Friday, December 29, 2017

Poem: A Trio of Dates

A trio of dates
walk into a bar

Thanksgiving orders a Wild Turkey
straight up, no ice.
I confess, Thanksgiving says,
I’m weary of working so hard.
All I’m asking is, once a year,
a little gratitude.
Some people are faking it.

Tell me about it, says Christmas,
setting a glass of eggnog on the smooth wood.
I was all for the whole Santa thing,
but this is out of control.
Not what I meant by “giving.”

New Year’s sips a Shirley Temple.
A perfect opportunity for change, it mumbles,
handed to one and all, and what is the result?
Bogus resolutions.

The bartender comes by,
wiping up drips and rings. Another round?
The trio of dates rise from their barstools.
New Year’s says, Nah.
We need to go before Valentine’s shows up.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Liner Notes from Ann's new CD: Winter Springs, Summer Falls

Winter Springs, Summer Falls, my twenty-fourth recording. It doesn’t seem possible. But, then again, my guitar will be forty in December of 2017, and I had already been playing for a few years before Charlie Hoffman made that blessed instrument.

I’ve been around long enough to have had recordings that came out in vinyl, some in vinyl and/or CD plus cassette and, I’m proud to say, zero in eight-track. I know the way people listen to a CD has changed, but some of you, bless your hearts, will actually take this disc and listen to it from beginning to end. I appreciate it.

These songs are about seasons — real and metaphorical, physical and spiritual. They were written and recorded between 2013 and the spring of 2017. Two of them I did not write. Two of them appear on previously released recordings.

My heartfelt thanks to Jeff Sylvestre, my brother in music. What a joy it has been to work on this together.

The Day I Fell In Love With You. My wife and I have been together for thirty-two years, married for four. (We refer to this as OS 32.4. Updates each year.) Whatever I have done as an artist has been possible because of Jane’s love and support. She has seen me through the worst, the best, and all of the stuff in the middle. We mark our anniversary from the time when we stopped being vague. It was the best summer of my life.

First Bird. Spring arrives when I hear the robins sing their slurpy little song in the morning. It’s like they get up first, start singing, wake up the cardinals, who also start singing, waking up the chickadees and finally the sparrows. Thanks to Carolyn Boulay for her flexibility and amazing musicianship.

A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. It has been one of the greatest gifts of my career to know and work with Joan Griffith. Versatile, talented and just plain fun, she introduced me to this song and it has become one of my favorites. It is one of three “bird songs” here.

Thanks For That. Can’t have too many songs about being grateful.

Waiting For The Sun. We have had a winter solstice gathering each year since 2010. Our friends fill our home with poems, laughter and songs about darkness and light, despair and hope, the power of love and community. My friend Fred always has a new song for the solstice. So far, I have two.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet. An exercise I enjoy doing with other songwriters is to take a dozen phrases pulled from magazines, newspapers and websites, put them on a large whiteboard at the front of the class, and challenge those assembled to write a song using one of the phrases. While working with a class at the Junior Composers summer “camp,” I promised that I would also make use of one of the phrases — namely, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” The kids finished theirs way before I finished mine. James Gross, thank you — you flew with it!

All The Pretty Faces. The Sunday New York Times is made up of many interesting sections. One of them is called Sunday Styles. I refer to it as The Alien Life Section. (Oh come on, you’ve seen me. Interest in fashion? I don’t think so …)

Carolyn’s Party (Solstice). I wrote this song eighteen years ago for my friend Carolyn, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. I intended it to be a song about the winter solstice, but it ended up a song about friendship. The original version is on my album Through The Window. I have always wanted to try this with a choir. Jan Hunton is not only a friend but also a musician with soul and sensitivity. Her choral arrangements leave me in awe.

Mothers Day. The original Mother’s Day was a call to peace. Mother’s Day Work Clubs tended wounded soldiers from both sides of the U.S. Civil War. Post-war, Julia Ward Howe issued a Mother’s Day proclamation calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace. It began: “Arise, all women who have hearts …” Thank you, Laura Caviani. Every song you play is lucky to have you play it.

Winter Springs, Summer Falls. Living in Minneapolis means experiencing the intensity of the seasons: -30º F to 100º F, ice, snow, rain, sun, fog, wind. And the perfection of each season as well. For me, it’s all about the light.

Leap of Faith. Originally written for the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, this song first appeared on Gift of Age. Again — thank you, Jan, for the choral arrangement.

Blackbird. A favorite Lennon/McCartney song. My friend Gail Hartman was the first to suggest that I sing it. I am one of the few guitar players who never learned to play Blackbird. Thank goodness Joan Griffith did.

Fine Cup Of Tea. Having a career that has lasted this long means that my audience has aged along with me. We have all been touched by death and surprised by life. There are some days when I’m OK with getting older, and I sit and think of how I want to spend whatever is left.

Stars Come Out At Night. I remember lying in a lounge chair on the deck of a ship floating around the Galápagos Islands and seeing so many stars, it took my breath away. When I look up at night in my backyard, the visible stars are not so many, but there’s the same feeling of being quite small. We are alone but, we hope, lucky enough to have some traveling companions. I have long wanted to have Constance Braden, my sister-in-law/friend, play on one of my songs. What a treat.

My heartfelt thanks to the generous and gifted Anita Ruth for her fiddle arrangement on First Bird and flute arrangement on Stars Come Out At Night.

My gratitude:
Stevie Beck, Tom Kruse, Lin Bick, Rose Gregoire, Gail Hartman, Cindy McArthur, Kate Tucker.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Post Election

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
~ John Adams

I started to write this blog on November 10, 2016. I ranted, I raged. I read what I wrote and then highlighted all of it and hit delete. I was depressed and angry.

More than two months have passed and the anger, outrage and hair-pulling disbelief are still there. But I think I’m ready to form a coherent thought or two.

A good chunk of my anger is not directed at the guy who actually did not win the popular vote.(1)  Sorry, still cannot call him “president,” and saying his name leaves a bad taste in my mouth.(2)

I am first and foremost holding those who did not vote accountable. Is this new, people not voting? Sadly, no.

In this country, this republic, where we have the right and responsibility to elect the people who will best serve us—local, state and federal—we, the people, suck at voting. (3)

I have heard many reasons why people who could have voted didn’t, and none of them are convincing. If you didn’t like either the Republican or Democrat running for the presidency, there were a bunch of other people on most ballots. Here in Minnesota, we had candidates from the Constitution, the Socialist Workers, the Green, Libertarian, Independence, American Delta and the Legalize Marijuana Now Parties. (4) (Believe me, I had a moment immediately following the election of wishing the Legalize Marijuana Now Party had won.)

In most elections, you are not only voting for the president. You are also electing officials like state representatives, school board, park board. There are usually amendments and ballot measures to be decided. And these affect you, your children, your neighbors, your community, city, county and state.
Here’s the other thing: you are a citizen of this country. And this country asks that you pay your taxes, that men register for Selective Service (women, you’re next), and that you obey the law. No one forces you to vote. It is your right and privilege. It’s Citizenship 101.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.
~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Now we are faced with an administration that just makes stuff up.

But you know what? Facts exist. Instead of “Alt Facts,” let’s encourage Kellyanne Conway to use the term we oldsters used to have for that: “fiction.”

I am left with the question: how will I get through the coming onslaught of daily attacks on the rights of the citizenry?

I’m going to keep singing, writing and engaging in art. When despair takes over, I will gather and renew my soul with my friends.

I will show up.
I have 500 blank postcards.(5) Every week, I will sit and write to not only my representatives, but also to Senator McConnell and Representative Ryan. I will send postcards to Democrats who are not standing up to these bullies, as well as finding the Republicans who might just feel that their party has been taken over by a bunch of thugs.

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
~ Abraham Lincoln

I will continue to believe in the power of the people.
We do not have businesses large and small paying attention to sustainability and products that are better for the Earth because they were forced by Congress to do so. They do it because the people demand it. Some of my postcards will go to tell businesses I appreciate what they are doing in the cause of social justice. Other cards will go to tell the owners and board members why I will not be using their products or services.

Standing on the stage at the capitol building in St. Paul on January 21, 2017, and seeing a sea of people, dotted with pink, marching down the boulevard, my heart was lifted. The images of marchers from around the world brought tears to my eyes. We are powerful.

There is a midterm election in 2018. For the future of our fragile planet, and every person on it, let’s all show up.

2 It's the truth. My dentist can find no other problem.
5 I really do. Colored pencils too. This will require art.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

11. 13. 15

In April of 1995, when I was finishing my CD Life Gets Real, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up, an act of domestic terrorism. I had just finished recording “God Is Sleeping” and paired my song with a lullaby version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

In October of 2002, a plane crash took the lives of Paul and Sheila Wellstone, their daughter Marcia, staff members Will McLaughlin, Mary McEvoy, Tom Lapic and two pilots. The entire state was grieving. I had a CD release concert scheduled the following week. I asked a friend of mine, a close friend of the Wellstones, how she was even functioning. She said, “There is work to be done. I’m going to keep working.”

Here I am in 2015 and I happen to be working on a song about Mother’s Day, the real Mother’s Day. The one organized by Anna Reeves Jarvis whose immediate goal was to improve sanitation in Appalachian communities. During the Civil War, she asked women to care for the wounded on both sides. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation for peace that begins: Arise, then, women of this day!

I am working on this song as I hear about Paris.

On Facebook, people are posting photos of the French flag along with expressions of their sorrow. A friend of mine posts a peaceful picture of his wife taken a year ago on a Paris street. In response, I post a couple of photos I took two years ago when we were in Paris: one of the Eiffel Tower, another of our table at Café de Flore, empty or near-empty coffee cups and plates with crumbs sticking to them.

I hear an interview with a woman who lives near the carnage in front of Le Carillon. She tells the interviewer that after she helps clean the broken glass from the street, she will dance because it is the only thing that will help her continue.

Soon there is a posting that says it is not Paris we should pray for. It is the world. The message is that this outpouring of grief for Paris is all over social media and the press, but there is nothing for the victims of the bombs that went off in Beirut or Baghdad.

When I hear about more attacks by ISIS or learn of another young mentally ill person who decides to slaughter others in a school or movie theater, it feels like a fist in my gut, I feel it take my breath, clench my heart.

Beirut, Baghdad, Mogadishu.
Kabul, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Ankara.
Kambari, Tripoli, Peshawar, Fotokol.
Copenhagen, Cairo, Lahore.
Tunis, Riyadh, Erbil.
Jalalabad, Kobani.
Garland, Texas.

These are only 20 out of hundreds of cities where terrorist attacks have happened this year. I have never had the pleasure of eating their food, gazing up at the sky above these cities, meeting their people, carrying the dirt from these places on my shoes.

But I have walked in Paris and mangled their language trying to order a meal. I’ve wandered through Notre Dame and Père Lachaise. I’ve had coffee with friends at Café de Flore.

I am connected to Paris because it is familiar. The grief is also familiar. It is indeed for the world because the horror continues and I worry that we will all become — or perhaps have already become — accustomed to it. Another bombing. More innocent people left dead, homeless, wounded in body and spirit.

I still believe the world is beautiful. There are some people who are doing their best to turn Eden into Hell, but the world itself is beautiful because of those working to turn it back into an Eden.

I stay open to all of it. The light and the dark. I keep my friends who are my family close.

I write songs. I sing them. It is the only way I know of to continue.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

This concept of being inspired by the seasons and writing to that inspiration has me putting ideas aside because they are not really about a season.

This is not seasonal, I say to myself, pen poised over paper, prepared to cross out what are quite humbly some very nice lines. But then I don’t cross them out. I leave them there. I decide to keep working on the song because who knows? Maybe it actually IS about one of the seasons.

Given some time — in this case, about a week — I realize that it is not solely about the lyrics. It’s how the song feels. Songs just have a seasonal feel. Autumn is melancholy; spring, hopeful. Winter songs can be depressing or ones we warm ourselves on. Summer is energetic.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to be a part of the Junior Composers camp taking place at the University of Minnesota. (For more on Junior Composers:

Along with the classical writing-the-notes-down kind of concentrations, many offerings were classes in improvisation, vocal performance, conducting, and songwriting. The person who had been tapped to teach songwriting for two weeks was unable to make it. I received a call.

“Full disclosure,” I said to the woman on the other end, “I really don’t know how to read music very well and never write it down when I’m writing. Also, I don’t have much experience teaching.”

“That’s fine!” she said a little too cheerfully. “You’re a songwriter. I’ve never heard of you but another instructor here says you’re a very good songwriter.”

Can’t say she wasn’t warned.

I think at least one of the requirements for being a good teacher is to actually be comfortable teaching. And I’m not.

The class was small, about six young people as I remember, and all of them much farther along as songwriters than I was at their age (14–17.) Their goal was to finish a song by the end of the week (they had already started writing) and then go into the studio and record it. I gave examples of my own songwriting, talked about how I approach a song. They played what they had been working on. Nothing really clicked until I gave them an exercise I have always enjoyed handing out at workshops.

Out of the newspaper and random magazines, I took a phrase, a headline, things like: “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” “late night hope,” “strangers on a train,” “frontrunner.” Since I couldn’t very well just give the kids the assignment without doing it myself I chose “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” and went to work.

During that one day when we were working on the assignment, I managed a verse or two. I liked it immediately but didn’t work on it again until about a week ago when I saw the verses sitting there along with a bunch of other phrases and thoughts that were not yet songs. The chords and the melody came right back.

Does it have any seasons in it? Does it mention the leaves or the wind or how the air smells? It does not.

But it has the energy of summer.

I’m going to finish the song and when I do I’ll post it to our website ( and to my Facebook page (

Monday, August 24, 2015

Winter Springs, Summer Falls

August 2015

    Spring arrives when I hear — not see, but hear — robins singing in the morning. They start their slurpy song a few moments before dawn, waking up the cardinals who then sing a tune from their repertoire.

    The seasons are experienced through sound: hearing birds before I see them, smelling snow before it arrives, feeling the changing humidity on my skin.

    This summer has been gracious, not too hot, not too dry. As I’m writing this, we are having a few days of heat and soggy air. Jane and I use the air conditioning sparingly, turning it on when it gets to be about 80 degrees in the house, and turning it off before we go to sleep. I do not like hot weather.
    Last week I heard the sound that announces the depth of summer and, like a lookout in a crow’s nest, the first sighting of autumn, still a ways off but approaching.

    I heard crickets.

    The boys are rubbing their wings together. Their fast chirping will start slowing down as the temperature drops each night. For now, they are doing about 30 to 35 chirps every 15 seconds. (Yes, I am a geeky girl. And according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, one can estimate the approximate temperature in degrees Fahrenheit by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds then adding 40.)

    Wind, air pressure, humidity, the angle of the sun, the length of night and day all affect me deeply. Why not focus in and write about it? Why not write a collection of songs for all seasons, meteorological and metaphorical?

    The working title for this project is Winter Springs, Summer Falls. There are two songs already finished, recorded, mixed and out on iTunes. A third song has been written but not recorded as yet.

    I’ll be posting as I write and record the songs. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Manners and Marceau

There is an encroaching lack of civility, of manners in our society. It is getting worse. And when you go out to spend your hard-earned dollars, well, as they say: you pays your money, you takes your chances. Perhaps the play isn’t as good as the review stated, the artist is having an off night — disappointing, to be sure. But to have the experience marred by the audience is not something I want to get used to.

I may be turning into a cranky older woman but I don’t think my expectations of others are unreasonable. There is a code of behavior when one is in public. At least I think so.

Let me start with an experience from a while ago.

Everyone has one or two favorite artists for whom they would gladly go out and get a loan to pay for the ticket if they came to town. Mine are Bette Midler and Marcel Marceau. Marcel Marceau, without question the greatest artist of pantomime in the world, died in 2007. I am so grateful to have seen him several times and have sadness that not everyone in the world saw him perform. I will never forget his last appearance in Minneapolis, in 2004 at the Pantages Theatre. Marceau was, of course, flawless. The audience, however, was not.

One thing I loved about seeing Marcel Marceau was the experience of sitting in a theater with 1,000 other people in absolute silence. Alas, this time, it was not to be.

I don’t remember how long the performance had been going on. I don’t think it was more than twenty minutes or so. That’s when, from directly behind me, I heard the sound of a straw being rubbed up and down in a drinking glass. You know the sound: the plastic straw in the little plastic hole in the plastic lid? A few minutes after that, I heard a woman’s voice in a not-too-soft whisper, “Isn’t he gonna say anything?” A man’s voice replied, “I dunno …” This went on for a while, the chatter back and forth, a few giggles. When intermission arrived I turned to Jane and warned her I was going to say something to them as soon as they came back to their seats with another Big Gulp.

When the offending couple returned and got themselves adjusted in their seats, I began to turn in my seat to say something but was beaten to it by the woman on the other side of Jane. (I was relieved. I hate confrontation.) She conveyed my sentiments exactly.

“I need to tell you that you are being very rude!” she said, forcefully.

“Uh … what?” the man said with a complete lack of comprehension.

“This is the greatest mime in the world, one of the greatest artists of all time, and you are TALKING through his performance! Please be quiet!”

With that, she sat down. I heard the woman behind me make a short exhaling sound that, if translated, meant “God, what a bitch …”

The performance was marred by this incident but not ruined. Anyone who had the pleasure of witnessing Marceau’s art knows that nothing could destroy it. But it did leave me asking this: Why would someone buy a rather expensive ticket to a performance by an artist they know nothing about? Nothing. You just say “Hey, there’s some French guy at the Pantages. Wanna go hear him?”
“I don’t know. What does he do?”

“Yeah. No idea. Let’s spend a whole wad of money and find out.”

And when you get to the theater and see that it is, indeed, a mime, that you are sitting with people who are all quiet, watching, you do — what? Start talking while lustily sucking down your soda? Get out your remote and try to change the channel?

Last night, my spouse and I went to the Guthrie to see Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike.
We ended up enjoying the play, but only because I had done my meditation that day and was doing my best to practice mindfulness.

We stood in the line for rush tickets, got great seats on the end of a row, which meant that we would be getting up and down to allow people in to their seats. No problem! Fine with this! Our row filled two by two. Jane and I stood each time, pressed ourselves as far back against the folded seat as possible, allowing people to pass. We smiled. They smiled. Two women passed us to get to their seats. They stopped in front of us, their bodies two inches away from ours, to discuss if one had left something in the car but, no, oh wait, here it is! They weren’t there more than 15 seconds, but what made it difficult was their perfume. (Just keep track of 15 seconds, if you don’t think it’s a long time to have a stranger’s body next to yours, a stranger who bathed in some kind of pool of Eau de Choke-Your-Neighbor.)

I was relieved that they were not sitting in the seats next to us but concerned about the people around whom they did sit. I returned to practicing mindfulness. I said to myself:
They are where they are. Back to the present. Here and now. Let the thoughts about the insensitive, scented people pass through …

There. Better.

The play began. Approximately five minutes in, an usher walked down the aisle to seat a couple five rows ahead of us. Rude, I found myself thinking. Let it go, Ann, let it go. Be in this theater, take in the play …

Five minutes later, the usher came down the aisle again, seating a couple two rows in front of us. Are you kidding? The entire row had to stand, obstructing the view of the stage for the rows behind them and distracting the audience from the play.

I understand people arriving late when the weather is bad — heavy rain, snow — I get it. On those occasions of inclement weather, even the best-laid plans to leave early still don’t work. But when it is a beautiful summer night, not a freakin’ cloud in the sky, and just a light breeze? Do I know what it’s like to get ready to go out when you have kids? No, I don’t. I do know what it’s like to stand on a stage and watch people arrive late, annoy everyone around them and disrupt the audience’s focus and enjoyment. Let’s have some planning, people.

Here’s a hopeful sign: I’ve noticed that several theaters have inserted a note in the program saying they reserve the right to ask people to leave if they are being disruptive. This not only applies to people talking, but also to those who are texting or checking their email on their so-called smartphones. This is progress! But here’s another idea: Each theater will have a row of terribly uncomfortable wooden chairs in the very back. And if you are late, THAT is where you sit until intermission. It will be called The Late Row. We’ll get Target, Cargill or 3M to sponsor it.

You want to sit at home in your underwear and watch a movie, eat and drink, check your email, text your friends about the movie and make commentary throughout? Go for it! It’s your house!

I am not going to stay home because I don’t want to deal with the few people who were never taught how to behave in public. I will continue to go out and support live performance. And if someone shows a distinct lack of manners, I vow to say something. Politely.