Notes from the Winter Garden: February Musings

February has waltzed past us once again, worked its magic, and left a wake of newfound change. Such a sly month of months.

 

It’s been an eventful 2018 thus far with plenty of touring, songwriting, reading, Super Bowl victory parades, and life happenings so I thought I’d write about it. There are some exciting summer plans hatching at the moment, but January & February hold a place in my mind (and many others’) for quiet reflection and renewal.

 

There’s a lyric from a song by Humbird that’s been ringing around my head since we toured the Northeast together this January, amidst snow and stubborn trunk latches: “buried deep is a quiet seed.” It’s indicative of how time works on a larger scale – that the richness of identity and beauty of experience can be hidden in the smallest pockets of life. It sums up my experience of winter lately.

 

The season started on a strong, high note – I received a grant from Club Passim in Cambridge, MA to help record an album I’m currently writing for called Garden of Sound. The idea originated at a writing retreat I took at a farm in Massachusetts this past September, after spending the summer travelling and hiking. The writing’s about half-way done at this point, and it’s been enlightening to bring the winter mindset to the crafting of it all – paying more attention to the contours of negative space in the weather and in the mind.

 

Although it hasn’t felt much like winter lately in Philadelphia – we’ve had a string of days with highs in the 70s. Climate change – yikes. I recently started a job with an environmental education center here in Philly, and a couple times a week I teach environmental science at an afterschool program. We did a lesson on watersheds and pollution the other week, and man, was it dire. We put some green food-coloring in the watershed model to mimic pollution from car exhaust, and the rivers and lakes became an unpleasant moldy green color. A chorus of “eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwws” resounded from the kids, and a combination of guilt and sadness stirred in my stomach. It’s difficult in these situations to come to terms with how detrimental and disrespectful humans have been to the planet, but absolutely critical to remain hopeful.

 

So where does art and music come into play here? It’s easy to think of it as excessive. I think it’s the opposite – quite necessary.

 

There’s a quote from a book by Terry Tempest-Williams that I turn to when I feel like music is not worth writing or pursuing in any way: “Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”

 

Perhaps that’s why there are so many stories and myths about birds? We all want that same freedom. Art is not excess because there’s got to be something worth saving – some refuge from the hard fight for cultural and systemic change: common sense gun laws, regulation of corporations, racial justice, women’s rights, transgender rights, speaking truth to power, the fight against hatred and greed and for general equality for all, on a micro and macro level. The list goes on, and it’s exhausting and important. There's always something to fight for. We have to bask in art and culture every now and then to remember, at our cores, why we are here.

 

Garden of Sound, this record, is slow-growing – like a quiet seed. I hope when it fully surfaces in the world that it will be emblematic of this cradling of art in our culture as a space for healing, surprise, expression, and joy.

 

A few other ideas I’ve been thinking on during this writing process: the concept of a song as a walk, a walk as a constellation, and the similarities between touring and through-hiking. I’ve been reading a lot of John O’Donohue, Rebecca Solnit, and Rainer Maria Rilke, listening to some strange ambient records, drinking lots of coffee, and thinking about how to burst & bloom into summer. Looking forward to playing another string of shows soon enough.

 

Thoughtfully yours,

Eliza

Feb. 28th, 2018 // Philadelphia, PA

"The secret of a great melody is a secret."

- Dave Brubeck