Seeds Album Release, Musical Continuations

Posted by on Jun 6, 2023 in newsletter | 0 comments

We all have seeds
We all have strengths, we all have needs
We can water our wholesome seeds
Let’s pull up the weeds
We’ll work together to do good deeds
We can water our wholesome seeds

Jamie Rusling has been a musical friend and mentor to me for the past 25 years. As an experienced percussionist and performer, he took me under his wing when I was a recent college grad and brought me into one of the first studios I worked with, helping me record my first album Mothers and Daughters. He always encouraged me to keep making and sharing music and was consistently kind and generous, inviting me over for fires at his house, cooking for me, and giving me bags of groceries. Over the past two and a half decades of playing gigs together he would never let me pay him.

Last Thursday the middle school music students I am teaching at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School had their final performances of the school year. Over the past month I had given them an assignment I called “Sing Your Heart Out,” in which I challenged them to form bands and write their own songs or learn a cover tune and perform it for the class. The only requirement was that everyone in each band had to participate, and their song had to include some form of vocals. This is a big challenge for most middle schoolers!

Given their distracted attention in rehearsals I wasn’t sure what to expect from the performances. I was happily surprised to witness every single group in all four classes step up and perform their songs with heartfelt expression and authenticity. It was beautiful to witness them sharing their voices and creativity with such joy and confidence.

I found out the next morning that Jamie died late Thursday night. I had spoken to him on the phone the week before, and he let me know he was on Hospice. He seemed at peace in knowing that it was his time. I didn’t think that it would come so soon.

I am experiencing grief, shock, and sadness, yet I have also been able to see how the music made by my middle school students – and their expression of heart and spirit – was very much a part of Jamie’s continuation. I have realized that all of the songs I write and share contain the wisdom that Jamie taught me; that music is a healing medicine for all people.

I want to practice that awareness as I celebrate the release of my new children’s album Seeds and share musical performances throughout the summer. Jamie’s rhythms, kindness, generosity, and music live on. I am humbled and grateful to be part of his continuation.

I am also deeply thankful for the opportunity to share this new album with you and with the world. I recognize the many voices, hands, energies, and smiles that have gone into this collection of songs. Indeed, there are many Community Gardeners – including my parents – who have contributed to this album and helped these musical Seeds to germinate!

Seeds will be released to the public on June 10th, when it will begin streaming on all digital platforms and when I will perform a special release concert with The Community Gardeners at the Keep Growing Detroit Farm. I really hope you will join us!

Right now you can pre-save the album on Spotify and pre-order CDs from the Earthwork Music online store.

I will be recognizing Jamie’s presence in new forms as I continue on this musical spiritual path, returning again and again to the heartbeat rhythm that he transmitted so strongly. I hope that you feel it and will sing and dance along.

In gratitude,

P.S. In April I enjoyed an amazing retreat and performance experience with Kateri and the Community Gardeners as part of the Rhythm of the Earth Mindful Music Festival at the Deer Park Monastery in California. If you missed the performance you can still watch the recording here.

Liminal Space

Posted by on Feb 13, 2023 in newsletter | 2 comments

Here we are in this liminal space
What can be let go of what can be embraced
Nothing is lost that can be faced
With compassion and love and healing grace

This is not the life I had imagined. Last year at this time I had no idea what was to come. My marriage had just ended. My guitar teacher and mentor Gilbert “Farmer Jack” Potter and my spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh had both recently become ancestors. My life and my heart were broken open into a state of unknown, a liminal space. I was in a lot of pain and my daily prayer was “Help me know what to do and what not to do.”

What I experienced during the past year, in addition to deep emotional pain, was being held with love and care by family, friends, and community. This love contained true compassion and understanding, and led me through the grief of the losses I had suffered towards even deeper and more transformative love.

My rescue dog Caillou found me, with the help of my dear friends Finn and Mary, and has been a loyal and loving companion ever since, staying by my side with emotional awareness and playful presence. I have been blessed to enter into a new loving and committed relationship with an amazing woman named Kateri, who is both spiritual and joyful and with whom I continue to laugh, learn, and grow.

I joined a wonderful grief group called Expanding Life in Loss, and wrote this song Liminal Space as part of an assignment to express our feelings about grief.

My music took on new dimensions as I expanded my band, The Community Gardeners, and performed with them at several music festivals last summer, culminating in a lifelong dream of having my own show at The Ark in Ann Arbor. We’re scheduled to perform this April as part of the Rhythm of the Earth Mindful Music Festival at the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

I have continued to work on my fourth children’s album, which I started several years ago, and am getting close to finishing. My hope is to release this album, Seeds, in the spring.

I am asking for donations to help me achieve this goal. Any amount is welcome and will go towards the post production of the album. All who donate $10 or more will receive an advanced copy of the album (you can choose either digital or CD format). Donate via my GoFundMe page. Thank you for your generous support!

Last year at this time I could not have imagined the many blessings of my life in this present moment. I am so grateful for the raft of love that has carried me through the seas of shock and despair, into calmer waters of serenity and joy. I am here now, smiling at these blessings while continuing to tend to the wounds of divorce and death.

From death comes new life, and nothing is lost. I am grateful for the gift of love that continues in many forms, even through death. Indeed, that is what we are all made up of, the same stuff of all beings who have gone before. And I am committed to keep letting that love flow through me in song and in relationships, one day at a time, to the best of my ability. Thank you for helping me do that, and for all the ways you share love in the world.

With love and deep gratitude,

P.S. Check out this new and unique raw Earthwork Music compilation Voice Memos Vol. 1. I contributed a couple of musical sketches to this eclectic mix!

P.P.S Listen to my interview with Shaun Nethercott on the Great Lakes Odyssey Radio Hour!

On the Trail Again

Posted by on Jun 28, 2022 in newsletter | 2 comments

Here we are in this liminal space
What can be let go of
What can be embraced
Nothing is lost that can be faced
With compassion and love and healing grace

Dear Friends,

It has been a full year since I have written and a lot has happened in my life personally and professionally. If you want all the details please read on. If you are just looking for performance dates and highlights, no worries at all, please scroll down or skip ahead here!

I just returned from a 5-day backpacking trip on the North Country Trail in northern Michigan with my longtime friend Janet Ray and my newly adopted dog Caillou. The days of hiking along the trail were beautiful, peaceful, and challenging, and allowed me to reflect on the many big changes I have experienced during this past year. I know it has been a challenging time for most of us, living through the lingering effects of the pandemic and the many resulting traumas, not to mention the war in Ukraine, continued gun violence and racially motivated attacks in our country, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. So many layers of grief, fear, and anger to work through individually and collectively!

The biggest change for me has been the end of my marriage to Allison and the loss of our relationship, which had been an anchor in my life for the past 12 years. I really loved Allison with my whole heart and being. Our connection was musical and spiritual and I experienced it as a gift from the ancestors and the Great Spirit. I was devastated when she began questioning whether or not she wanted to stay married. We worked together with a marriage counselor for a year but she eventually decided to move out and, after a couple months of separation, to divorce.

I have cried like a baby. I have cycled through stages of grief again and again, moving from denial to shock to anger to acceptance and back to denial. I have sought and continue to receive support and guidance from so many dear friends and family members, from my therapist, my 12-step recovery groups, and from my spiritual communities.

I have been disoriented and traumatized, finding it hard sometimes to schedule or plan ahead, tasks that normally come easily for me. I have prayed and meditated, walked and hiked and rested. I have listened. I have fostered and eventually adopted the amazing Spirit dog Caillou, who has brought me much joyful companionship. And I have sang. Once again music is helping me find my way through a dark and difficult time.

As this separation and divorce were occurring, I also experienced the death of my beloved mentor and guitar teacher Gilbert “Farmer Jack” Potter, and my spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Layers of sadness have inspired me to look deeply and to see that nothing has truly been lost, just changed form. And yet I continue to grieve those changes.

I see how both Thich Nhat Hanh and Farmer Jack continue through my music and how their love is alive in my work with children and youth. I have been given many wonderful opportunities to share my music and passion for songwriting with incredible folks this spring, including at the Boggs School in Detroit, Wylie Elementary School in Dexter, and Detroit Youth Volume; an amazing organization that teaches music to young people in the city using the Suzuki violin method. I had an incredible gig at the East Lansing Art Fair with the Community Gardeners and the All Nations Dancers, and several spring gatherings in Ann Arbor with percussionist Lori Fithian, including the Ann Arbor Earth Day celebration and Huron River Day. In the midst of death, life has continued to bloom and sing.

Hiking on the trail this past week has given my heart and mind some space to really feel my feelings; the sadness, pain, heartbreak, and longing. The anger and resentment. The acceptance and forgiveness. The beauty and joy of the present moment. The limitless unconditional love of the Spirit that flows through so many channels. The true presence of life in each breath.

I have been reminded again and again of the love that is alive in my life as it has shown up in so many meaningful and concrete ways.

During our hike we took a rest day at the Sand Lake Campground in the Manistee National Forest. After three days of hiking we were exhausted and sore. We were immediately welcomed by a young family that had just set up camp. They asked us if we needed anything and lent us soap so we could take our first showers of the trip. The campground host visited us and welcomed us too, bringing us firewood left behind by other campers. Another family who camped across from us fed us from morning until night and again the following morning with amazing homemade food that would challenge any restaurant, let alone campsite! These simple acts of generosity were tangible experiences of the love of the Great Spirit that connects all things. We were not alone. We were not forsaken. We were well cared for and loved. We were fed.

And so my question now for my life is how do I continue to give myself the space and time I need to grieve even as I participate in simple acts of generosity for those around me? How do I welcome and feed the strange traveler while also keeping my heart and mind well balanced? This is not anything I can do alone, I know this much. I need the support and reflections of trusted friends, family, wise counselors, spiritual community, and the Great Spirit. I need to stay engaged in my life even when it feels painful or difficult. To embrace and move through the unpleasant feelings while remaining present to the beauty and wonders of life.

Just before we came to the campground we thought we were lost. The road appeared to be a dead end. We were disappointed and disillusioned. We decided to ask for help. When we did, we were directed to walk just beyond what we thought was a dead end and we found the campground where we would be cared for beyond any expectations. We were right where we needed to be.

Oh Great Spirit, help me to listen to your direction by having the humility and willingness to ask for help when I feel like I may be lost. Help me know that I am always deeply connected to you through the love of all my relations. And help me trust you in each step, each breath, and every song along the way.

In gratitude for our shared resilience,