Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’
For This Old World Is Almost Gone”

Traditional- Attributed to, and Recorded by: Blind Willie Johnson (1928), Reverend Gary Davis (1956), and Mississippi Fred McDowell (1959) Like all Traditional songs, the lyrics vary between performers and in written versions

Lately I find myself singing this old gospel/blues tune a lot. It is based on a parable from the book of Matthew (25: 1-13) often called “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.” 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins (section) by Phoebe Traquair, Mansfield Traquair Church, Edinburgh.

The story goes that there were 10 bridesmaids awaiting the coming of a groom to escort them to a marriage feast. After being delayed, the groom finally arrives at midnight to collect them. (They are all sleeping due to the late hour) Five of the women have their oil lamps well supplied with oil ( and wicks trimmed!) and are ready to go with him. But the other five have to go out to the store to purchase oil for their lamps and so aren’t ready to go when the groom appears. As their “punishment” they are shut out of the wedding feast.

The Wise and Foolish VirginsWilliam Blake, 1826 Tate Gallery

The parable is an admonition to “be ready” of course. It was a wildly popular religious theme during the Middle Ages as evidenced by its influence in Gothic art. Paintings and sculptures of the Ten Virgins decorate numerous churches and cathedrals all across Europe including Notre Dame in Paris and Reimes.

“Brother Don’t you Get Worried
Brother Don’t You Get Worried
Brother Don’t You Get Worried
For This Old World Is Almost Gone”

In my last blog post I wrote about adapting to the darkness when we can’t see the Light at the End of the Tunnel– specifically my personal journey of trying to get to Prague to teach. So, while waiting for the “all clear” to travel freely again, I’ve been asking myself, how can I keep my lamp trimmed and burnin’? What can I do to be ready? The only thing worse than being grounded by the global Pandemic, would be to not have used this down time wisely to prepare in every way possible for my trip.

“Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’
Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’
Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’
For This Old world Is Almost Gone”

Friedrich Wilhelm SchadowThe Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1838–1842 (detail), Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main.

The most practical thing I’ve been doing is to continue learning the Czech language so that when I finally do arrive in Prague, I won’t be a total beginner. I’m also sorting through my best teaching materials and digitizing them (since I can’t travel with reams of paper), as well as creating new lessons from ideas I’ve had for a long time but have never had free time to develop. As any teacher knows, putting all this together is extremely time consuming and virtually impossible to do when you are actually teaching!

But let me be quick to add that while these activities are my ideal, I often fall short. My self-expectations turn into merely good intentions and I feel a lot like the woman in the picture above…….too tired to care where I last left my lamp.

Dear Readers, what have you been busy doing? How have you, and how are you keeping your lamp trimmed and burnin’? I’d love to hear from you.

I leave you with a recent recording of “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin” performed by Piedmont Blues guitar virtuoso, and my good friend, Mr. Jon Shain. Accompanying Jon on bass is another stellar musician, and equally good friend, Mr. FJ Ventre. Enjoy!

A Lesson From Van Gogh

Well, June 3rd has come and gone. The first of the last hurdles is now over in the race to  complete my recording.  I’m very pleased with the results.  Today I head back up for four more days of work in the studio. This time I will record two songs on guitar and we will review all of the songs recorded thus far to determine what will make the cut for the cd.recording studio

One of the songs I’ll be recording next week is actually a re-do of a song I recorded last October called “A Stone’s Throw.” I didn’t like how the recording turned out but I didn’t want to give up on the song so I re-arranged it stylistically and now we’ll give it another go. It is the first song I ever wrote, which was about 4 years ago. Truthfully, it’s not the kind of song that I feel I am gravitating toward writing now. But giving it recorded voice feels necessary for closure to that period of my song writing.

For some reason, Stone’s Throw has undergone more revisions than any song I’ve written thus far. I’ve changed the key, the lyrics, the rhythm and the arrangement. Some songs are written quickly and have an immediate coherency while others, like this one, seem to evolve with fits and starts.

portratureI have been reading a collection of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. In his early correspondence, Van Gogh details his experiences of learning to draw, especially the human form. He works and re-works countless sketches, using live models, hours and hours a day. Landscapes too require much trial and error to get right. He expresses worry over the expense of using so much paint on studies that are then discarded. He tells Theo that he tries to draw with charcoal as much as possible while practicing so to save the costly paint for more evolved compositions. Pot of paint

Van Gogh’s letters reminded me that all artistic work really is work, no matter the artistic form. What we see as the “finished product” is the result of countless hours by the artist of honing their craft. None of us are immune from the learning curve. Van Gogh did not sit down one day and produce a masterpiece. I don’t know if I will ever produce a “masterpiece” but I can certainly attest to the fact that if you want to create something of value then you must buckle down and do the necessary work. It is unavoidable. You can’t go around to get to the other side, you must go through. Is this not true of life in general?

So, back to my song. Actually all of the songs I’ve written. The writing of the melody, the lyrics and the arrangement isn’t the end. The recording process is part of a song’s evolution. Sometimes you just don’t know how it’s going to sound until you record it.  All artists have songs that didn’t turn out as they hoped or just weren’t right and were either abandoned in the studio or reworked in some way. Of course, I’m hoping that this next attempt at  “A Stone’s Throw” will be a keeper for the cd. But I’m learning to remain open to the fluidity of the process trusting that no matter what happens, ultimately having done the work will produce the reward.Painted Background 259

Loving Vincent

If you love the work of Vincent Van Gogh as I do then you’ll want to know about a film in the works called “Loving Vincent.” When completed it will be the world’s first feature- length fully painted film. Every frame of the movie is an oil painting on canvas, that’s 12 paintings per second! Over 100 artists are contributing their talents to the project which is being produced by Breakthru Films and Trademark Films.

The film will tell Van Gogh’s life story through his paintings, his letters, and by the characters in his paintings who come to life on canvas. The two trailers below will give you a sense of the film’s beauty and creative genius. To learn more about the immensity of this undertaking you can visit their website http://www.lovingvincent.com