Pomegranate Waltz

Every time I pick up my guitar, I play. I don’t just copy and repeat music that somebody else thinks is good. I play what’s inside me. That’s what I mean by thrumming. When the vibrations of the music make your soul vibrate, you feel the thrum.

The above quote is from an adorable book I read last week about two teens who connect to themselves and each other through music.

Guitar Notes by Mary Amato is a well crafted story perfect for tweens and teens who are serious about becoming musicians, or who just want to understand the process of getting drawn into playing and songwriting. I’m not going to review the book here, I’ll just say that there’s a touch of tragedy, but basically the book is a celebration of the power of music.

The book includes lyrics and chords for the songs that the two main characters write. Pomegranate Waltz is the first song that the young musicians write together.

I like the sound of your name in my ear 
I like to hear what you have to say 
I’d like to pay attention to you— instead of doing what I have to do. Oh…  

Now something inside me is ready 
Something inside me is ready 
Something in me’s ready—oh—here I go… 

I like the way that our time intertwines 
I want to design each day so we can meet 
Each word a seed that’s hoping to grow—no need to hurry. Let’s take it slow. Oh…  

I like the shape of the thoughts in your mind 
You’ve got the kind of edge that I seem to need 
And if you feel the world doesn’t care— I’ll send a message. You’ll know I’m here. Oh…

Mary Amato lives in Silver Springs, Maryland. She’s is an author, a musician, and a teacher, and I wish I’d had someone like her in my life when I was a kid. My own artistic journey was not nearly as tidy as the trip that Amato’s characters are on (one of whom is actually named Tripp) and maybe that’s why I loved the book so much. If only I’d had a copy of it when I started dreaming of becoming a musician . . .

Guitar Notes includes actual notes that the characters produce during their songwriting sessions. The notes show how the songwriting process might work through brainstorming, trial and error, etc. This is an excellent way to show the critical thinking process that goes on when writing a song and a very clever way to show children how they might go about this process. (There are no mistakes when you’re writing on the back of a napkin, I always say.)

Go to Mary Amato’s website for info on the workshops she offers, and songwriting tips.

Oh, and give Guitar Notes to every kid you know who plays an instrument.


Pure Potential

Sophie Hosken-Taylor‘s voice is smoky, breathy, and shaky. A tentative, beautiful sound. The sound of pure potential.

Sophie Hosken-Taylor performed around the South West for two years before she moved to London looking for a bigger audience. She names Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Amy MacDonald and Jose Vanders as her inspirations.

When I wrote my song, Breathe, the only other song I knew with the same title was one by Pink Floyd. Needless to say, no one would ever confuse the two songs. Now, with so many great songs out there with the same name, if I wrote Breathe today, I wouldn’t call it that. But it doesn’t matter that Sophie Hosken-Taylor gave the title track of her self-produced CD a popular name. The song is such a lovely wash of acoustic guitar and airy vocals, it’s unique. And besides, what’s more important than breathing?



Many days I find myself asking, who am I?

Everyday I stare at the mirror,

And wonder who is looking back.

Is it a shadow?

Is it a ghost?

Is it someone I used to know?

And then it hits me…

I’m staring at me.

And I can’t breathe,

I can’t see.

I can’t breathe,

Without you holding me up,

Up against it all.

Too many times I’ve locked myself away,

In exile I’ve stayed.

Now I’m trapped in my own mind and I’m scared,

It’s here I’ll stay.

Will I come back?

Escape from it all?

Can I be what I used to be and let it all,

Blow away?

I can’t breathe,

I can’t see.

I can’t breathe,

Without you holding me up,

Up against it all.

And if I could I’d stop it from ever happening.

And I wish I could let it slide and fade away.

I can’t breathe,

I can’t see.

I can’t breathe,

Without you holding me up,

Up against it all.

Music and lyrics written by Sophie Hosken-Taylor.
Vocals, Guitar, Drums performed by Sophie Hosken-Taylor.
Bass performed by Ashley Poulton.
Recorded by Ashley Poulton and Sophie Hosken-Taylor.

To listen to Breathe in its entirety, go here. To listen to It Could Have Been Worse, go here. To be a super cool person, like Sophie on fb.

To see what convinced me of that one day  Sophie Hosken-Taylor will not have to seek her audience because they will be looking for her, click on the picture below.

The Right & the Real

I pre ordered my copy of The Right & the Real, the new YA novel by talented writer Joëlle Anthony, but if I hadn’t, the book trailer would have made me buy it.

The solo electric guitar playing of Nathan Tinkham is all  you hear when you watch the trailer for The Right & the Real, and his raw, emotionally wrought version of Amazing Grace combined with the images and written words is chilling.

I wrote about Joëlle Anthony’s previous novel, Restoring Harmony, here. I can’t wait to read The Right & the Real, Publisher’s Weekly says it’s a harrowing page turner.

You know where I’ll be tonight.

London Calling

The first time I listened to Thinkin’ of You, I thought just maybe, Nick Drake was alive and well and hiding out in the UK.

But although the Brits aren’t lucky enough to have Nick Drake in their midst—sadly, none of us are—they do have Idris Davies.

Idris DaviesThinkin’ of You opens with acoustic guitar sans effects, pretty much good demo quality, and that’s fine, because when Idris’ voice comes in and begins to quaver with vibrato and emotion, that’s all we want to hear.

Thinkin’ of you is a love song, and even though it’s labeled ‘folk’, there’s something about the vocal phrasing, the way the notes are delivered so smoothly, that makes me think of jazz.

Listen to the way Idris Davies sings the two lines,

You make a mountain a molehill baby
You make a thousand miles feel local

He makes one note melt into the next, almost like a clarinet, or butter.

There are no jazz chords here, but still, there’s a breath of blues, although again, no blues progression.

Idris Davies has me thinking of him, yes, and Nick Drake, but also strangely enough, Nat King Cole.

This is what Idris Davies had to say about the collection of music that includes Thinkin’ of You.

The Sternhall Sessions began when the first 4 songs were recorded in my home in Peckham. The rest make up a collection of songs that I wrote and/or enjoyed playing around the same period.

All of these songs are sketches, none of them are perfect, and only some of them finished. Make of them what you will but please, and if you like or dislike please let me know by leaving a comment.

Peace and love,


Thinkin’ of You

The Mornin’s come, I’m layin in the cool yellow sun,
I’m free from sound, everythin is still – there’s not a soul around,
But I don’t care cos I know somewhere
You’ll be thinkin of me
Thinkin of me.
You make a mountain a molehill baby
You make a thousand miles feel local
An I’m thinkin of you,
Thinkin of you.

I’m movin on with the day. The sun is high, of it there’s no escape.
Family come and go, and once again I’m here alone,
But I’m not alone – your heart tells me so,
Cos you’ll be thinkin of me,
I think you’re thinkin of me.
You make a mountain a molehill baby,
You make a thousand miles feel local
An I’m thinkin of you,
Thinkin of you.

Evenin’s here, baby how I wish you were near.
A record plays low, the sun is sinkin now it’s time to go.
The sky is on fire, full of our desire
Yes you’re thinkin of me,
Thinkin of me.
You make a mountain a molehill baby,
You make a thousand miles feel local
An I’m thinkin of you,
Thinkin of you.

R.M. Isaiah’s San Francisco Sound is Magically Tragic

Exploring the music of R.M. Isaiah this morning has been a rich experience full of serendipity for me. I’d like to write a bit more about this, but I’m still reeling, and there’s too much I need to tell you about this great artist.

As you listen, you may find yourself comparing R.M. Isaiah‘s voice to the voice of legendary singer songwriter Tom Waits, and there are similarities. The amount of gravel in their throats for instance, is nearly the same. But there’s something softer about R.M. Isaiah and somehow more accessible. Less complicated, but no less poetic.

Your body I know is a wise man

A pawn in my collection of friends

There are books about Tom Waits, and I’m not going to try to sum up his style or his work here in a few sentences, but although truth lurks and snakes inside his songs, they are often performances, performance pieces. Tom Waits is a master at creating a cast of characters that strut and crawl across the stage of his songs.

But R.M. Isaiah is doing what Tom Waits was so floored by Dylan doing. He’s sitting down with the guitar and telling a story. There’s no circus. Isaiah is not a caricature of himself. Meanwhile High Witness, the band that Isaiah is a part of and who he recorded Master and Margarita with, creates the perfect bed for Isaiah’s voice to lie in. There’s no distraction. The first chord is so lush, for a second I thought I was going to be listening to a jazz tune, and even the shimmering cymbal crashes support Isaiah’s voice. Nothing gets in the way. There is one personality here, making music that’s earthy, mysterious, and immediate.

If you click through on the cover of the evocatively titled Numbers Have Their Way and visit R.M. Isaiah‘s bandcamp page, you’ll be able to listen to and download the digital album. I urge you to do this.

The song Master and Margarita intrigued me before I even heard it, because just as I was about to read the title my gaze slid across the screen and landed on the song’s label. It had been marked True Fiction.

You ask my about my trip to the labyrinth

But I can’t think of nothing to say

And that’s the only lie I heard. R.M. Isaiah has plenty to say, and I plan on listening.

Bright Beams

You Are Projecting from Bright Beams was just the kind of piece I needed to hear today. The beginning of the song is a slowly revealed spacious soundscape that cleared my head and took me away from my desk. Listening to You Are Projecting made me take a minute to just sit and breathe, and that reminded me that there are other things in my life that need my attention besides stories and queries, unfinished manuscripts, workshops, and websites.

Bright Beams marked their track as Lo Fi on the Sirenstories SoundCloud even though the production does become fairly thick with layers by the middle. Which is fine, but it’s the beginning of the piece that I love, with only a voice whispering, “Shh . .  .  ” the start of You Are Projecting is truly Lo Fi, and quite wonderful.

Laptop, Bedroom, Dreampop.

These are the words Bright Beams used to tag their song, and other than those three evocative words, they left no info for me on the Sirenstories SoundCloud. I can’t tell you who they are or where they’re from. I can’t tell you where they’re playing or even if they are ‘they’!

Kind of mysterious . . . but that’s how many Sirens are. Elusive and mysterious.

This is Bright Beams’ avatar. Sea or sky? From what I’ve read, Sirens inhabit both worlds. I think Bright Beams may as well.

Of course I Googled around, but sadly, I didn’t discover the identity or musical history of Bright Beams. I did however find this wonderful poem on my serendipity search. It was waiting for me on the lovely website of the Poetry Foundation.

Avising the Bright Beams


Avising the bright beams of these fair eyes
Where he is that mine oft moisteth and washeth,
The wearied mind straight from the heart departeth
For to rest in his worldly paradise
And find the sweet bitter under this guise.
What webs he hath wrought well he perceiveth
Whereby with himself on love he plaineth
That spurreth with fire and bridleth with ice.
Thus is it in such extremity brought,
In frozen thought, now and now it standeth in flame.
Twixt misery and wealth, twixt earnest and game,
But few glad, and many diverse thought
With sore repentance of his hardiness.
Of such a root cometh fruit fruitless.
Thank you to the Poetry Foundation and to Bright Beams.

The Best Teachers are Sirens

Meet Mrs. McGee . . .

A total Siren, right?

Mrs. McGee is the teacher featured in What Do You Want to Be? a new picture book written by Beth Carter and illustrated by Leo Silva.

I ‘met’ Beth on author David Harrison‘s wonderful blog about two years ago. At that time, I was going to his blog almost every day for inspiration. David has written over eighty children’s books and runs a Word of the Month poetry contest on his site that’s great fun. If you need inspiration, I suggest you try it, the word prompt will get your pen moving. For me, the experience was more about community than contest, and I felt like my poems had a home on David’s site even though they were all really works in progress.

When she found out that What Do You Want to Be? was going to be published, Beth, who lives in Missouri, asked me if I would write a song to go along with her book. I said yes, and last weekend I went up to Woodstock with #MySonIs5 to record the track that What Do You Want to Be? inspired. Hope you enjoy it!

Here are a few pics of #MySonIs5 recording his part at Kevin Salem‘s studio in Woodstock.

After a while, what starts out as fun in the studio becomes work, and even #MySonIs5 begins to feel the pressure . . .

Finally he finishes, and takes a bow. #MySonIs5 has stamina in the studio and—what? What did you just ask me? Did I actually make him listen to old Grateful Dead on the drive home from Woodstock? Um.

Click on the pic of Mrs. McGee to get a copy of Beth Carter‘s book for your kids. If they like the song, tell Beth and she’ll probably send you a copy, or come back and listen any time here on Sirenstories.

To learn more about Beth Carter, visit her blog, Banter with Beth

What Do You Want To Be?  Song lyrics

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

When I arrived at school today

My teacher smiled and said let’s play

Join me in a circle on the floor

She asked us all what we held dear

The people we loved to be near

And what we thought the future held in store

She gave us crayons & pens & pads

She said, no answer’s wrong or bad

Just think my friends then think a little more

Use pictures, words; free thoughts like birds

Express yourself and you’ll be heard

You’ll learn in part what you are all here for

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me (I don’t know!)

A baker or a builder,                          

Or a swimmer in the sea

A mommy having babies (Maybe!)

Or a maybe a daddy

A dentist, doctor, artist, author                              

Teacher, Forest ranger, or you might like to sing . . . (I’d like that!)

You can do anything!  (Definitely.)

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

An astronaut, a lawyer

Or a farmer growing trees (Next stop outer space!)

The president, a fireman

A keeper keeping bees

A dancer, banker, preacher, painter

Help save things are endangered (Yeah, like pandas!) maybe you’ll sew . . .

You can give it a go!  (I think I might want to think about this . . .)

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee (A baseball player!)

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?  (A candy maker!)

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

(A cow!)

(I just want to be me.)