Lights and Dreaming

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It’s 2am, and I’m putting lights and garland on the tree.

Earlier this evening, it was a mostly joyful and noisy team effort of uncovering boxes and assembling, and tomorrow, after breakfast, we’ll put on the bulk of the ornaments.

But right now, it’s blissfully quiet.

Everyone else is in bed. Loreena McKennitt is softly playing, I’m drinking eggnog, and I’m reminded of decorating the tree in my first Chicago apartment on Janssen Street in 1995.

That was the year I started my tradition of putting up the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I usually did it alone, with a glass of wine and Loreena’s To Drive the Cold Winter Away. My parents had given me their old Christmas tree, and I bought white lights and a few ornaments (most of which I still have and will put on the tree tonight). I decorated with red apples and cherries, pine cones, and faux crystal snowflakes and icicles.

I loved that tree.

I loved the moment of sitting on the couch in the dark when it was done, the room transformed. I dreamed big by the light of that tree.

It’s hard to believe that was almost 20 years ago.

I still love the ritual of decorating the house for the holidays, of creating a space for celebration. Including the kids has its own delight, and I especially enjoy having the house full of family and friends on the holidays.

But I cherish moments like this one–quiet, solitary times that allow me to reflect and remember. It’s good to be reminded of the young woman I was back then, to be reconnected with that romantic dreamer.

In the morning, I’ll put on my other hats; but for now, it’s just me and Loreena and the tree, a meditation on nostalgia and dreams.

“I’ll still be a geek after nobody thinks it’s chic” (Musical Impressions Part I)

I’m fascinated with the changing face(s) of music and art in this internet age. With so much available direct from the artists, we are able to access a greater variety of talent than ever before. At the same time, how do we decide whom to listen to/read/admire? How do we, as artists, get attention and set ourselves apart?

We live in remarkable times, and I love to watch the ways this is unfolding. Some artists are making the most of the new technological ways of reaching listeners, like ustream and twitter. Others are bringing back old ways of connecting with fans, like house concerts. The most successful seem to be making use of both old and new methods.

How many of you have attended a house-concert?

Alaskan folk singer Marian Call (photo by Rob Lambert) began her house concert in Chicago with this question, and for most in attendance, Marian’s show was the first. Apparently house concerts are a movement spreading across the US, where singers (mostly independent) perform in people’s homes and private spaces (like barns, backyards, and garages). There’s even a website:

I had received the invite and decided to check it out, partly because the house concert idea struck me as similar to the salon idea I’ve previously written about. Marian’s tour is powered by the spirit of creative collaboration. I love the idea of people gathering together in homes to celebrate art and music, supporting one another.

So while I was enthusiastic about the experience and happy to spend time with dear friends, I didn’t expect to be blown away by this intelligent, endearingly geeky woman with the mighty voice.

I was impressed when I heard her first song, but she had me once she introduced us to her classic Underwood typewriter (named Madeleine) and played the Nerd Anthem. (I’ve linked to a live coffeehouse version because it more closely captures my own experience of the song, as compared to the more polished studio version on her album).

Lovely One Sock Short was a perfect hostess for my first house concert. She provided the space and invited friends, and Marian came with her guitarist and performed. Chicago was one stop (the third, I believe) on  Marian’s 49-state DIY tour. She’s touring all 50 states, “powered entirely by fans, friends, and people who believe that good music is worth it. No agents, labels, or middle men required.”

As someone who has never had any musical training, I am in awe of people who can make music and belt out songs of emotion and intensity. Marian Call took us on a musical journey, her song are smart, witty, and poignant (and her guitarist Scott Barkan was incredible!) If she comes to your town, go! Listen to her. Chat with her. Buy her cd. Tip her generously.

Up next…Amanda Palmer and the Evelyn Evelyn sisters…

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