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Songs for…Adventures (a host of “missing” Wednesday posts) March 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

[Pardon me while I catch up on some “missing” Wednesday the 10th posts. You can request an audio recording of the practice from Wednesday, February 10th and/or Wednesday, March 10th via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]


“February. Get ink. Weep.
Write the heart out about it. Sing
Another song of February
While raucous slush burns black with spring.”

– quoted from the poem “February” by Boris Pasternak, English translation by A. Z. Foreman

Music has always been a part of my life. Given my family and my family history, it’s possible that the first music I heard was church music. But, the first music I remember was country and classical and jazz and soul and pop and gospel. It was all twisted and braided together into any given day. So, depending on where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing, I might hear some or all of the above. It just depended….

I distinctly remember listening to my great-uncle’s classical music under a blanket tent in a basement in the Maryland-D.C. area at the same time I was dancing to Motown and steel drums around the corner; singing Hall and Oats (which my father called “Hollering Oats”) and Rockwell (the lyrics of which I parodied in a way that got me in trouble with my mother) around Christmas; and traveling to the Highwaymen and Roberta Flack. A few years later I auditioned for pom-poms to the tune of “PYT” around the same time I was confusing a Wes Montgomery jazz cover for an original rock song and belting out my own (vegetable parody) version of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” I fell in love with Prince and Phil… and their music. Then there was college – full of blue-eyed soul, house music, Garth, and gospel (that almost got me a speeding ticket) – followed by musicals and more classical, ballet, and opera… and Bob, so much Bob.

And that’s just a quick sample of the soundtrack of the adventure that is my life.

Everyone’s life is an adventure and, if you think about it for a moment, you may notice certain themes and variations in the soundtrack that underscores your life. Maybe there is a certain composer or songwriter whose works resonate with you. Or maybe there is a certain key that always speaks to you (and for you). Maybe you’re a sucker for a good tear-jerker or you can’t pass up a song with a catchy chorus that makes you bounce. Maybe your playlist is eclectic and ever evolving. But take a moment to remember the music that highlights different points in your life, because it was the music playing at that time in your life – or because it makes you feel the way you felt at certain times in your life.

After all, that is one of the roles of music: to make us feel. And, if you were to underscore your life with music, you would take into consideration how you felt in a moment and also how you feel remembering the moment. In fact, eliciting feeling is part of a soundtrack composer’s job description – along with reflecting time, space, and culture while cultivating the momentum of a moment. Keeping all of that in mind, consider what kind of composer you would need for an adventure that crisscrosses space (and outer space) and time, as well as elevated topography and Russia in winter.

“[RDL:] Something that’s been said about your work previously is that, unlike many other film composers, there seems to be a great variety your composing style. In other words, your scores do not retain distinctive stylistic similarities that seem to characterize scores of some other composers. To what would you attribute this?

[JG:] It seems like it’s me, and that’s that. Certain composers are doing the same thing over and over again, which I feel is sort of uninteresting. I don’t find that you grow very much in that way. I like to keep changing, trying to do new things. Basically, I’m saying the same thing with a little different twist on it. Once you get caught up in the creative process, something inside takes over, and your subconscious just does it for you.”

– quoted from “Jerry Goldsmith on Poltergeist and NIMH: A Conversation with Jerry Goldsmith and Randall D. Larson” (originally published in CinemaScore #11/12, 1983)

Jerrald “Jerry” King Goldsmith, born February 10, 1929, was one the greatest soundtrack composers. He composed the Universal Pictures fanfare and scores for a slew of movies and videogames; including five Star Trek films (on one of which he collaborated with his son Joel), three Rambo films, the original three Omen films, and the soundtrack for A Patch of Blue, Rudy, and The Russia House. He was nominated for six Grammy, five Primetime Emmy, nine Golden Globe, and four British Academy Film Awards. He was also nominated for 18 Academy Awards – making him one of the most nominated composers in Oscar history – and won the Oscar in 1976 for “Best Original Score” for The Omen, which includes some of the most memorable (and non-traditional) Latin chants in film history. Along with Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Hermann, Max Steiner, and John Williams, Maestro Goldsmith was one of a handful of composers with more than one score ranked on The American Film Institute’s top 25 greatest film scores.

Part of our February 10th adventure included a little nod to the adventure of mountain climbing as February 10, 1929 was also the birth date of the mountain climbing twins Jim and Lou Whittaker. Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, people sometimes mix-up the twins and their “apex” achievements. For the record, Jim was the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest (as part of the American Mount Everest Expedition, May 1, 1963); the first full-time employee of Recreation Equipment Inc (REI, July 25, 1955); and (in 1965) led Robert F. Kennedy on an expedition that would lead to a deep friendship between the men. In 1990, Jim Whittaker led the Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb, which brought 20 climbers from the United States, USSR, and China to the summit of Mount Everest. Throughout their trek, that international group of climbers removed over two tons of garbage that had been left by previous expeditions.

No slacker himself, Lou Whittaker also started climbing with the Boy Scouts in the 1940’s and has over 250 summits of Mount Rainer / Tahoma to his name. In addition to co-founding RMI Expeditions (Rainier Mountaineering Inc) and several other climbing-related businesses, he is one of the most-experienced glacier-travel guides; has trained and certified several generations of Rainier guides; and led the first American ascent of the North Col (sharp-edged pass) of Mount Everest (1984). Like his twin and his son (Peter Whittaker, who now runs RMI), Lou Whittaker is a “Leave No Trace” partner committed to outdoor ethics.

When Jerry Goldsmith and the Whitaker twins turned 43, something quite monumental happened – even though almost no one noticed: Ziggy Stardust made his “earthly debut.” The out-of-this-world alter ego of the then barely-known David Bowie appeared in a concert at the Toby Jug Pub in Tolworth (a Surrey suburb just outside Greater London). According to an 18-year old Englishman by the name of Stephen King (not to be confused with the then-25-year old American who was really getting his footing as a writer or horror and suspense), there were about sixty people in the pub and the concert was unlike anything anyone had ever experienced. Mr. King, who would be inspired by the concert and pursue a career in (live) sound engineering, later wrote “I knew one thing for sure – David Bowie was going to be HUGE!” – Which was pretty much an echo of what Bowie himself said three weeks before the concert and about six months before the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

“But before the red hair and the stage show came the advance publicity, which generated one of the decisive interviews of Bowie’s career. In the wake of Hunky Dory’s critical garlands, musical journalists were touting David Bowie as the great hope of 1972, and the Melody Maker interview published on 22 January was proof that he knew it. ‘I’m going to be huge and it’s quite frightening in a way,’ he told Michael Watts who confirmed that everyone just knows that David is going to be a lollapalooza of a superstar throughout the entire world this year.”

– quoted from The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg

Jerry Goldsmith and Ziggy Stardust (a.k.a. David Bowie) are not the only notable musicians/poets who emerged into the world on February 10th. In fact, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was born February 10, 1890 (based on the Gregorian calendar) and Roberta Flack (who I mentioned at the very beginning) was born February 10, 1937.

Winner of the 1958 Noble Prize for Literature, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was a poet, novelist, and translator whose first book of poems (My Sister, Life) was published in Russian by a Berlin publisher. Similarly, his award-winning novel Doctor Zhivago, which was set in a pivotal period of Russian history and rejected by Russian publishers, was published in Italy. The Soviet government forced Pasternak to decline the award (although his ancestors would eventually claim it) and accused the British MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) and United States CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) of conspiring to ensure Pasternak was not only nominated, but also won the Nobel Prize.

Roberta Flack is an award winning singer, song-writer, and musician who has been nominated for thirteen Grammy Awards and six American Music Awards (AMA). In addition to winning the 1974 AMA for Favorite Female Artist (Soul/R&B), she was awarded the 2020 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and four other Grammy Awards. In fact, she is the only solo artist to win a Grammy for Record of the Year in two consecutive years: in 1973 for “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and in 1974 for “Killing Me Softly With His Song”).

“I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style
And so I came to see him, to listen for a while
And there he was, this young boy, a stranger to my eyes

Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song”

– quoted from the song “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack

It is one thing to compose music and write lyrics that can underscore a day, a year, a moment in someone’s life. To create music in order to tell a story certainly and obviously requires a certain set of skills and talents. But, have you ever thought about the considerable talent and skills it takes to curate a playlist of other people’s music in order to tell a story or set a mood for a story? I grew up during the era of mixed tapes and am fortunate to have a friend who made me mixed tapes all through college (and now makes me mixed CDs). Over the years, we’ve had conversations about the soundtracks of our lives and also, randomly (or not) about how “shuffle mode” is pseudorandom rather than actually random. I don’t know the math behind all that, but I’m guessing Edith Clarke would have known how to work it out.

Born February 10, 1883, Edith Clarke was the first woman in the United States to be professionally employed as an electrical engineer and as a professor of electrical engineering. She studied mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College (Class of 1908) and, subsequently, taught mathematics and physics in San Francisco, California and Huntington, West Virginia. She would eventually study civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before becoming a “computer” for AT&T.

While she worked at AT&T on mathematical methods applied to problems associated with long-distance electrical transmissions during the day, Ms. Clarke spent her nights continuing her studies at Columbia University. In 1918, she enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from where she became the first woman to earn a Masters in Electrical Engineering (from MIT) in 1919. She was also the first woman to present a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE); the first woman to be named as a fellow of the AIEE; and the first woman whose professional standing (as an engineer) was recognized by Tau Beta Pi, the oldest engineering honor society and the second oldest collegiate honor society in the United States. In 1947, she became the first American electrical engineering professor when she accepted a teaching position at the University of Texas at Austin.

“‘There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work.’”

– Edith Clarke quoted in a March 14, 1948 Daily Texan article


A good piece of musical work can inspire you, touch you, and can express what you’re feeling even when you can’t put those feelings into words. A good piece of music can pump us up; hold us when we’re feeling down; and make sense of things that are twisted and upside down. Good music may start with the lyrics or the musical notes, but what ultimately sticks with us is the way it sounds… the way it feels… and when it comes to a recording, the way music sounds and feels has as much to do with the way it’s mixed and produced as it does with the way it’s written and composed.

Again, I don’t know the math, but I feel safe in saying that however you do the math, odds are that, on any given day, my playlist contains music in some way connected to producer who has been described as looking like a hippie Guru, a ZZ Top impersonator, and a medium-sized (teddy) bear. Known as “The Loudness King,” as well as “DJ Double R,” Frederick Jay “Rick” Rubin was born March 1, 1963. While my high school and college buddies were making mixed tapes, Rick Rubin, spent his senior year in college creating a record label: Def Jam Recordings.

“‘When I’m listening, I’m looking for a balance that you could see in anything. Whether it’s a great painting or a building or a sunset. There’s just a natural human element to a great song that feels immediately satisfying. I like the song to create a mood.’”

– Rick Rubin quoted in The New York Times article, “The Music Man,” by Lynn Hirschberg (Sept. 2, 2007)

You might associate Def Jam with rap music; but, in reality DJ Double R has produced everything from rap to jazz to country to pop to opera to kirtan. He has won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his work with The Chicks (2007) and with that other famous chick, Adele (2012). He also won the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical in 2007 and 2009 and, in 2007, was named as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time Magazine.

Rick Rubin has said, “‘I do not know how to work a board. I don’t turn knobs. I have no technical ability whatsoever….But I’m there when they need me to be there. My primary asset is I know when I like something or not. It always comes down to taste. I’m not there to hold their hands and baby-sit, but I’m there for any key creative decisions.’” I’m not sure I 100% believe the first claim, but I absolutely see evidence of everything else. Music produced by Mr. Rubin often has extreme dynamics in sound, hence his “Loudness King” moniker – even though what often balances the loudness is extremes of quiet. It’s the dichotomy that works for our brains. In fact, our brains crave that kind of stimuli and so those extremes make songs like “Walk This Way” (his collaboration between Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith) the adult version of a lullaby.

That collaboration, one of his most famous, is typical Rick Rubin: outside the box – in a way that no one else thinks of doing, but then wishes they had. He sees it as breaking down boundaries and part of that is pushing people out of their comfort zones, which often produces a sound that is uniquely an artist’s style and yet, simultaneously, different. Getting pushed out of his box was definitely the experience Ed Sheeran had when working with the legendary producer on x. At one point Mr. Sheeran was afraid that, as good as the songs sounded, they wouldn’t be playable on the radio. So, he wrote and recorded additional music that fit more in the “pop Top 40” paradigm.

“From the first hip-hop records he produced for L L Cool J and the Beastie Boys, he insisted on classic song structure. ‘Before Def Jam, hip-hop records were typically really long, and they rarely had a hook,’ [Rubin] continued. ‘Those songs didn’t deliver in the way the Beatles did. By making our rap records sound more like pop songs, we changed the form. And we sold a lot of records.’”

– quoted from The New York Times article, “The Music Man,” by Lynn Hirschberg (Sept. 2, 2007)  

When Rick Rubin left Def Jam Recordings he planned to start a new label called “Def American Recordings.” While his focus had started to turn more and more toward rock and metal, DJ Double R was not leaving his roots behind. Remember, he started with punk and rap music – like that of the Beastie Boys. Yes, the Beastie Boys actually started with experimental hardcore punk music and evolved into hip-hop stylists. In fact, Rick Rubin was instrumental (a-ahem) in their transition. (Alas, as I noted during the practice, my favorite Beastie Boys album is more jazz than punk or hip-hop and is not produced by Mr. Rubin.) After he become friends with DJ Jazzy Jay and starting a partnership with Russell Simmons, his Def Jam Recordings took off – releasing their first full-length album (L. L. Cool J’s Radio) and signing groups like Public Enemy. When he started Def American Recordings, he continued his relationships with L. L. Cool J, Public Enemy, and Run-D.M.C. – but he quickly ended his relationship with “def.”

A decade after he brought the word to the awareness of the general public, Rick Rubin felt like “def” had lost its meaning. In 1993, when he learned “def” was in the dictionary, he decided to hold an actual funeral for the word – complete with a casket; a horse-drawn hearse; a grave and engraved headstone; a New Orleans-style first and second line (played by six-piece brass band); and a eulogy by Reverend Al Sharpton. Among the 1500+ in attendance were Black Panthers and celebrity “mourners” like The Amazing Kreskin, Tom Petty, Rosanna Arquette, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and pallbearer Mo Ostin (Warner Brothers Records chairman).

“Sharpton’s eulogy summarized the Death of Def in eloquent style, stating that def meant ‘more than excellent. Like, def-iantly excellent with a bang. Now the bang is out of def. It’s lost its exclusivity to the in, def-iant crowd. It died of terminal acceptance.’”

– quoted from the article “Loud End for Def Records” by Wimana (Imo Wimana Chadband), posted on the Raptology.com February 5, 2020

In many ways, the August 27, 1993, funeral was a spectacular way to launch his new labels new name: American Recordings. One of the other ways he decided to make a name for his new label was to “find” an artist who was also ready to be “reintroduced” to the world. He wanted someone legendary, but not in the same season they had been in when they first made a name for themselves. He wanted someone like Johnny Cash. Ultimately, Rick Rubin would produce six Johnny Cash “American Recordings,” two of which were released after Johnny Cash’s death. The albums were critical and commercial successes, earning the 2003 Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal (“Give My Love to Rose”); the 2003 Country Music Association award for Single of the Year (for a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” – the music video of which also won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video); the 2003 Grammy Nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (for a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water, with Fiona Apple); and a plethora of other awards and nominations.

 “‘The right sound reaches its hand out and finds its way. So much of what I do is just being present and listening for that right sound.’”

– quoted from The New York Times article, “The Music Man,” by Lynn Hirschberg (Sept. 2, 2007)

The playlist for Wednesday, February 10th (the “Songs for Today’s Adventure” class) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

The playlist for Wednesday, March 10th (the “Songs for the DJ’s Adventure” class is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Kirtan is a form of Bhakti Yoga (or union through devotion/love) and involves chanting with music. One of the Rick Rubin-produced songs on the March 10th playlist is a Krishna Das kirtan version of “Brindavan Hare Ram,” which appears on Breath of the Heart. In the album’s liner notes, Krishna Das noted that the melody appeared on a previous album and that when he mentioned missing the singer and his daughter (after they died), “…Ram Dass said, ‘You tell that story wrong.’ / He was right. / Aren’t they [here] in this music,/in this song of longing and unbearable / sweetness. Don’t they live in our lives and sing in our song, in the One Life which breathes in all of us?”

Rick Rubin expressed this same sentiment after Johnny Cash died. He said he “would close his eyes and hear Cash’s voice as he said the benediction. ‘It was like hearing a song that you love,’ Rubin said. ‘He was there with me.’” (ibid, Hirschberg)




1. msteinke - March 23, 2021

I learn so much from you!!!!

ajoyfulpractice - March 23, 2021

It’s a two way street, my friend!

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