Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thoughts of the Season

Recently, I have been practicing Christmas songs. I guess it makes me a bit of a hypocrite, since I do not consider myself Christian... however, I do consider myself a moral, spiritual person who loves the Christmas season.

As I sing these songs about the birth of the Christ child, I am amazed at some of the lyrics. 'Peace, Good Will Towards Men', 'Pray for peace, people everywhere', 'Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease' ... some of these lyrics are (there is no other word for it), *RADICAL*. Radical in a progressively liberal way, as a matter of fact. Radical in a 'Take care of the downtrodden' way. I like that. I *really* like that. I always thought that the whole Jesus story, this guy who throws the money changers out of the temple and refuses to judge the prostitutes... he really is a cool fellow.

The story of his birth is one of poverty and search and light. It is the light, at the darkest time of year, that truly gets me in the heart. The star that shines, even in the daylight. My Christmas song is about that light, and how each of us can light up a little piece of the world, right where we are. That light, along with all the other little lights that folks can put out there, that is what can light up the world.

Be a Light in the Night....

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Lighthouse Gig

A couple weeks ago, I got a text. Mike, the if-it-has-strings-i-play-it guy, wanted to know if I would like to help him out at ‘The Lighthouse Gig’. I jumped at it. A few years ago, I answered a request on facebook for someone to come and play at the Hudson/Athens Lighthouse for a gathering of donors. It was one of my very favorite gigs.

Now, Mike and I do a lot of songs together. OK, rather, Mike knows a lot of the songs I do. I don’t know any that he does, mostly because he is primarily a bluegrass artist. Hmmmmm….. What exactly does he want me to do, now that I said yes??

He isn’t sure. Jam with him and his friend, Brian. Ok. Jam. I can do that. Wait, jam WHAT???

Jam bluegrass. And sing. It is easy. Three chords.


Mike and I had been getting together with Scott to practice music for the bed races, a gig we had the weekend after the lighthouse gig. We figure that if Brian comes along, we can merge those two set lists and practice for both gigs. Mike sends me 3 or 4 videos of songs he wants me to do with them. I spend an evening learning them….. Because that is all the time I have. We gather on my porch, Screendale, and play….

Bluegrass is almost always three, maybe four chords, played in one of several patterns. How hard can that be????

PLENTY hard. Bluegrass is played really fast. Sometimes I feel like my hand just can’t strum that fast. They (thankfully) ‘just’ want me to play rhythm guitar, something that I can do ok…. But even the rock songs I play usually are nowhere near as fast as Bluegrass. And no, playing every other beat does not work for Bluegrass, it slows it down and doesn’t give enough support to the lead players. And Bluegrass players say odd things, like ‘this melody goes AABA’. You are expected to keep your balance while you kick your foot up to signify ‘i am done now’. I really do want to go to the lighthouse, though, and we practice the few songs Mike sent me. We are, however, expected to fill 4 hours with music and Mike sends me several more videos the next day. I have time to listen to them and do, but no real time to actually practice. Oh oh..….

And then, there is the issue that I don’t swim. As they are bringing me over in the small boat, I let them all know, I don’t swim. And I am petrified. I tell them if I end up in the water, just knock me out to rescue me, but please do rescue me. They smile as they assure me there are no plans for anyone to land in the water, just sit and enjoy the ride.

Well, it is not just the ride. I have to navigate from the boat to a floating platform and then to a floating staircase that moves and rocks as I climb up to the main deck of the lighthouse. The folks who are transporting us do a fine job of telling me where to put my hands and feet and they bring my equipment up with them so I can concentrate on myself. Luckily, we are not amplifying, so all I have are my guitar, music stand and tablet.

It is a windy day and the area we plan to play in is a triangle jutting out into the river with picnic tables in front of us. It soon became apparent that space was at a premium and we had to store our books and cases and equipment behind us, secured so that it would not blow away. Just something else to be anxious about!

We are finally set up and people have already gathered to hear us. We play a song or two and I don’t know about Brian and Mike, but I am feeling like we are not in the same groove, and so, don’t sound so good. Mike assures me everything is fine. ‘You are just so used to everything being perfect now.’ Me? Really? Perfect? I don’t think so, at all, but I don’t argue. It is time to do the next song.

As the songs go on, the people start responding. We get requests (I am learning not to take a request as an indication that people are not happy with what you are playing. Most of the time, they are very happy and just want to hear your take on one of their favorites). Some dance, especially to the bluegrass tunes. If I can’t follow, I drum on the back of my guitar. If I can’t find the harmony line, I sing the melody line. Mike and I have voices that blend well together and I know that singing at all sounds better than just one voice on the chorus. And we start to fall into a groove, if not at the beginning of the song, certainly by the second verse. The audience response is increasing. People are smiling at us, clapping, listening, and so obviously enjoying. Every so often, we throw in a classic folk/rock tune and I get to sing lead and play a song I really know!!! The audience participation and appreciation really brings up our game and the energy is flowing well between all of us. We finally stop for a break and a bite to eat.

I know a lot more folks in attendance than I thought I did, once I get a chance to walk around. Of course, everyone is very kind. I am finally starting to really relax. I walk around this very historical lighthouse. However, I can’t go up into the light… too far up a narrow, scarey stairway….. Yep, there are my fears again….

By time we start up again, we, and the attendees, are all feeling pretty loose. Loose is generally good for music, and the music is centerstage as we share some more songs. People like to dance to the bluegrass and sing to the classic rock songs. We pull out California Dreaming and 20 or more folks are all singing it at the top of their lungs, holding on to each other, smiling in front of us (right in front of us too…. There is no space and the band is actually part of the crowd!!!)!!! At the end of the song, one of the nearby woman hands me a wad of bills. ‘That is for that song, and any others you got like it.’ I turn it over to Mike, who has already been paid because they took up a collection earlier. We keep playing until they tell us to shut down early, they want to take us back first to the clubhouse and we can set up there and sing until we can’t anymore.

And we do.

I left that night feeling like we had gotten out of the way of ourselves and let the music play. In the beginning, as you can tell from the start of this story, I was so concentrated on *MY* performance and how *I* fit in with these two players who knew what they were doing. I know better, but my insecurity got the best of me. When I just let the music flow and speak-- to truly make music and make art and bring people together-- it is magic. Learn the changes and then let them play. Think about the songs and what *they* want to say, today. Smile. Let go of fear of all kinds. Let the music and song speak for themselves.

When I left the club that night, too tired to drive home but having to anyway, I looked back…. There were still 10 or so people, sitting listening to Mike continue to play songs, in a small circle of light, and everyone was smiling.

Thank you to Mike and Brian for including me in the Magic.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving musings

I am thankful for so many things.... my friends, my travels, my work, my musical adventures and all the people I come in contact with on those adventures.

I have been invited to several dinners today, and many more folks checked in to make sure I was not alone, and I am so very grateful to all of you.

Some of you may notice, I don't mention family. Yep, I don't. Like many of you, family is not something that warms my heart. Too many hurt feelings, misunderstandings, arguments..... I sure am not thankful for any of that. Like many of you. Some of you swallow the pain and will enter a place today with forced smile and an overwhelming desire to leave. I will not. I have many chosen families, all of which I hold very very dear to my heart. I will eat Thanksgiving dinner with one of those, and continue on through the day will people I love, so please, don't worry about me.

It appears that many many creative people have fall outs with family, or just can not DO it anymore.... I want to say to you, it is ok. Find your own family and nurture your relationships with them. You are not a failure because you just don't get along with the people you were born related to. You are still loved by the people you choose to be with. You are not somehow a lesser citizen, no matter what your family may say about you. If, in your heart, you can say that you did the best you could to get along and finally concluded that those relationships were more harmful or painful or difficult to you than nourishing, fun or even neutral, you can stand proud. Proud of your choice to be doing what you can for yourself.

Lets talk a bit about how this may sound selfish to some. I can not give my all to my work, my profession, my friends, my music, if I have a continual drain on my energy and goodwill from people who suck the life out of me. I have to protect myself to be able to GIVE to anyone. If you want to drain me, I am going to cut you off. You drain me with lies, with your selfish requests of my time/money/life when you could be taking care of yourself, manipulating me against another person, requiring me to feel guilty about a situation you set up yourself, etc. I do NOT have to be a party to your problems in life just because of my birth. I think that when people pull at you in that way that you know is unhealthy (yes, for them too), THEY are being selfish, you are NOT selfish for not playing the game. You are taking care of your first responsibility, yourself, by disengaging with the forces that are trying to drag you down and in that way, you are able to truly give where it matters most and helps the best.

I did this a few years ago, and although I miss some of the better times of large family gatherings, I know that I have benefited from distancing myself from people who tended to use me to fuel the negative parts of their lives. Yes, I am thankful I woke up.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rick and Marilyn, Introduction to Marilyn

I had just finished college, which had taken up all my time for six years or more. All of a sudden, a person, living alone, with great energy, had NOTHING to do after finishing the day's work. Cleaning can only just go so far :).

How to fill time? I love music, and all my life I wanted to create music. It seemed, since I was still in intense learning mode, now would as good a time as ever to actually pick it up.

So, I had a friends guitar I had bought, and found a teacher, who will forever be credited for really getting me into this mess! I think he likely has no idea what impression he made on me. He was a music teacher in the Chatham schools, raising a family and doing lessons on the side for the extra money. I told him I had no talent but a great deal of love. He asked me if I was willing to work. He asked me if I can hear music in my head when nothing is playing. He told me, talent is ok, but work is better. If you work, you can learn. And so, I worked……

I played mostly Neil Young songs, and I think you can hear that sometimes in my writing. I started hanging out with other Neil Young fans and learning more songs. I took a weekend course on Neil Young and met my next important mentor, David Hodge. He taught me about work but he also taught me about sharing music and how music is a community. It was at a workshop of his that I first played publicly as an adult. I failed miserably, but I survived to do it again, and again, and again……

People tell me they like my joy on stage... the energy i put out there... my singing is something that makes them pay attention. There are a bunch of people that I like making sounds with, but the one that comes out with me most is Rick Warren, guitar wizard from Pluto. I really think he adds a lot to the songs that I sing. I like to say that he tells the rest of the story, the heart part, on his guitar….

We have brought our music to most of the local farmers markets. We get asked back regularly by area festivals in Austerlitz and Stuyvesant as well as bars in Philmont and Ausable Forks. And now, we are looking to play for YOU. We play catchy melodic original pieces that I write and covers spanning the 40’s to current, with a concentration on material from the 60’s to 80’s…. so we appeal strongly to the boomer crowd. We are also versatile. Our setlists can be all original, all covers, all Neil Young, or a mix of them all. We can play as a duo or a rock band. Your choice. Please take a look of our setlist songs elsewhere here, and note that we are always adding…..

I love making people move and sing and participate in the music, even if just by listening. Music heals, it talks, it rallies, it expresses, it soothes, it shouts….. And I love sharing it. Let me sing for you….. We will all have a good time….

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Friday, May 27

Rick Warren and I will be playing at the Main Street Pub in Philmont, 8pm until ??? Come and listen!!!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Marilyn Miller & Friends. Club Helsinki. Hudson NY. California Dreamin'

Hudson Busk at Hudson Brew!

Betsi Krisniski and I will be playing the Hudson Brewery this Sunday afternoon, 3:30-5:30pm. Hudson Brewery is a brand new brew pub on Front Street in Hudson, RIGHT across from the train station (what a wonderful location!!!). I can't wait to try the beer and even better, to sing with Betsi!! Come on by.....

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fresh Spring Gigs!!!

Rick and I have gigs coming up this summer!!!! May 7 at 20Main in Jay, NY, May 27 at Main Street Pub in Philmont, NY, and the Blueberry Festival in Austerlitz, NY on July 31!!! We will be setting up events closer to the shows on Facebook, but this is your heads up notice!!!   Sign up on the new Blog, to stay informed!!

Monday, January 11, 2016

These people won't listen to me......

I hear all the time, musicians upset because the audience is not listening to them.

Now, I like to be heard as much as the next person..... but I also think that this is a two way street.

If I am playing a house concert, or a hall, and people have paid to come in and LISTEN, that is what I expect. I expect them to sit and be quiet and listen. In that situation, it is rude to your fellow audience members as well as to the artist to have your phone go off, to talk to your neighbor, to act in a manner that means people will be looking and thinking about YOU instead of the artist. VERY rude.

But musicians have to consider the room. If I am playing in a bar or at a party or at the farmers market, MY JOB is to be the background noise that sets the mood, keeps people having a good time and if I turn out to be an act that draws folks attention, FANTASTIC for me.

However, in that situation, it CLEARLY rests on me to draw the listeners to me. Getting upset, throwing a tantrum because 'They are not listening to me', or letting it bring you down is not helpful. The audience is in the space to socialize or shop, and I am in ADDITION to that. Not the highlight, and I have to adjust to that. *I* have to be that much more entertaining to get people to listen, if that is what I want..... but if no one does, I have to UNDERSTAND, listening is NOT what the CUSTOMERS are here to do.

In other words, the audience is not obligated to pay attention to me. In that situation, it is my job to be so good that some will pay attention, usually for a short time, until they return to what they DID come for..... Socialization, Shopping, Learning, etc....

So, if you find yourself angry at your audience, look first to yourself. Are you compelling enough to draw attention? Is this a situation where you *should* expect that people quietly attend to you? As an artist, I like to think first that I am gifting the audience with my MUSIC, and, since it is a gift, the recipient can do with it what they choose..... as the environment dictates.

So calm down. Do your best. Leave you anger for the house concert or hall or other listening room. Don't think you are going to get a loud bar to listen (but if you do, GREAT!!! you must be very compelling....) Relax....