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Meet Again (My Old Friend)

Reconnecting with old friends over social media is exciting. And kind of nerve-wracking.

Because we all change over time. We encounter various challenges that confront and perhaps alter our assumptions about what life is and how to live it. Perhaps we understand each other more… and perhaps we move apart.

Still, for me, I feel a need to integrate my past with my present and my future hopes. So I reach out to people I once knew, try to establish conversation with them again.

It’s about remembering good times, or about being grateful for important influences in my life, or about making amends – or any combination of those, and more. Sometimes that results in a real world meeting.

When I was a kid, it seemed like many friendships came about by chance or by parental influence, or around common connections like school. It’s not like kids get to choose a lot about their lives. So reconnecting with childhood friends, particularly, carried a certain level of nervous anticipation for me.

Once I got together with those friends, though, it became apparent that it wasn’t just chance that drew us together in the first place. Although shared experiences definitely help to forge relationship, maybe kids could have a better handle on the intangibles of friendship than adults do. Kid have fewer preconceived notions of what a good friendship should look like, so maybe they can be better at recognizing -on an intuitive level- when it’s happening.

Even though I don’t always occupy the same space on the political spectrum as all my longtime friends, and other aspects of our lives and notions don’t align, I’ve found that renewing those acquaintances has flowed into more natural interactions than I had hoped for. And that has been great.

Here are the lyrics for my song Meet Again (My Old Friend)

There’ll be a little bit of ‘Hallelujah’,
And a whole lotta ‘Remember when…?’
But will we wonder, ‘What’s it to ya?’
When we meet again, my old friend?

Will we feel the need for some ‘I’m Sorry’s,
Or has the river washed ’em ’round the bend?
Is there precious mettle still in those quarries,
When we met together my old friend?

And I know… there’ll be holding on, and letting go.
There’ll be letting things run with the flow.
And a bit of ‘You old so and so…’
– Then listening about the things we didn’t know.

And so… as we’ve traveled these years apart,
There have been moments that have brought you to mind.
And those memories we made long ago
Have become a kind of guide.

I think that is what tugged my heart
And made me really want to find
The person that I used to know.
I feel no need to hide.
I feel no need to hide.

So I’m glad that we have reconnected.
And I think that we’ll find in the end –
Once everything has been dissected –
It’s been good to see you, my old friend.
It’s been good to see you, my old friend.

There’s been a little bit of hallelujah
And a whole lotta “Remember when…?”
So I’m glad that we have reconnected.
It’s been good to see you my old friend –
It’s been good to see you my old friend.

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Coloured Ribbon

The recent enormous and early dump of snow on my part of the world turned my thoughts to Christmas, our big midwinter celebration that often is set among snowdrifts where I live. Christmas includes the tradition of giving and receiving presents, often presented in boxes that are wrapped in colourful patterned paper and tied up with ribbons. Stores in malls will often have volunteers or even pay employees to professionally gift-wrap packages according to a high standard, for the many people who are pressed for time and want to save themselves the work of wrapping presents themselves.

Pretty packages, presented to a high standard, are eye-catching and pleasant. Difficulties arise when we attach standardized packaging ideas to the people we see around us, making assumptions about who people are or should be according to our own preconceived notions.

I wrote the song Coloured Ribbon a long time ago. Originally, the only meaning of the song was that – generally – we are all unique individuals who express ourselves according to our own particular characteristics and concerns, and that differences among us should be respected and appreciated rather than have people be compelled to assume a false conformity. In particular, my perception was that my community valued a very stoic approach to life, not wanting to express too much joy or too great a sense of sadness, in favour of being seen as rational and clever rather than ’emotional’. I felt this as a limitation, although it did influence my behaviour and self-expression.

The ‘if I am warped, then we can weave’ part of the song refers to the different directions of thread crossing in a woven cloth or tapestry, the ‘warp’ and the ‘woof’. The reference to ‘make our designs’ alludes obliquely to a fascination I had with kaleidoscopes as a kid – how bits of coloured glass/plastic could fall randomly within a container having many reflective surfaces, and you could come up with a beautiful pattern no matter how you shifted the viewfinder. Although form and structure in a society can give shape and security to our lives, I believe that we can allow form and structure to emerge from the interrelationships of diverse peoples as they meet and adjust to one another, to a far greater extent than we seem inclined to do.

The expression ‘fit to be tied’, in English, means that a person is so surprised that they can’t move, think, or speak. The song uses it in a different way – the word ‘fit’ also means ‘suitable for’, and within the song the phrase means that I don’t believe people should be restricted by the limitations of others to accept diversity or change.

At the time I wrote the song, the ribbon icon wasn’t applied to so many vehicles and other surfaces to indicate support for particular groups of people or causes. The fact that a rainbow ribbon icon now represents the wide spectrum of gender and sexual identities actually enhances the meaning of the central metaphor of the song, though. As important as gender and sexuality is to a person’s identity, we can’t assume a ‘package’ of traits that we apply as a blanket characterization to any particular gender or identity. If we do so, we lose opportunities to perceive and benefit from the rich tapestry of skills, knowledge, and character of each individual who we come across or meet in the course of our lives.

My song ‘Coloured Ribbon’ remains a plea to recognize and appreciate the authentic self of every person, and the inherent richness each individual brings to our tapestry of community, society, country, and all humanity.

Here follow the lyrics;

Coloured Ribbon

There’s a time to laugh,
A time to cry.
I want to live the full spectrum of life.
If you leave me free, I might fit some design –
Just please don’t tie me up with coloured ribbon.

If I am warped, then we can weave.
We make up the fabric of humanity.
If we be free, we can make our designs –
I don’t believe we are fit to be tied.

I don’t know why people need
To make shackles we call ‘normalcy’.
(We) choose others’ boxes, make them bleed,
Squeeze them into moulds so stubbornly.

We make their packages, we tie them tight,
Until so much of them is out of sight.

Oh how many precious gifts we would see
If we would only let them be free.

I want to laugh,
I want to cry.
I want to live the full spectrum of life.
If you leave me free, I might fit some design –
Just please don’t tie me up with coloured ribbon.

If we be free, we we can make our designs.
I don’t believe we are fit to be tied.

Truth is the beauty that we find when we’re real…
So please don’t tie us up with coloured ribbon.
Please don’t tie us up with coloured ribbon.
Please don’t tie us up with coloured ribbon.

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The Circle Is; About Life in Community

I’ve had the privilege of being included in a First-Nations-guided talking circle. Though a talking circle is led through the presence and example of an Elder, it doesn’t have the feel or structure of hierarchy. Since all have the ability to speak and to be heard, a talking circle feels like democracy in action. There’s a built-in sense of community.

Being Mennonite, the idea of community is familiar to me. Community isn’t a monochromatic experience, though. It’s interesting how sometimes community feels natural and nurturing, and other times feels imposed or even excluding. I believe that the strongest communities are those that have lots of room for diversity and even maverick perspectives. Very homogeneous communities that are based on conformity to a narrow set of norms may seem strong, but can they really be adaptable to new situations, or even truly recognize the all the factors/individuals that affect/enrich their lives?

I wrote The Circle Is as a way of exploring the attitudes and expectations we bring to community, and also to express some views of what community could be at its best. The metaphor of the circle felt like a good way to hold it together thematically.

Here are the lyrics;

The Circle Is

Some enter the circle like a roundabout,
They come in only looking for a way out.
Others have it spinning like a top
They don’t go anywhere, & they never stop.

Some see the circle as a hurricane,
Where our lives get destroyed by the weather.
Some see the circle as a great big blender
Where everyone gets stirred together.

We see the circle as a safe place,
Where each can look into the eyes of another.

God knows, we’re always walking in lines,
Standing in boxes that go up and down.
Everything is organized
so we can be efficient, So we can get around.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended,
Where healing can take place.
We need a circle – we can serve each other –
A place where the juices of our souls can be replaced.

The circle is a bowl that holds
Nourishment for our souls…
…a turbine on a hill that makes the most
Of the power of the wind that blows.

Some enter the circle like a roundabout –
they come in only looking for a way out.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended, where healing can take place…
Judgement suspended, where healing
can take place.

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More Thanks

So many people to thank.

There are more teachers and mentors who were part of my development in music, and also other supporters.

Thanks to the late Peter Braun, my music teacher and school and church choir director, for teaching me so much about music and performance and for providing me with early opportunities.

Thanks to the late Helen Litz, director and conductor of the Mennonite Children’s Choir.

Thanks to my friend in the Mennonite Children’s Choir, Anita Fannenschmidt, for standing by me literally and figuratively and for nudging me in the ribs when I went off pitch.

Thanks to my voice teachers, Ruth Ens and John Martens.

Thanks to my college choir conductor, William Baerg.

Dale Warkentin, without your encouragement and support in Flin Flon for those couple of years, I may well have faltered.

The late Ted Goosen provided me with an opportunity to use my musical training and abilities at Simonhouse Bible Camp. Apparently they still sing some of my old songs up there.

Thanks to my piano teacher, the very accomplished Judith-Lynn Kehler Siebert, who taught me what it means to practice (though I took a rather long while to catch on).

My mentors, John Ens and Henry Wedel in particular, very much helped me to learn about singing bass, being a choir member, and to take leadership responsibly.

Arlie Langager led a choir at the University of Calgary while she did some graduate work there, and being part of that choir was certainly a highlight for me at that time.

Lisa Rosenberg gave me an opportunity to work on a song supporting the development of clean water infrastructure in Eastern Africa. That was an excellent experience for me in developing a project, and I hope to someday do more of that kind of work.

Thanks to Katherine “Em” for her support and encouragement, especially through social media.

Thanks to Jenn Byrnes and Lori Motherwell for their encouragement too.

Thanks to those in my extended family and on my social media network who encourage me. It does not go unnoticed.

There are so many more of you to thank, for so much. For now, this will have to do. Please be assured, I appreciate you all, though my expression of that can never be adequate.

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Overdue Thank You To Many But Not Enough

Whether or not my unusual music goes anywhere out there, I owe a big thank you to many people for their encouragement and influence. Since I am supremely absent-minded, I will probably offend someone by leaving them out… but consider this a beginning.

My first music composition professor, Linda Schwartz, who is now Dean of Arts and Science at Ambrose University. Thank you for your early guidance and the opportunities you gave me.

Olaf Pyttlik, who asked me to collaborate with him lyrically at one point, but who is so far beyond me. Thank you for your friendship of long ago and for sharing your time with me. Olaf is a music producer and composer with DACAPO studios in Winnipeg, and you may have heard his musical scores for any number of television programs/movies/ballet. He wrote a lot of music for the Ice Age franchise.

Allan Gordon Bell – Professor, University of Calgary. Allan taught me more music theory and composition, and I would have done well to heed more of his advice.

Derek Penney – Derek had a band in Halifax once, and he has written a fair bit of music himself. It would be great to hear it publicly sometime. Derek joined me for a couple of jam sessions, gave me some good advice on some songs and about learning from others, and is a super guy.

Fred Green – Fred is one of those people in the world who is underestimated and deserves a whole lot more appreciation. He jammed with me a lot, was really encouraging, and I consumed too much of his beer and hospitality. He’s a mensch – a really solid, good guy.

Rhonda Janzen – a singer-songwriter herself, Rhonda introduced me to my first studio, Music Center Canada. While I haven’t put out those early recordings for distribution, that was where I got my toe in the water, and the guys at MCC were good to me.

Sean Bruneau – Sean was once upon a time a producer for a TV network, and he told me about the studio I’ve been going to lately, The Beach.

Allie Henderson invited me to play my music for guests at Inn From The Cold one night. I appreciate her encouragement and that opportunity.

Doug Klassen, then pastor of Foothills Mennonite Church, gave me many opportunities to play my music in church (not necessarily the same stuff now out), and has always been super supportive of my musical endeavours.

Char Mikalson has always been super encouraging of me and my music.

Chad and June Miller are always there for me and my family, and have been really supportive of my music as well.

Dave Ginther – invited me to play some of my stuff for a Men’s Group Potluck. That was lots of fun!

Steve Larsen – is a local music producer who recorded some of my early efforts.

Rick Tarnowski is a super bass player who has jammed with me, and we’ll be doing more of that. Also, Darrell Krahn (percussion), Eric Friesen (Lead Guitar). Those three guys have joined me on stage, and we’re looking at more of that.

I’ve enjoyed a number of open mic venues around town. The most consistent one over the years for me has been the Ironwood Bar and Grill, hosted by Kit Johnson and Tim Leacock, who are fine musicians as well.

There was a college music and drama troupe too… Mark Bartel, Patty Neumann Bartel, Matthew Bartel, Jenn Mierau, Christine Siemens Huebert, and Lynnette Sawatzky Regehr.

And of course, my family has contributed to my life and thus to my songwriting. #MyDear1, who is rather publicity shy, plays piano and keyboards and sings, and she improvises all of that really well too. She has rescued me from my own musical (and other) errors on numerous occasions. Also, she writes a bit of music sometimes.

There’s also a guy named Gordie who I jammed with once. There are so many, but like I say, that will have to be a preliminary list. Thank you all!

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Gonna Spend My Cash

“Why do you buy organic bananas?” asked an older visitor. “They have a peel, so pesticides won’t transfer into what you eat.”

I told him that I had seen a documentary that showed pesticides being sprayed on a banana plantation while workers were picking the bananas, because the corporation that owned the plantation didn’t want to stop the harvest long enough to spray pesticides and interrupt the work. So for me, it wasn’t about the bananas, but about the workers.

“I hear that,” commented our visitor. He then went on to relate that when he was young, picking hops in the Fraser Valley, the company also sprayed pesticides while the hops were being picked.

We try to keep ethical and sustainability issues in mind when we make our purchases. Fair Trade coffee and chocolate are frequent purchases of ours. If you search “Child Labour and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry”, you will come across an article by the ‘Food Empowerment Project’ that gives some details about how the chocolate industry is involved in the worst possible labour conditions in the world in our time.

Yet, we are inconsistent in our efforts, even as far as buying chocolate. Some fair trade and organic goods are only sold in stores that are some distance away from our home, and thus we would have to spend more time, money, and fuel, to go and purchase those goods – which creates an opportunity cost and additional environmental sustainability issues in itself.

Every purchasing decision is on some level a compromise, and there are so many such decisions that have to be made. The individual consumer in our society should not have to bear this burden alone – but our society is insufficiently committed to ethical purchases, production, and environmental sustainability, and mostly just sees it all as a bother, so it seems unlikely that governments will be elected in the near future which will encourage and support change on a broader level. There are powerful corporate and political forces that benefit from the status quo, combined with a societal inertia and malaise, so this is likely to be an ongoing issue.

While I want to continue moving toward an ethical and sustainable lifestyle, I also really do enjoy getting paid. Getting a paycheque provides a bit of a sense of recognition for work accomplished, and I feel that it’s natural to want to celebrate that. There’s a cloud of guilt that lingers over progressives, because of the level of ethical compromise involved in almost every act of every day. Even sitting at this keyboard to type has environmental consequences.

So my song “Gonna Spend My Cash” relates to that internal conflict of feeling joy and wanting to celebrate my remuneration, while at the same time wanting to be a more ethical and sustainable consumer. I haven’t ever heard a song like it, so it needed to be written, in my opinion. Here are the lyrics.

Gonna Spend My Cash

Gonna spend my cash, ‘cuz I got my pay
There’s value in a dollar and that’s okay
Gonna spend my cash, but watch where it goes
Cuz I want it to be love and not blood that flows

I’d be lying if I’d say gonna give it all away
Got a family with dreams and bills to pay
I earn, so I’ll share, but I won’t throw it away
There’s a balance in the balance, and a price to pay

It would be great to get around the degradation
It would be great to get rid of financial oppression
It’s tough to fight a system that I live in
To avoid a depression, but reduce my possession

Gonna spend my cash, ‘cuz I got my pay
There’s value in a dollar and that’s okay
Gonna spend my cash, but watch where it goes
Cuz I want it to be love and not blood that flows
Cuz I want it to be love and not blood that flows

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