Category Archives: Creativity

The Joy of Knowing Buddy

Buddha and I were having a beer. Actually he ordered a hard cider. Before he invited me out to the bar, I had always thought Buddha didn’t partake. Come to think of it I never pictured him doing much more than sit on his ass with a big grin on his face. After a few ciders, I clued into the cause of his happiness.

We lived in the same neighborhood. We first met at Max and Cherry’s Laundromat and Gift Shoppe. We were folding clothes at adjacent tables. He was buttoning up a Hawaiian shirt when a long sigh left his mouth. I looked at him and he caught my eye. He smiled and nodded toward the shirt. Just remembering, he said. Have you been?

Maui, I replied. I swam with a sea turtle.

Buddha chuckled. They sure do stick their necks out when they want something.

When he first introduced himself, I misunderstood and thought he said, Buddy.

Hi Buddy,” I said, shaking his chubby hand. My name is Mark.

He mumbled something I couldn’t make out, but before I could ask him to say it again, Cherry appeared. She was behind my new friend and could barely touch her fingers as her arms wrapped around his belly.

It’s so good to see you, she said.

She extended her hand toward me. Hi, I’m Cherry.

I shook her hand but in the process brushed my fingers against Buddy’s belly. I remember thinking it was simultaneously as hard as a turtle shell and as soft as a cumulus cloud.

I am Mark, I said. Continue reading The Joy of Knowing Buddy

The Music of Collaboration

 

At the Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayor’s Lead gathering that Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities hosted in Edmonton April 5 to 7, one of my many roles and privileges was to be an MC at a reception at City Hall for summit participants. At this event, the trio Asani performed their version of our national anthem and two other incredible songs, sung in their native language. (At the end of this posting is a video of them singing O Canada.)

What I heard and saw and felt were received by me (and I imagine many others) as joyful revelation of the human spirit of these three women.

I watched these beautiful singers, the expressions on their faces, the look in their eyes, as their harmonies washed over us, weaved through us, and became a part of the air we breathed. Everyone there felt that and everyone felt the magic of their music each in their own way. Art is always experienced personally.

As a singer-songwriter, I look for more than the music or voices intertwined. I watch the human beings making the music. Watch how they breathe, how they sense one another, how they embrace their individual roles in the “we” of their creation. As I watched them, there were times I saw in their faces those moments of joy as they folded their voices into harmonies that I sensed not only brought chills to my body, but to theirs as well.

There are times when one is creating with others that such magic happens. New discoveries reveal themselves in the moment. Perfect blending of voice and rhythm reveals itself. What is created is bigger than, and beyond, the artists’ expression or expectations.

Asani’s performance was the epitome of collaboration. What they created far exceeded what they could create on their own. But even more so, what they gave to us exceeded the incredible voice they created together. Their impact went beyond their own unified expression of their music because as soon as it reached us, it was more than when their voices left their bodies. They became us. Singer and audience made their songs even bigger and more profound than what the three of them created. Their gift became the gift we gave to one another.

Artists understand this or at least intuit this phenomenon. The eloquent, well crafted story is not as powerful on its own. It finds its power in the reception of the reader. The sculptor, the painter, the weaver, all artists are unable to reach the promise of their talent without those watching, viewing, engaging in the art. Don’t get me wrong. To engage this way requires stellar artistic expression. All I am saying is that such expression is not fully realized without those of us who engage in their art.

Art’s power and grace are revealed not only in those who receive it but also because of those who embrace it.

Those of us working to end poverty or homelessness; those of us advocating for human rights; those of us who believe in the sanctity of being human – the work we are doing is the same work as the artist. We must engage others for our work to have its full meaning. In fact, the meaning of our work is to be found in the response and embrace of others. Like the work of the artist, our work must be stellar work, but the impact we seek must be embraced by our “audience.”

Our collaborative efforts, as powerful as they may be, fall short if they do not touch others in ways that inspire, motivate, and cause the engagement we hope to instill in others.

The  Asani singers are such consummate singers not just because of natural talent. Their beauty is precision that emerges from practice, long hours, struggle, debate about which way to turn a voice, up or down, softer or louder, and when to shake a rattle or beat the drum. It is mutual orchestration and no doubt the sharing of leadership required to attain their connection with us, their audience. And if they do it right, which they did, their music becomes ours to celebrate, to cherish, and to uphold as beautiful, amazing, joyous expressions of our  humanity. And once that happens, we carry that with us.

Imagine if our collaborative efforts to end poverty could achieve such harmony. Imagine how it would feel to see the impact of our songs on those we wish to engage and inspire. Getting there would be no different than the work of the artists, the work of the Asani women. I am sure they had their times of disagreement. I am sure there were times when egos may have stalled their collective commitment to their craft. I am sure they had times of being weary or lost or wondering if what they had created would be good enough. And I am sure there are some who may not appreciate their gifts. Some who might not be open to hearing, much less celebrating, an Indigenous version of O Canada.

Thankfully, they moved through such obstacles and resistance. Thankfully they did not allow themselves to be dissuaded by the naysayers or those who prefer different music. I am thankful they kept their focus and chose to be present for whomever was open to their embrace and to worry far less about those who might turn away.

This, too, is a lesson for us in collaborative work. We must focus on those who will walk with us to a better place, who despite differences of  opinion or talents still want to walk together. Should we remain open to the naysayers? Should we listen to their objections? Yes, but only to make ourselves better, never to stop us from creating the beauty we must create to make communities rich with harmony and peace and joy.

Oh and one more thing. I have no doubt, the Asani trio does not ever reach that point where they say to themselves, we cannot do better. The reason why they are so good at their art is because they never tell each other, “We are done. There is nothing more we can do.” No matter how incredible the collaboration, our work together can always get better, do more, reach further, and have more impact.

Thank you Asani for your inspiration and your art.

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Keep on Playing, No Matter What

markautoharpI can’t recall when I first noticed the auto-harp. I think it was seeing Bryan Bowers at some club many moons ago that sparked my interest. But it was years later when I finally bought one, and then another, then an electric auto-harp. I was auto-harp crazy there for a while.

The auto-harp has 36 strings and it may look complicated but it’s not. You just press a button to get an F or a G or a Gm and so on. If you can press a button and strum strings you can play this instrument. Perhaps not performance quality but hey, music is good for you, period.

I have written many songs on the auto-harp and have performed with it at least a dozen times in front of real live people, and it worked. It worked well with all of the other instruments. Some of best songs were written my old Oscar Schmidt.

Of course this simple instrument tempts one’s fingers to pick and choose among its 36 strings.   Finger picking and strumming are a contrast, to say the least. Continue reading Keep on Playing, No Matter What

Tamarack 2015 Community Impact Summit. Phew!

What a summit it was!

260 people from Canada, the United States, Denmark, Guatemala, Singpore, New Zealand and beyond, working and learning together, inspired by the likes of Al Etmanski (my favorite speaker at the event), Fay Hanleybrown, Stacey Stewart, and Karen Pittman – all of whom gave keynote addresses.

Dozens of workshops were led by Paul Born, Mark Cabaj, Liz Weaver, and other Tamarack learning leaders.

I was honoured to be one of two artists in residence, doing music and spoken word throughout the week and to be able to give two workshops as well.

An incredible highlight for all of us was a visit Thursday night with the Musqueam people who shared with us their rich history and traditions, fed us venison and salmon, and shared as well their songs, drumming, and dance.  The name, “Musquean” means “People of the River Grass.” I also associate their name with the word, “Kindness,” because of their openness and welcoming spirit and the kindness they exhibited to all of us!

 

If you were not there, all of the materials presented can be accessed at the Tamarack CCI  website. The direct link is: http://tamarackcci.ca/node/9196.

The lyrics and spoken word piece I did are also available at this link:
http://tamarackcci.ca/content/mark-holmgren-song-lyrics-and-spoken-word

If you want to be a part of the Tamarack learning community, I encourage you to visit their many websites:

http://www.tamarackcci.ca

http://tamarackcommunity.ca/

http://www.vibrantcommunities.ca

http://www.deepeningcommunity.org/