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Happy Matariki

I am not Maori, and I apologize for any sense of cultural appropriation.

It’s just that this time of year, for me, very much feels like a new beginning, and the Maori calendar acknowledges this time in that way, so I would love to join in a spirit of celebration.

I’ve spent so many years in the school system in the northern hemisphere, on the traditional calendar, both as a student and as an educator. The school year is ending, and as is so often the case, with this ending comes new beginnings.

There’s a new album project that I’m starting as a singer-songwriter, and recording sessions are scheduled for about 3 weeks from now. I’ve begun a Masters degree in Distance, Digital, and Open Education, and now I’ll have time for course work.

Maybe this is an opportunity for a new beginning for you as well. The many Covid 19 related measures that have become a ubiquitous (though useful) iniquity for us these past few years are finally dissipating. Though there is turmoil, political upset, and lingering unrest in the world, maybe this is a time for you to declare your own Matariki. We don’t need a calendar to tell us that we can start something new and fresh- we don’t even need the dawning of a new day. The stimulus and centrifuge for our new genesis is latent within us, inherent to each of us. We have the seeds, and we are the seeds.

So Happy Matariki!

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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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When I See You Fly; Celebrating Youth and Their Accomplishments

Ultimately, what my children or my students do is their accomplishment, not mine. I can encourage, model, and suggest ideas, but I can’t and shouldn’t claim their success as mine. What I can do is celebrate that success and be happy for them.

Our children, our students, our mentees, need to know and feel that what they have done is a result of their efforts. To claim or point out a parental or educator role in that success is in some way to try to take it from them, to diminish their efforts – and that detracts from and discourages young people and other students from making those efforts. We are all better off when our young people and the lifelong learners among us are celebrated and acknowledged, because that pushes our whole society forward with their innovations and energy.

I originally wrote ‘When I See You Fly’ to celebrate my own kids, but I wanted it to be applicable to celebrate anyone’s accomplishments and growth. The first time I used it was for a video for our middle son’s grade 6 graduation party, along with slides featuring his classmates. That video was never made public, as a result of general privacy concerns. I made another video for my YouTube channel featuring our 3 boys, where the photos in the slides went with the lyrics of the song. This latest recording is music only. I wanted it to be available for others to use in the same way that I used it to celebrate our boys – for their personal celebration videos and occasions.

Here are the lyrics;

You’re so much more than just potential
Long ago, you burst out of your eggshell
And in the intervening hours
You were like that superhero
Learning to control the powers
Of the suit that you were building

Everyone has their moments
Of flapping, of falling, of faltering
The strongest winds may be blowing
Against you so hard, you’re not sure you can keep going

But the moments do pass
I see you take off, see you lift off
You are darting and gliding way up high

And when I see you fly, I fly
You’re soaring through the skies
My spirits also rise
As you’re free among the clouds
I want you to know
That even though I’m here below
When I see you fly, I fly

It’s not about keeping you on the ground
And not just to know that you are safe and sound
I’d love to see the treasure that you found
You stop, and then away you bound

And when I see you fly, I fly
You’re soaring through the skies
My spirits also rise
As you’re free among the clouds
I want you to know
That even though I’m here below
When I see you fly, I fly

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(I Want to be) Like Democracy

Sir Winston Churchill is supposed to have said “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the othersâ€?.

What he meant by that, of course, is that while no political system is perfect – each has its advantages and disadvantages – he on balance actually preferred democracy. Chances are that he was responding to criticism of the British Parliamentary system of democracy, and his reply was somewhat sarcastic or sardonic.

I wanted to write a song that would discuss the relative benefits of democracy, but would not be limited to a kind of memorization tool for school. I did write the song so that it could possibly be used in class, maybe introducing some political systems ideas to the class in a different way than through note-taking or the more traditional forms of educational introductions to ideas. The song would ideally also be able to stand on its own. So I thought maybe I could use democracy itself as a kind of metaphor.

Like political systems, people also are not perfect. Sir Winston Churchill wasn’t, and I’m not either. But as it happens, the ideals behind modern liberal democracy are also ideals that I hold dear – openness, accountability, human rights, sharing power, freedom…. And, of course, ideals require some sacrifices. Sharing power means giving up one’s own notions of power; it means not always being able to have your own way. These sacrifices are worthwhile, though, because of the greater importance and priority of the ideals.

I have released my song ‘Like Democracy’ in several versions, and in various ways. There is the latest, commercially available version, which can be heard on Spotify or Napster or Tidal or Deezer or YouTube or various other streaming services, and which is also available for purchase via Amazon or iTunes and other digital music distribution services. There is another version of Like Democracy available for upload right on this site (under the ‘Educational’ tab, choose ‘Curriculum Songs’ from the drop-down menu), and another one on my YouTube channel. The lyrics are available on this website too, just below the website recording of the song.

On this website, also on the ‘Educational Tab’, there’s a Question Sheets Related segment in the dropdown menu that also uses the song Like Democracy for exploring ideas related to human rights, specifically the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For me, the main significant lines in Like Democracy are

“I wanna be like democracy,
Give my friends a chance to reach the top.
Sometimes things might go wrong,
Sometimes people let you down,
So then I also wanna have a way to stop.�
This brings out the political idea of power being in the hands of the people, rather than in the hands of a leader. Also, on a personal level, it is about both trust and a willingness to change.

2. “I wanna bring out the best in people,
I wanna know about the worst.
I wanna blend love, mercy, and justice,
And the right kinds of hunger and thirst.�
This is about how the idea of sharing power politically, along with providing freedom, gives people the opportunity to come up with new ideas and contribute to society and each other.
On the other hand, it is about how an open society with a free press and political opposition parties provides accountability. True democracy is only viable when people know what their choices are.
On a personal level, it’s about honest relationship and caring. “The right kinds of hunger and thirstâ€? is a spiritual reference to a “hunger and thirst after righteousnessâ€? – in other words, for right and equitable living in authentic community.

And finally,
3. “And I would take love over fear,
Even at the risk I might get hurt.
No true affection in the voice
Of one who hasn’t got a choice,
So I’ll give up control or even lose my shirt.�

One of the ways in which dictators maintain control of their societies is through the use of fear and force. The idea of choice is frightening to dictators, because they perceive any action which represents ideas different from their own as a threat to their power. Real democracy encourages choice. It allows for different ideas to emerge, in the hope that a full discussion of possibilities can result in ultimately better decisions being made, even if there are some difficult moments in the meantime.
On a personal level, I too want to be willing to take risks in relationship. Coercion and love are different things, and it’s the real thing that I’m interested in. So since there’s “no true affection in the voice of one who hasn’t got a choice,� I have to be willing to take loss if what I really want is love. It can’t be coerced.

I first wrote ‘Like Democracy’ around 10 years ago. It’s still one of my favourite songs of all those that I have written.

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My Secret Life As a Songwriter

In recent years, I have heard “I didn’t know that you sing!â€? from people in almost every context. Back in my college years, many – including me – may have thought music was the only thing I could sort of do. So how did music become my secret life?

I remember making up a simple little song in the sandbox when I was around 5 years old, excited about the pennies I found there. I remember the tune. When I was 7, I read a story that included words for a song – something about being a ‘Tumbling Tumbleweed’. I made up the melody, drew rough manuscript paper, and painstakingly wrote out the notes while sitting at the piano.

It’s not that I really strongly pursued music. Yes, I took piano lessons, and later voice lessons. I studied music theory in secondary school and college, auditioned for and joined choirs, sang in groups, eventually learned to play guitar. The only final exam I ever got 100% on was my grade 7 music theory exam. But I had many reasons for not getting serious about music.

My voice was too low to sing any of the popular music on the radio. I have asthma, and singing in smoky bars (back in that day, they were all smoky bars) might well have killed me. The songs I wrote were unusual, and would have been considered too weird by many. There were other things I wanted to do. Recording was expensive and difficult. I didn’t think I could make a living on music.

Despite the fact that I didn’t pursue music, I still wrote at least 3 songs every year. Sometimes they would tumble out all at once; sometimes I’d have an idea for a song and I worked at it. Even when I was working full time and family life got really busy, I would find ways to introduce music into what I did, and writing songs would feel therapeutic at very intense times or at times when I was underemployed – really, at any time.

Music has been good to me too. When I was in College, I developed a liking to an imaginative, attractive, and funny young lady. I wanted to let her know, but she was usually inseparable from her group of friends. There was a piano in a sitting and games room on campus, so I sat at that piano and improvised some music, hoping it would draw her over – and it worked. Although it took several more months before she agreed to go out with me, that was the beginning of that relationship. We’ve been married for more than 2 decades now.

In the meantime, things changed around me. Bars are not all smoky now – in fact, where I live, smoking is illegal in public buildings. The cost of recording is much lower, and the process is far more efficient with today’s technology. And, I don’t have to make a living by doing my music – I can treat my music as a serious hobby. My low voice and unusual lyrical styles only mean that I have a niche. People like Leonard Cohen, Tom Jones, and Johnny Cash have blazed a trail, too. The internet has made the publication and broad distribution of music of music easy, although not especially lucrative – but that’s okay with me.

So now, with over 100 sets of lyrics in my files, some complete and others just waiting for development, I am ready to make my life as a songwriter less of a secret. It doesn’t much matter to me if my music only appeals to a few – I don’t want it to sit dormant. I’ve already started putting it out there. I’m going to keep getting better, keep practicing, and keep recording music for publication and distribution. No more secrecy about my life as a songwriter.

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