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!

Detour For Some Blues News

I’m taking a slight detour today to share with you some exciting news about my good friend Jon Shain. Jon recently won the 2019 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, winning in the solo/duo category. No small honor as he had to beat out over 200 other talented artists to claim the title.

Jon is a prolific song writer who performs not only Blues but equal parts Folk and Americana. You can learn more about him and his music at jonshain.com.   You can hear Jon perform a wide variety of his musical styles on ReverbNation. 

Jon’s latest CD, “Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday Soon,” is actually a collaboration with long-time friend, and equally talented musician, FJ Ventre.  They are currently on tour, with dates in cities around the U.S. throughout the year. To see if they are playing near you check out their tour dates at jonshain.com.  Jon and FJ are dynamic and seasoned performers who will deliver a fabulous show you don’t want to miss! Here they are singing and playing together in the studio a song from their new CD.

To Know A Mockingbird

To know a mockingbird, is to be inspired. Every morning while I sit on my back porch with my cup of coffee I am serenaded by an enthusiastic mockingbird cycling through his extensive repertoire of songs. And it’s quite impressive. From atop the highest limb of a tree, he sings his heart out creating the illusion that my backyard is filled with an incredible number of different species of birds.495618280_e7b9c69764_z

I am suddenly reminded of a report I wrote about the Mockingbird in grammar school. These feisty, clever birds, have an amazing ability to mock or mimic numerous other birds’ calls as well as duplicate the sounds of insects and frogs. They can even imitate human made sounds like the beeping of a garbage truck backing up. Here is a great recording of a mockingbird serenade.

Long admired for their musical prowess, these wild birds were popular as cage birds in the U.S. during the 19th century. So popular in fact that their numbers dwindled greatly along the East Coast. Adults were captured, as well as fledglings from the nest. A talented singer could sell for as much as $50, a hefty sum for the time period.

Perhaps then, it’s no coincidence that one of the most popular songs during the Civil War era was “Listen To The Mockingbird,” written in 1855. The music was composed by an African-American named Richard Milburn and the lyrics were written by Septimus Winner under the nom de plume, Alice Hawthorne, (his wife).200 The song’s lively, happy melody belies its sad subject matter. A forlorn man is remembering his true love, Halley, who lies “sleeping in the valley.” While he grieves her loss the mockingbird is “singing oe’r her grave” faithfully, day and night.

To people of both the North and the South, “Mockingbird’s” theme of love and loss was especially poignant, as many a true love perished during the war. According to the New York Times, (November 5, 2013) it was such a big hit that 20 million copies of the sheet music were sold! It was apparently well-known that the song was one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorites.

“Listen To The Mockingbird” is still loved today and is considered a Bluegrass standard.  In 2013, Dolly Parton and Stuart Duncan recorded it for the album Divided and United: The Songs of the Civil War. Dolly’s tremulous harmonies on the chorus evoke the sweet lilt of a bird’s song. If you’d like to give it a listen here is the link:

But back to my mockingbird. It’s been a long time since my fourth grade report so I decided to refresh my knowledge. According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, a mockingbird continues learning new songs over his or her entire life span and can learn as many as 200 different calls, songs and sounds! Amazing! They just keep adding to their repertoire. They are life-long learners, something I strive to be. I knew there was a reason I thought these birds were so special, even as a child.  I encourage you to stop and listen, and get to know a mockingbird in your own back yard and maybe you’ll be inspired too.

Resolutions, or Just Good Intentions?

img_0339I feel energized with expectancy when the calendar year flips. Granted, nothing is really different between December 31st and January 1st, but psychologically the new year is a boost to a fresh start for all sorts of things. Of course, it is impossible to bottle that “freshness,” and it isn’t long before our noble resolutions fade into merely good intentions. Right? “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” as the saying goes.

All the same, I enjoy reading my journal entries from throughout the year on December 31st and then putting down on paper my aspirations for the coming year. I began 2016 with a very specific goal, completing my cd, and I did it! I don’t recall ever having such a specific goal for the year ahead. But it felt great to persevere and succeed. You can listen to samples and download from iTunes at this link or purchase physical cds from cdbaby at this link.

In her book, “This Year I Will…” M.J.Ryan suggests that one way to help us focus our resolve is to give the new year a name such as “The Year I Reclaim My Health” “The Year of Learning to Say No,” “The year of Household Projects” etc. I’ve decided that my 2017 will be “The Year of Public Performing.” 

Those who know me, know that I am a very reluctant performer. The truth is I don’t enjoy performing nearly as much as I do writing and recording my songs and I get nervous which makes me like it even less. But I know that sharing my songs live is a missing component in my musical aggregate. To that end, I am seeking out local places to perform that suit my musical style. In addition I am working every day to build and solidify a sufficient playlist.

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Write out your “Year of” Resolution and tape it up in a prominent place

Besides my commitment to performing, I am simultaneously gathering ideas, scribbling down lyrics and plunking out bits of melody at the piano all in an effort to create new songs. That work is always on-going and I hope to share more of the process with you as the year progresses. And I’ll let you know how the performance challenge is going. The year is still young, but so far so good. 

Dear readers, what will 2017 be “The Year Of” in your life? I’d love to hear!

 

 

 

Penny Pierce CD now in iTunes

After 2 years, countless hours of  song writing and re-writing, emotional blood sweat and tears, recording sessions, editing and mixing, not to mention a not-so-small expenditure of $$$……my CD arrived this week. I was so excited that I made the UPS driver pose for a photo, which he kindly obliged to do.

The lovely design of the CD package was done by the very talented FJ Ventre of Tad Pole Designs. The CD contains this 16 page booklet with all of the lyrics and musical credits.

You can now listen to samples of my music in the iTunes store and on cdbaby  and you can download the CD. I think the samples are much better in iTunes where they have put me in the genre of Alternative Folk. (I did not even know such a thing existed) It will be about another week before the CD shows up in Amazon where you can purchase the physical copy.

I have also created a FaceBook page that you can “Like” to follow all things socially musical.

Here is a Song Title list with description

  1. Echoes of Mercy (4:02) A poignant folk-rock anthem that brings a message of hope, one the world needs to hear right now.
  2. Up In Heaven (3:03) Let the swaying rhythm of this Bossa Nova transport you instantly to a sandy beach. Feel the ocean breeze blow with every note of the chromatic harmonica.
  3. Shadows Flee Away (4:25) Piano and cello only soar on this beautifully haunting melody that could find a home in a movie soundtrack.
  4. Dragonfly (Song for Polly) (3:31) Layers of electric guitars create a fun soundscape that imagines an insect’s migratory journey.
  5. Big Texas Heart (4:51) This authentic country-western waltz about love’s insecurity was inspired by that great Texas son, Lyle Lovett. It features fiddle and resonator guitar.
  6. Your Face, Your Voice (3:14) With the feel of a 60’s Bacharach pop tune, this song goes Old School on piano, guitar, bass and drums.
  7. Fates of Time (3:09) A piano and bass duo. Imagine if Joni Mitchell and Carole King sat down and wrote a song together.
  8. A Stone’s Throw (4:49) Finger picked duo guitars shine on this folk song about personal growth and awakening.
  9. Dark-Eyed Sailor (3:54) A traditional ballad from the 1700‘s complete with mistaken identity and a moral admonition. An accordion weaves its spell in and around beautiful vocals.
  10. The Net (3:13) Another piano and bass duet– two musicians on an empty, echoey stage play for themselves after the lights dim and the audience has gone home.

 

 

Penny Pierce

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As promised, here is a preview of my new self-titled album. This is the cover photo. Two days before Chuckles became ill I had a photo shoot down at Carolina Beach. I had this amazing photographer, Mark Maya out of Durham. In a stroke of luck, he happened to be vacationing at Carolina Beach and suggested I drive down (40 min. drive from Wilmington) for the shoot. It was early evening in July and hotter than blue blazes but he was so cool and collected. Good thing, because I had no idea what I was doing! The lighting was wonderful at that time of day even to my untrained eye. He got some great pics and we have used them throughout the booklet insert for the CD (16 pgs. with all lyrics)

The CD contains 10 songs (about 40 minutes playing time), all original except for a traditional English broadside ballad dating from the 1700’s. The album is very eclectic and defies easy categorising by genre. There is everything from a Bossa Nova, to a Country-Western waltz, to a piano number that sounds like it could have been in Burt Bacharach’s oeuvre. Eleven musicians, (including myself), perform on a range of instruments; piano, cello, harmonica, resonator guitar, accordion and more.

My CD is currently in production and the manufacturer is promising completion between Oct.20-24. Once it has shipped it will be available on all the usual sites including Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes, etc. both for download and physical copies.

Stay tuned for an official release announcement!

 

 

 

 

 

“Songs of Hope and Courage”

“All the Tears in the World: Songs of Hope and Courage” –Bett Padgett

Multi talented singer-songwriter Bett Padgett will release her 7th and latest cd on September 10th. Bett was my guitar teacher for many years when I lived in Raleigh. I visited with her this past week with Chuckles since we are staying in town for his treatments as many of you know. I credit Bett with providing me with the skills and confidence I needed to finally write my own songs. She is the one who unlocked the door for me and for that I will always be grateful. No doubt she has done the same for countless other students as she has been teaching guitar for 30 years in Raleigh!

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I was lucky enough to have Bett play for me on her celtic harp!

Originally from Durham, and a musical family, (just like me) Bett has been playing guitar since she was 11. She also teaches mandolin, banjo and ukulele. Bett is a prolific song writer who weaves stories about life experiences and emotions common to us all. “Although dealing with tough topics, there is optimism and courage in each song.”

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Bett playing a song from her new cd

David Roth says, ““For me listening to Bett’s new recording is to enjoy fine songwriting, thoughtful arrangements, and a voice that is at times reminiscent of Mary Travers, but best of all, Bett herself. She sings with conviction and connection to what she’s writing about. Who could ask for more?”

Well, how about the fact that she plays almost all of the instruments on her recordings!

 

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Bett’s music is making waves in the folk music scene across the country. You may listen to cuts on Soundcloud for samples of the CD and some previous albums as well. To learn more about Bett and her music and other goings on in Raleigh music check out her website http://www.bettpadgett.com/ceilidhe-music/ceilidhe-music.php.

 

 

 

Another Step Closer to Becomming Reality

0620161249The late June recording sessions went well at Good Luck Studios in Chapel Hill. The first day in the studio is always the hardest for me, and this time was no exception.  After all the microphones were set up and levels checked etc., I had to lay down a guitar/vocal “scratch track,” (used as a template), for each of my two new songs. A click track,( a sound like a metronome keeping time), plays in my headset while I do this. Then I lay down a guitar only track while listening to the scratch track and/or the click track playing in my ears. This work tests and stretches my abilities to their max! Jon snapped this picture of me during a break on our very first day.

IMG_2651On day two I put down the vocal tracks to these two songs as well as some harmony vocals on previously recorded songs. Day three was primarily Jon Shain, (my producer), laying down his guitar parts and a lot of listening to all the rough mixes of the recorded songs. We made decisions about which ones would make the cut for the cd.

As is always the case, something wonderfully serendipitous happened during the recording sessions. On the last day, Jon thought about adding an accordion to my rendition of “Dark Eyed Sailor,” a traditional Broadside Ballad from the 1700’s. He called up his friend, Chris IMG_2671Frank, who was not only home at the time but had the time to come down to the studio and lend his exceptional talent to the song. Chris is a long time member of the internationally renown Red Clay Ramblers. Chris’s poignant harmonies and melodic lines added a layer of beauty and authenticity to this recording.

IMG_2662To round out the day, FJ Ventre, (my engineer), recorded several bass tracks to add to songs as needed. Next up, the rough tracks will be mixed and then mastered. This work will probably take until the end of August.

While FJ works his magic, I must turn my attention to the actual manufacturing of the disc. It will go to Discmakers for production but there is much to be decided upon regarding artistic design for the packaging. Album title, song sequencing, art work and or photographs, song lyrics, credits, printing design, etc. must all be finalized before it can go into production. I have my work cut out for me in the coming weeks! I will keep you posted on my progress. Thanks everyone for following.

 

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

“Insist On Yourself”

June 3rd is looming large on my calendar. On Friday I go back into the studio to record the last two piano songs for my cd. Later in the month, I’ll spend four more days recording on guitar and reviewing all of my songs in preparation for release. I have been working on this project for more than a year now and am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.IMG_2283

IMG_2288Deciding to write and record my own songs was a giant leap into the unknown. An endeavor begun in middle age, with no knowledge of how to do it, and with only a fledgling’s self-confidence that I could do it. But when the opportunity presented itself to quit my day job a few years ago, and to focus on my music, I knew it was now or never.

It had never occurred to me when I was younger that I might possess enough talent to do such a thing. My religious upbringing encouraged conformity not individuality. It was an inhospitable environment for creativity to thrive. Nevertheless, my desire to create never died. It was just lying dormant, awaiting the time when I would evolve into the person who was confident in, and comfortable with her own uniqueness. The person I was always meant to be.

 “Insist on yourself: never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half-possession…Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.” —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two months ago I had only one song written to record on piano. Because we rent a large studio with a grand piano for the day, I knew it was necessary to have two songs ready to go. I had an idea in progress for a song, with a chorus already written, but I could never get any traction going on the verses.IMG_2290

After two weeks of laboring over it, I made the decision to cut bait and try for something new. The only thing I had in the wings were some lines inspired by the Greek myth about the Three Fates; Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the three women who determine the length of a life. One spins the symbolic thread, one marks its length, and the third cuts it.

The Three FatesRecently I visited an elderly friend who expressed to me that she had never allowed herself to develop her life’s potential. She had so many dreams and ambitions that never came to fruition because it meant leaving an unhappy marriage, something she could never get the courage to do. Now in her mid 80‘s she was looking back with regret over what might have been.

I was reminded of another friend, who for most of his life, has viewed the world through a very narrow lens. He likes bullet lists, how-to formulas and five step programs. He believes that the most important thing you can learn in life is how to control your emotions. But in the last few years he has glimpsed the vitality and richness of other cultures and world views beyond his ken. The world could be his oyster, but does he have the courage to loosen his grip on control? Will he take the leap into the unknown?

As I pondered my friends’ life stories and my own life’s metamorphosis I saw the thread of commonality and a song began to coalesce and emerge. No matter our individual circumstances, if we are evolving we will reach a point of awareness when we say life has been “thus” but now it can be “thus.” We will reach a point where it will take blind courage to move forward. And we will become aware of the thread growing shorter.

The Fates of Time                                                                        

Looking back at the beginning
You had a formula for winning
Your secret was control
You wrapped your heart in a blindfold

So you took it on the road
In every town a sold out show
People hungry for a cure
Will buy a remedy like yours

But life always seems to stray
From the best of plans we lay
And walls buckles from the strain
Of a ruse you can’t sustain
Not even one more day

Chorus: 
‘Cause the Fates of Time are spinning
Measuring and trimming
The days, the hours, the time
You’ve left to find
The thread of meaning in your life

One day you catch a glimpse
Of a happiness you’ve missed
It’s a passion in your soul
That won’t bend to your control

So embrace uncertainty
You have all the strength you need
Take the leap, it’s not too late
To become yourself, don’t wait
Not even one more day

‘Cause the Fates of Time are spinning
Measuring and trimming
The days, the hours, the time
You’ve left to find
The thread of meaning in your life                                            

words and music by Penny R Pierce
copyright 2016 all rights reserved

 

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