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Harmony




Surrounded by steep cliffs
and great open sky,
we stand on the point
and sing—not for money,
not for fame, not even
for the crow that hovers
above us on the wind—
we sing for joy, sing because
in that moment when
eight of us sing there is
one voice among us, one mind,
one invitation to move alone together
through the door of the moment
and know that as much as we
are entirely ourselves,
we are one, oh my god,
we are one.

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     composed by Jeffrey Nytch, conducted by Elizabeth Swanson
 


Sitting in the red velvet chair
in the first tier box of Carnegie Hall,
I was well aware
that for some in the audience,
this was just another song being sung,
one more moment of beauty
in a long string of moments of beauty,
but for me, looking down at that stage
full of singers, the pianist, the conductor,
I saw, too, the same space thirty-seven years ago
when my father and I sat in chairs on the stage
and listened to Vladimir Ashkenazy play piano
and my dad whispered to me,
This is only the first time
you’ll be on stage at Carnegie Hall.
So when one hundred twenty people
began to sing words I wrote,
their voices both thundersome and tender,
I lived into the chance to be who
my dad believed I could be,
the chance to live through music,
the chance to grow into a dream.

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I want a word that means
   okay and not okay,
     a word that means
devastated and stunned with joy.
   I want the word that says
     I feel it all all at once.
The heart is not like a songbird
   singing only one note at a time,
     more like a Tuvan throat singer
able to sing both a drone
   and simultaneously
     two or three harmonics high above it—
a sound, the Tuvans say,
   that gives the impression
     of wind swirling among rocks.
The heart understands the swirl,
   how the churning of opposite feelings
     weaves through us like an insistent breeze
leads us wordlessly deeper into ourselves,
   blesses us with paradox
     so we might walk more openly
into this world so rife with devastation,
   this world so ripe with joy.


*

by the way, friends, if you are aware of a word in another language that means okay/not okay, gosh, I would love to know it

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Unity




Today we lose the words
yours and mine and find
in their absence a song
that can only be sung together.
How did we ever think
we could attempt
this humanness alone?
To the table of love,
we bring soup, bring cherries,
bring the bread of our own
sweet communion.
We bring scissors to cut away
the tresses of the past,
bring dark wine to toast
the courage of showing up exposed.
And when we forget
the words to the song,
well, there is always laughter.
And when we forget to laugh,
well, there is always
the union of tears—
the way many rivers
become one river,
the way many voices
become one song.

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What we do now echoes into eternity.

            —Marcus Aurelius



If what we do now echoes into eternity,
then let there be more mornings such as this one
in which my mother wakes me by singing
a thin thread of melody
that praises the beauty of the day.
By breakfast, I feel the small reverberations
of her joy as they ricochet in me
chiming against loss and fear,
an unabashed gladness that rings
against the holy ribs,
that spirals inside the aortal caves,
that peals through the chasms of the hours.
By afternoon, it’s coruscating, resonating,
a bit of aural shine against the day’s ache,
helping me meet the world just
a bit more brightly.
Just think, after an eternity, how much
beauty might have come from one
simple tune sung by one open heart
willing to sing for one moment what is true.

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By Example


for Ulli, Happy Birthday!


I love harmony, she says as she claps
and laughs and settles in her chair
in the sun. And I think of all the times
we have sung, have sung in harmony—
in stairwells and forests, on stages
and in living rooms, standing
in the current of the Gunnison River
and sitting on the back stoop of the farm,
our voices soaring on different paths together—
like two notes holding hands as they move
together through time.
I have come to trust her voice below
as I sing in some interval above.
I have come to trust what voices do
is a metaphor for love. I have come
to trust that dissonance can always
be resolved. I have come to trust
that harmony is the soundtrack of the soul.
And so we sing. We sing again—
sing in the sun, in the rain.
And though we sing of loss, though we sing
of great change, though we sing
of goodbyes and breaking chains,
the harmony offers its beauty to everything,
and so in this uncertain world
she finds and shares harmony
and we sing and we sing and we sing.

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for Heartbeat, singing together since 1994


Every week we sang, sang blues
and ballads, folk songs,
rounds, pop songs, jazz,
love songs, chants. And we
didn’t just sing, we touched
and hugged, leaned in and loved,
ran our fingers through the waves
of each other’s hair, laughed till we peed,
and jostled and shoved and teased
and offered tissues and kissed cheeks
and brought the shared melodic air
into our bodies and returned it
into the room in currents of ecstatic song.
Oh we sang, how we sang, as if
singing were a life raft that kept us afloat
on the aching broken world.

Now, I sing alone in the kitchen.
Sometimes I’m haunted by the part
I sing—a harmony line unanchored
by the melody. With no tonic,
the tune feels off. There is so much
that’s missing, that’s lost.
Sometimes I make up a new song
and sing about what is here. 
Good morning, hummingbird.
Good morning, loneliness. Good
morning big empty room.
The air holds the notes like shimmering drops
that sometimes leak out of my eyes
when I think of how we sang, the music
a life raft, and your voices, my friends, the oars.

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lyrics from "The Tide Is High" by John Holt, 1967
           
 
Something about the unsinkable reggae beat,
and in just three notes, I’m again my young self,
dancing alone in my bedroom,
singing as if I am one with the song,
as if it were written just for me,
 
I’m not the kind of girl
who gives up just like that, oh no, oh!
 
And singing it now on a Sunday afternoon,
I’m caught in a surprise riptide of joy
and start to lilt around the room,
though just moments ago I was weeping,
buried beneath the salt of worry,
 
but here I am, dancing alone,
hips rocking, my shoulders a rolling sea,
my voice surfing above the bright swell of trumpets.
 
The tide is high but I’m holding on.
 
Sometimes a song is a lifeline,
not because it pulls me out of the water,
but because it tosses me deeper in,
and I feel I’m no longer trapping myself
in a life the size of a teacup—
 
no, in this moment I am oceanic,
an Atlantic of joy, a Pacific of wonder
vast enough to hold everything,
and the tide is high
and all that salt only makes me more buoyant
as I play in the generous waves.

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            for Heartbeat

If I said we sat in a circle

in an open air room made of stones

with tall arched windows

and night sky for a dome

and drank wine and laughed

and teased and wept,

if I said we then sang by candlelight

until the milky way

spilled into our throats

and our voices swirled like vines

that twine and tendril to climb themselves,

if I said how, when we sang our last song,

the wind rustled in the aspen

in quiet applause and then stilled

and a shooting star unspooled

its bright fleeting ribbon, well,

I would barely believe it myself

that the world could feel so full of beauty,

except I was there and felt

the night as it cradled us,

felt that vine take root, still taste

just a bit of that milky way in my thoughts

creamy, nourishing, vast.

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Perhaps we stumbled

on the words, perhaps

we forgot a note,

forgot a bridge,

bumbled our entrances,

fumbled our parts,

but we sang, oh yes,

we sang into the low golden light

of summer, sang

because joy, because

harmony, sang because

lonely, because fear,

sang because, tears

spilling down our cheeks,

we could sing, oh friends,

before we said goodbye,

we could sing.

 

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