Music Favorites: Sigh No More

The music: Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More  (Released 2009)

You may have heard:  “Little Lion Man”

Even better than that:  “White Blank Page,” “Awake My Soul,” “Thistle & Weeds”

Why it nourishes my soul: The first song I heard from Mumford & Sons was “Roll Away Your Stone.”  A class I took for my masters degree, Building Classroom Communities, changed my life.  The instructor, Marty, guided us through community building as a group ourselves, and we learned how to apply the practices in our own classrooms.  As a result of the deep trust and connections that we built, many of us touched deep traumas in our past with healing.  The final project was very open-ended, and one of my classmates made a slide show set to “Roll Away Your Stone” about her marriage.  I loved it and I jotted down the lyrics so I could find the song again.  Shortly after that final class, I bought Sigh No More so I could have more.

This album is full of lyrics that ignite memories of Shakespeare and scripture.  The first line of the first song is: “Serve God, love me, and mend.”  Yes…Much Ado About Nothing, right away in the first breath of the album.  “There will be a time, you’ll see / With no more tears / And love will not break your heart / But dismiss your fears” … I can’t add any words to that.  “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I would have won” … Let that one plant itself in your mind for awhile.

The musical landscape of Sigh No More feels like it has its roots in English folk music, and maybe a little bit of bluegrass.  The harmony and chord progressions are both familiar and fresh, that perfect balance of comfortable and engaging.  The feel is beautifully melancholy and cathartic.  Without any words at all, “Thistle & Weeds” would still entangle itself in my inner world after a few repeats.

Bonus listening:  Watch “Awake My Soul” live in a backyard.  Watch Mumford & Sons sing the old hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” live.


About Music Favorites:

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”  (Elvis Costello)  But I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.  Read all my Music Favorites here.


Music Favorites: The 20/20 Experience

The music: Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience (Released in two parts, March 2013 and September 2013)

You may have heard:  “Suit & Tie,” “Mirrors,” “Not a Bad Thing”

Even better than those:  “Strawberry Bubblegum,” “Amnesia,” “True Blood,” “Drink You Away,” “Murder”

Why it nourishes my soul:  I found Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids on Netflix in October, and it has basically been on repeat in my house ever since.  Live music has a magical quality for me – it makes me love the album version more than I did before I heard the song live.  I’ve been a noticer, an enjoyer, of JT’s radio singles forever.  But now I’m definitely a fan.

The “sonic landscape” of The 20/20 Experience has been a balm to my soul for the last couple of months.  The sound has a cohesive quality from the first song to the last, and yet, everything is completely different.  “Pusher Love Girl” takes my imagination immediately to the Rat Pack.  “Blue Ocean Floor” is ethereal and beautifully surreal.  “Drink You Away” is better than most of what’s on country radio.  And “Not a Bad Thing” is perfect in its catchy-ness, and follows the pop formula exactly – and the lyrics are probably my favorite on the whole album.  I think the variety is what holds my attention in this album.  I’m impressed with JT’s ability to create something new, completely different from anything he has created before.  From one album to the next, you can hear that he continues to learn, discover, and create new concepts each time.

Bonus listening:  Definitely watch Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids on Netflix.  You won’t be disappointed.  JT singing “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” at the White House is an amazing display of his vocal skill and his passion for Memphis soul.  His collaboration with Chris Stapleton at the 2015 CMAs is so good.  And he and Matt Morris sang “Hallelujah” together for a Hope for Haiti event.

About Music Favorites:

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”  (Elvis Costello)  But I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.  Read all my Music Favorites here.

Over winter break, on several trips back and forth across the state to see family and friends, I listened to a LOT of music.  I indulged my recent obsessions and revisited old favorites.  I realized that I would love to keep a record, somehow, of the music that feels like it feeds my soul.  But I don’t want just a list…I want to talk about why each album means so much to me.  It’s so very personal.  My love for a song or an album grows out of simply repeated listens, how the music and lyrics make me feel, how a little piece of one song will be stuck in my head for a few days and speak to every situation I find myself experiencing.  That kind of soul-deep connection should be expressed.

Dr. Baker

Ten years ago, the Panther Marching Band family at the University of Northern Iowa was grieving the loss of Dr. John L. Baker.  Yesterday, his wife Dyan spoke to the current PMB members and alumni, and I became aware of how much of those difficult days I had forgotten.  Dr. Baker was a wonderful and important influence on who I am, and I don’t want to forget.

September 3, 2001–Dr. Baker turned 50.  We duck taped the 50 yard line in the Dome for PMB rehearsal.  We had a black cake.  And someone organized an ambulance to drive onto the field.  It was awesome.  Dr. Baker knew we loved him.  🙂 

September 29, 2001–Game day.  Dr. Baker had a bad headache during the game, and around 10:00 p.m., he and Dyan went to the hospital in Waterloo.  By 10:15 he was being flown by life flight to Iowa City, because of a brain aneurysm that was hemmoraging.  (Around 11:00 p.m. I got a phone call from Julie, a fellow PMB leadership member, who along with her boyfriend Levi, was watching Dr. Baker’s two little girls.)

The details elude me, but somewhere in the next day or so, Dr. Baker had brain surgery to try to repair the aneurysm.  From this point on, I don’t remember the medical details, but we were aware that Dr. Baker was struggling.

October 2, 2001–Our first rehearsal without Dr. Baker.  200 poor college students raised enough money to fly Dr. Baker’s older daughter from Florida to see her dad.

October 6, 2001–Dr. Baker died.

October 9, 2001–Dr. Baker’s family came to watch us rehearse.  I have never, before or since, cared so much about doing well for an audience.

There is no “the end” on this story.  It went on like this for the rest of the season.  We drew closer as a marching band family.  We were grateful to have known Dr. Baker, and we were sad to say goodbye.  We had t-shirts made that said “JLB” in a heart, which we wore under our uniforms for the rest of the season. 

Dr. Baker had a favorite warm-up for his marching band: “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl.  We would have most likely played it on September 29 at our rehearsal.  Did we play it without him the rest of the season?  I don’t remember for sure.  I am listening to it on YouTube right now, and I think I remember my friend Levi directing it, and me feeling like if it couldn’t be Dr. Baker, it couldn’t be anybody but Levi.

On September 29, 2001, after our halftime show, I was walking across the Dome with some of my family members that had attended the game, and Dr. Baker stopped to chat with us for a bit.  He was gushing with compliments for the band that day, and he said so.  He seemed distracted, and in hindsight I’m sure he wasn’t feeling well already, but he was so willing to stop and chat with me.  That was the last time I ever talked to him.

So many details get lost over time.  You remember certain things, and you forget others.  This is my memory of the events, and any errors are mine.  Dr. Baker had a great influence on me in a short period of time.  I worked with his secratary for my work-study job, and that’s probably the only reason he knew me apart from anyone else on the field.  He asked me to be on the leadership team my sophomore year, and I think I was the only sophomore member of leadership that year.  He pushed me and led me out of my comfort zone.  He always, always got a quality sound out of a band.  He instigated a fiery work ethic that is in me to this day, and I hope will be part of who I am forever.  In so many words, he would ask us if we wanted him to make it easier or harder and better, and we always asked him to make it harder.  And then we did the hard thing.  You can always do more and better than you know, and Dr. Baker knew how to get that ‘more and better’ out of you.  He kept moving the bar up, and we kept reaching it.  After working with Dr. Baker, you set your own bar higher.  You ask people around you to set the bar higher for you.  And that is his legacy.

Weekend comments…

…too long for facebook!


1. Went to a quilt show.  Had “Take Me or Leave Me” from RENT in my head the entire day.  Was very aware of the contrast between what I was looking at and what I was “listening” to!!!

2.  Every time I go to Des Moines, I fall a little bit more in love with it.  Specifically this weekend: the walkability of downtown, Palmer’s deli, and La Mie bakery.

3.  I got a big hit of my favorite drug this morning–playing music in front of people!  So many ways it brings me joy…hearing myself so well with the sound system…doing something well during the performance that I had messed up at soundcheck…an orchestra friend telling me I didn’t seem nervous at all (yay!)…strangers coming up to compliment me after the service and ask about the piece…  Seriously, how wrong is it that I get high on this drug at CHURCH???  God, if this is not what you want, please, don’t make it so FUN!!!

4.  What a productive afternoon!  What is it about sitting at a table with another person that makes me do my work?  Giant stack of papers to grade….DONE!!!

5.  I love the new show Pan Am!!!  The period music, the 60s fashion, the drama.  I’m intrigued!

Cleansed By His Blood, Saved By His Grace!

Happy Easter!

For the millionth time…

A strange mood strikes me tonight…  “Stop being nice to me!” 

Strange, but familiar.

I joined the orchestra at my new church.  So tonight we instrumentalists were getting ready, and we somehow got in a conversation of what I did at my old church.  And it turned into the usual:  “Oh my gosh, you sing, too?  And you play piano?  What else can you play?  Was it hard to learn all those instruments?  Wait…you didn’t take piano lessons?  So you can read bass clef and treble clef?  And you can transpose on the fly?” 

Basically, the “we are so impressed by your musicianship” conversation.  I love it.  I shouldn’t, but I love it.  God forgive me for my pride, but I love it.  🙂

And then, I hate it. 

I hate it because I come home with this nice boost to my ego still playing in the back ot my mind, and the very next song I listen to hurts.  I am very aware of all the musical understanding in my head, and I hear the song and it pulls apart in my head.  I can hear each part, every note of every instrument, every vocal harmony, all by itself.  And I wonder and marvel at the magic and power of putting each note right where it is in the song.  And I’m jealous of the people playing and singing and creating those marvelous pieces of magic.

And it hurts because I love it so much, and it is such a tiny part of my life.  And it’s my own doing.  And I’m not certain that I would have it any other way, because even in my wildest dreams, I’m not sure if my wildest dreams are better than the life I have now.  I’m a teacher, and I’m about 80% convinced I’m supposed to be a teacher.  Plus, it’s not like I’m just a teacher, 24/7, all year long…I’m a person, with wide and varied passions.

But kids are fun and easy.  And music is scary and fascinating.

So my heart’s desire is:  Stop saying nice things to me about my playing.  Stop telling me that I’m good.  Stop reminding me that I love it.  Don’t make this so hard.

It’s Your Life

Every day the choices you make say what you are and who your heart beats for. 

“Yet this is the moment.  We’re not promised tomorrow.  So today is the day.”  –Francesca Battistelli

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