the essence of folk music

Yesterday morning I woke up to an National Public Radio (NPR)  story about the sounds of Haiti one week after the devastating earthquake.  My ears were filled with the voices of children singing joyously in French about Joshua tumbling down the walls of Jericho.  Ironic choice of song, but I was deeply moved by the music and I began to think how music sometimes  breaks down walls between people.   And then Kate McGarrigle passed away on January 18th, 2010.  What a loss.  So much music and joy came from Kate and her sister Anna and their collaborations over the years with Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen and The Chieftans to name but a few.  Last weekend I was in New England and I  got the chance to make music with a couple of wonderful people – Keith and Mickey.  Keith is one of my oldest and dearest friends and music has always been a part of our bond.  Sometimes I sang, sometimes I listened, and sometimes I tried to paint them playing, happy to be a part of the music.

Mickey. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

Mike Rigenstrief wrote in the Montreal Gazette this week “but perhaps Kate and Anna’s most enduring musical legacy is communal music-making: the way they’d gather friends and family together in concerts….and make thousands of people, most of whom they’d never met, all feel like they were sitting around the kitchen table or in a living room, making music together. That is the essence of folk music. “ I think about all of the people I’ve shared  or made music with over the years in all the living rooms, kitchens, stairwells and cars on road trips. Music is the tie that binds and can help to heal sadness, loss and despair.

Keith. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

Musicians are reaching out to Haiti with “Download to Donate – Songs for Haiti” with 100% of the funds going to Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross and Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund.  If she was with us, I’m sure Kate would be a part of this music for relief.  Kate you raced the Matapedia, you could not slow down, and you were not afraid.

Jammin’. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

waves of glass

Fall is here.  There is a little chill in the air and the sun’s journey southward gives forth a particular quality of light.  This week has found me cycling as much as possible, and I naturally gravitate to the coast to ride the 101 as it meanders through the communities of La Jolla, Del Mar, Cardiff, Encinitas and Leucadia. Every few miles I get a spectacular view of crystalline blue waves peaking and crashing into torrents of white foam and see the surfers catch a wave and joyously ride the crest balanced precariously somewhere between chaos and nirvana. “Clear and sweet is my soul, clear and sweet is all that is not my soul,” wrote Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.

Sunset North County San Diego: Swami’s Beach. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

A few weeks ago, I visited Cape Cod and I was thrilled to see a group of surfers anglin’ on ankle busters, but I think they imagined the waves as a bonsai pipeline.

Near Truro on Cape Cod. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

The view of the ocean from the saddle of my bike is where my soul opens up, and my spirit returns to balance.  On the bike, I scout out places to paint and observe the world at a pace that allows for interaction, reflection and a laugh or two.  Yesterday it was great fun to see  Surfrider Foundation members  on street corners  in Cardiff  for their “Hold onto Your Butts” campaign.  They were spending their Saturday morning reminding us that cigarette butts do not belong on the beach.  It is another of Surfrider Foundation’s good causes  part of their beach clean-up efforts  and their larger campaigns like “Save Trestles”  which kept a  toll road out of San Onofre State Park. They do good work.  They teach us to be responsible for our beaches and oceans as we should be for any good friend.   These are two watercolors that I’ve recently painted of late afternoons  in North County San Diego and Truro on Cape Cod.  Both pristine and soul redeeming spaces.

Ben and Jerry got married

Celebrating the legalization of gay marriage in Vermont, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream makers have for the month of September renamed their popular ‘Chubby Hubby’ flavor ‘Hubby Hubby.’ I completely understand why ‘Wifey, Wifey’ wasn’t an option and I will forgive them for my sadness at this momentary gender exclusion. So three cheers for Ben and Jerry’s and pass me that pint of Cherry Garcia! (lovingly named in honor of the late Jerry Garcia legendary guitarist of the Grateful Dead). In August, my wife and I celebrated our one year anniversary as a married couple — one of the 18,000 or so couples that tied the knot when gay marriage was briefly legal in California. Our anniversary was a very special occasion graced with champagne and a piece of the wedding cake.  For our wedding announcement, we used a watercolor I painted of Isola Bella in Taormina, Sicily

Isola Bella, Taormina, Sicily
Isola Bella, Taormina, Sicily. Copyright 2005  Robin L. Chandler

the beautiful place where we celebrated our 20th anniversary as a couple.   So though we’ve only legally been married in California for just over a year, we’ve been a couple for nearly twenty-five wonderful years. Some day in the future, gay marriage will be the norm in our country, and not the exception or blasphemy as some see it today.

There is that wonderful saying “as California goes, so goes the country,” which in my mind translates as California sets the trends and others follow a good idea. But that hasn’t always been the case. Many of the leading abolitionists fighting to end the practice of slavery in the United States were from New England including Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau and John Greenleaf Whittier. Interesting coincidence but Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — all New England states — have legalized gay marriage.   Plucky Iowa has too, but that’s another longitude.  Slavery was an inhuman practice codified in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, but the rhetoric of the New England abolitionists served as the country’s conscience arguing slavery must end, and all must be free and equal.   Equality under the law is a fundamental freedom was the argument against Proposition 8 heard by the California Supreme Court.  While the court upheld Proposition 8 ending gay marriage in my state, the fight will continue here in California and throughout our country.   Equality is one of those fine old New England traditions that runs deep.   I look forward to the day I can say ” as New England goes, so goes the country.”