your heart (and head) and keep the music playing.


Saturday, April 17, 2010


I seem to have rambling thoughts today. Some areas nearby - but not here in Scarborough - got a little snow; anywhere from 1 - 5 inches I am told. My father used to call these "robin storms". He said after these spring storms the robins would arrive and usually they did. My parents were married on April 19, 1925. They were snowbound in Boston by a true blizzard. My half-siblings who attended the wedding also had to stay over. Autos being what they were in 1925 probably made the trip home unimaginable. Perhaps today the "blizzard" would have been less daunting.

When my daughter made her First Communion at St. Pius X Church in Portland there was a small snow storm, more like today's event, and the little girls in their white tulle dresses and lacy veils were standing outside the church (along with little boys in their black pants, white shirts and black ties) waiting for the music to cue them to march in. I ran to the car and got my daughter a sweater. One of the nuns came over with a stern, "She cannot wear that." It was wheat colored, lovingly hand knit by ME. Trying to look just as determined as Sister Sternface, I said, "Well. she WILL wear it until she gets inside." By the time the service was over, the snow had stopped leaving behind a light dusting. That was Mother's Day probably 1956 or 57.

Today seven organ friends came for our regular social/music/munch time, not necessarily in that order. It was a lovely way to pass the day from around ten a.m. to mid afternoon. We had great morning snacks with our coffee including fruit and home made coffee cake, and for lunch we had pizza from the corner Amato's, and salad.

We all played a couple of pieces of music. We looked over Dennis' latest contribution via the internet AND his information on the late summer event he is hosting in Orlando. Since Lowrey cannot seem to get their act together for an HOH this year due to change of management, it is great Dennis is stepping up. The cost of the event with an extra day of scheduled activities arranged by Dennis is just under $800 and of course, you have to add in your travel expenses. From Portland I think air fare, booked now, would run around $250 (allowing for a carry-on charge). It is OH SO TEMPTING. I am SO SPOILED!

We discussed at some length, once again, whether or not we would continue with the Thursday "lessons" at Starbird Music. One of the things we decided, and about the only thing there was a consensus on, is that we hate going through this every ten weeks. For some time we have not felt we were getting what we need for instructions on our current organs, but then, we don't all want the same things. Most would like "button pushing" to learn to change sounds, assign sounds to different parts of the organ. Most would like the technique instructions which we are getting briefly each week from our "mentor" John. Some want more information about making recordings using the USB stick. Maybe we are expecting too much for our money. Right now most don't think they are getting enough "bang for the buck." This has been going on for the last two years and what keeps most people coming is not what we are getting out of it, but our friendship and our music. Both friendship and music can be found in our homes but most homes cannot accommodate the 20 or so regulars. SO, once again, we are facing decisions about "moving on" or not.

I went to a friend's 89th birthday party last week. This dear lady, who was once a professional classical pianist, took up organ in her 70's about the time I did. She adapted to the organ really well and always amazed us with her ability to play far more complicated music than the rest of us. Ginny moved in with her daughter and son-in-law a few years ago. They hosted her birthday party. I don't know how many people came to wish her well. I think about twenty of her music friends were there. And then there people she and her husband knew;children of their friends; old neighbors; young neighbors. No one mentioned it, but it might be a farewell of sorts as she looks very frail. BUT -
we should all be so keen minded at 89. And she does not brood or lament. She laughed about happier times and made wry witty comments about current affairs. What might have been a rather melancholy event was filled with happy remembrance. While not always being happy in her present situation, she has moved on.

I had a phone call this week from a friend who used to be a part of our organ classes and social circle. She has recently moved from a large senior living situation where all meals are provided and there are many activities to participate in, to a condo where she will do her own cooking and cleaning, and have to look for activities that fit her new life style. Her husband, who is a paraplegic, has many medical and therapy appointments so much of her time is taken up. She has a nice organ. I hope she will continue to play, and perhaps find time to join us now and then. She said she did like the food, the services and activities at her former home, but that "we do what we have to and life goes on." She is still assisting her mother-in-law who is 96.

I also had a phone conversation with a former Lowrey mentor this week. Joel was a positive influence in our program, and we would welcome him back if it were possible. But like my friend in the last paragraph, he has moved on and so must we. He is in a much better situation and sounds happy; he is learning new things and working with people of all ages, both in his music and in his new work in health care. He told me I have something like 90 million neurons in my brain, and I am probably only using 10 million of them. SO THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG! Now how do I get to those other 80 million little neurons to go to work? Anyway, rambling on, Joel has moved on and he sounds very happy and energized.

The only fitting music for this rambling is "Side By Side".

"Through all kinds of weather, what if the sky should fall?
As long as we're together, it doesn't matter at all.
Don't know what's coming tomorrow,
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow,
But we'll travel along, singing a song,

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music going.

Friday, April 9, 2010


There'll be a change in the weather -
From last Sunday, a beautiful Easter Day, through the week until yesterday, Thursday, the temperature went from 70's to 80's; today it is barely 50 degrees and once again it is raining. But as the saying goes " --wait a minute and it will change ..," (or something like that). In one day the forsythia bloomed, the magnolia tree down the street burst into a cloud of white blossoms and the tulips, hyacinths and jonquils blossomed in colorful beds. One of my neighbors here at Stoney Creek has a bed of jonquils at her door which is spectacular. The season has changed suddenly, as changes sometimes occur.

"....from now on there'll be a change in me ..."
Well, I hope there will be. I am stagnating in my music. I am bored with the E-Z play format, a tad tired of the fake book offerings, and too lazy to dig into my stash of "real music" which stretches my progress into more than three flats and sharps. I find sharps harder to work with than flats.
Last night I got out a program I purchased at the Lowrey Home Organ Holiday which includes a CD. The music is written for piano, and truthfully, unless you can put in all the fills which are sometimes three octaves in length, it is "empty" sounding. The music is Sinatra songs and the pianist performing is the incomparable Jim Odrich who admits he uses many improvised phrases and comments that "improvisation ... includes everthin that derives from your own personal way of handling a phrase whether it be a jazz-flavored fill or simply your treatment of a melody."
Obviously that leaves the door wide open for each performer to do whatever they like as long as it fits in between the intro and the ending.
He further comments that it is important to respond to the style of the instrumental background. I take that to mean that if you are playing a marimba or xylophone, for instance, with a marching band, it is appropriate to play it as part of the percussion section, not in a melodic Latin style.

"..there'll be a change in the way I strut my stuff .." well, perhaps not exactly "strut" as at my advanced age that would be a stretch, indeed. But I am definitely going to begin to play with more feeling and stop being afraid I will be judged as "putting on airs." Performers have the obligation to express their feeling for their art. Whether it's painting with broad strokes or fine lines, playing with joy or dragging through a piece with dread will affect the people you play for. At home we play to please ourselves, and yes, we work to improve our skills which is not always joyful, but for listeners we need to impart our love of what we do.

Recently our dealer where we meet to "perform" sold all of the high end organs. We are left with a Director or a Fiesta, both obsolete organs. We don't like it; we make negative comments about them; we gripe about the limited options on them. We have been told there is a new instrument coming in soon. We hope that is a change we can county on!

Another change taking place is the annual Lowrey Home Organ Holiday. We received word this week it will not be in Chicago - NOW THAT'S A CHANGE! but perhaps Branson or Orlando and it will be in the fall. It has been in Chicago in June for at least eleven years so that is a change for everyone who has always looked forward to the three-day gala in Chicago. Michigan organ-izers will find it a long drive to either site. I think this makes it even more important to keep in touch via e-mail and hope to hear from many of you.

I am off this morning to the radio station in Standish Maine to record "LET'S VISIT BROADWAY" a new program David and I have created to offer a different kind of music on WJZF/fm, a low power station which streams on the internet with a variety of music, sports, political commentary and community focus programs. This is the second program I am involved in, and certainly the most fun.

"No body can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." Roseanne Cash

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs
And silently steal away. Longfellow (When Day Is Done)

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday

I awoke this morning, Easter Sunday, and looked from my bedroom window to see the absolutely most spectacular sky I have ever seen. It was a bright peach color, with no clouds. The still bare trees stood like sentinels against it. I watched for several minutes, and then went to wash and when I returned the beauty had dissipated. The sky was gray and the trees had become the dull, leafless objects they always are at this time of year. But I did get to see that truly beautiful sky for the brief time it lasted.
The gray sky was chased away by the sun as it climbed into the sky, and the day was lovely. The temperature got to the very high 70's.

I spent the early afternoon with my "extended family" on my son's wife's side. A large and happy family, kids from seven to twenty one, and their friends. Easter Egg hunt; darling little ceramic baskets for place markers; wonderful ham dinner with all the trimmings, and a choice pies for dessert. I am blessed.

After those happy hours, I did go to the Maine Veterans' Home where, in the assisted living wing, I played the Lowrey Premiere organ for an hour and a half before they had their evening meal. I took E-Z Play books with music from the '30s and '40's and a couple of other books with familiar songs. I am trying to get a sense of what they really enjoy but they only say, "whatever you play is nice." There are many new faces and some haven't yet figured out who I am. Many of the residents are a little skeptical of anyone who just comes to do something that's fun. I hope they get comfortable enough to sing a long and make requests.

State Fair has a song - "It Might As Well Be Spring" which can be adapted to several rhythms. The Premiere has a limited number of choices. I played it through on Swing and then changed to Fox Trot for the second time through. It worked as long as I kept the Big Band sound on. There is no way to lock in the tempo on that organ so you take your chances that it will stay even. I was lucky! Set around 84 it fit nicely.
Other really nice songs from State Fair are: It's a Grand Night For Singing; That's For Me; B oys and Girls Like You and Me; Isn't It Kind of Fun; All I Owe Ioway. Rogers and Hammerstein wrote the music and lyrics for State Fair. It has been on Broadway and made into movies at least twice. Maybe it's time some of these happy, romantic stories in song and dance made a reappearance in the new 3-D format. It would certainly be more entertaining than the violent and fantastic productions that are currently available.

Every other Saturday, with a few exceptions like this past week, my music friends gather here at Stoney Creek for socializing and music. If you happen to have a Saturday morning around 10:00 free, it's "drop in" and playing is not a requisite. Hope to see you here.

Keep a song in your heart, and keep the music playing.

Jan Major