Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Video spotlight: "Lightbulb" by VoicePlay

I'm starting this one off with a question: are kids of today familiar with Schoolhouse Rock? I bring it up because that's actually one of the first things I thought of when I saw this for the first time. That got me thinking about the use of music in education and how helpful it can be. Especially when it comes to helping to remember things. For example, Animaniacs is why I know all of the state capitals. Facts are just easier to learn in song form. At least for me and I'm guessing a lot of other people. That and music can also teach you about life in general. For instance, "Stuck in Traffic" taught me that belting out your swears is extremely cathartic. Seriously, I recommend it. Maybe not so much when other people are around. 

One of the other things I thought of after watching this for the first time? It got me thinking about what I remembered about learning about electricity and such in school. You know how much I remember? Very little. Maybe if my teachers had made up songs about it I would have. I'm just saying. Luckily, I have the guys of VoicePlay to shed some light on the development of the light bulb. Ah, the light bulb. Without which we'd be crashing into things all the time. Yes, the light bulb. A glorious invention that is indeed worthy of its own 1 Minute Musical. It is Eli Jacobson who is credited with both the music and lyrics for "Lightbulb" and so it is Eli who we'll be mainly focusing on. After watching the video.

Lumos.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Video spotlight: "Stuck in Traffic" by VoicePlay

It's here, it's here. 1 Minute Musical week is here! Later than originally planned, but here. I figured that since I hadn't written about any of them, I'd give them their own week. There are three 1 Minute Musicals and they've all been great. I've said it more than once, but I love this idea. It's a great concept and one that's showcased talents that I didn't know these guys had. For instance, the music and lyrics for "Stuck in Traffic" were done by Layne Stein and Tony Wakim. I didn't know either of them wrote songs. Not just them, either, the other two 1 Minute Musicals were written by Eli Jacobson ("Lightbulb") and Geoff Castellucci ("Miley Cyrus").

In any event, the 1 Minute Musicals have been helping VoicePlay shine in new and intriguing ways. Honestly, if you've somehow never heard of VoicePlay, this is a great time to learn about them. It's been pretty fantastic to be a VoicePlay fan over these last few months. Not that it wasn't great being a fan of theirs before, mind. But they've really taken things up to a new level, really ever since they launched their Patreon campaign last November. Unless I'm mistaken, the 1 Minute Musicals were not Patreon funded, but the point stands. I really believe that the videos they've released since joining Patreon are easily some of their best to date. This tells me that they didn't make the decision to join Patreon lightly. It's proven to be a wise choice and I'm excited about what this means for the future.

Aside from the fabulous 1 Minute Musicals, they have their fun new Partwork series. The third of which was just released this past Friday and it's another winner. They debuted their wonderful cover of "My Shot" from Hamilton at the beginning of the month. Lemme tell y'all, if I didn't already love them, that video would've completely won me over. It's so good! They even put out a brand new ACA Top 10 at the end of May. It's just been a constant shower of musical yumminess from these guys and I'm all for it.

As you may have surmised from the title, "Stuck in Traffic" is all about being stuck in traffic and all the emotions that go with that. I don't know of a single person who enjoys traffic and so this outta be pretty relatable. I now live in Nashville, but was born in Washington, D.C. and spent most of my life living just north of the city in Maryland. Meaning that I've wasted a decent portion of my life stuck on the horror that is the DC beltway. I would be very happy if I never had to travel on that God forsaken ring of asphalt ever again. There may well be worse roads to drive, but that's the worst I've been on.

Now it's been said that art inspires art. I was watching this in preparation to wait about it and y'all, I found myself inspired. Be afraid, y'all. I took part of a well known song and reworked it to try and quickly sum up the beltway experience.  I'm not sure that what I came up with qualifies as art; in fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't. Chris Stapleton I ain't. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Driving on the beltway
Will surely ruin your day
When often is heard
A creative curse word
And the birds are a-flippin' all day

Yes, that just happened. And yes, you're welcome. Meanwhile, the other day I saw a report from a Vanderbilt doctor declaring that Nashville traffic is bad for your health. I agree that Nashville would greatly benefit from a rail system. The thing with Nashvillians is that they are generally a very polite, kind group of people. This is delightful most of the time. You know when it's not? When you're stuck behind someone at a four way stop and they want to let everyone and their cat go first. Or stuck in a parking garage where they'll pull out of a space and let everyone in front of them go first. People, this is not effectual! Nashvillians also spend a fair amount of time fixing to go instead of you, know, actually moving. That said, I'll take Nashville traffic over DC traffic any day of the week. Easily. 

Now that I've effectively raised my blood pressure thinking about that blasted beltway, I think I'm going to take some deep breaths while you watch "Stuck in Traffic". It's a good one. One that features what might just be my favorite VoicePlay group moment to date. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Video spotlight: "Can't Stop The Feeling" by Home Free

Summer is officially upon us. The heat is oppressive and reminds me of why I prefer more moderate temperatures, but it's all good. As long as I have good music and access to air-conditioning, things are good. In fact, things are better than good because some of my favorite artists have been releasing some great videos as of late. Home Free certainly being among them. Their newest video is a cover of a Justin Timberlake song, one that I've seen hailed as the most popular song in the country at the moment. I actually have yet to hear the original version and unfortunately for it, Home Free's cover is going to be hard to top.

"Can't Stop The Feeling" is just flat out fun. Perfect for summer. See for yourself. And if you find yourself dancing along, well, know that you're not alone.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, Part 2

Welcome to the 2nd installment of this series! In Part 1, I focused on emotional songs with the intent of moving from the dark to the light. Or, as is the case with many of the videos in today's post, the lighthearted. Lately, I've been gravitating a bit more towards more upbeat songs. You know, the ones that make you want to dance along. The ones that make you smile and just put you in a happy place. The ones that are flat out fun. If you ask me, you can never have too much fun. There's so many people who take themselves way too seriously and I think the world would be a better place if more people made a point to enjoy themselves more often. From a chronic pain standpoint, I think anything that encourages us to move is a good thing. Now obviously, this is not always possible. Be it due to pain or stiffness or overwhelming fatigue, sometimes the best thing to do is rest. Listen to your body. 

That said, if you feel up to it and the music moves you, let it. Not a dancer? So what? Dance like no one's watching and if you're feeling self-conscious, go somewhere where there's no one around to watch. Dance around like an idiot. And hey, if someones catches you, well, it'll probably make their day a little brighter too. If not a little funnier. Life is too short not to enjoy yourself whenever you can. Not feeling up to that? That's okay too. Go back to Part 1 and maybe one of those songs will help you. We're going to ease in on the fun, though, and start with the more inspirational.

Let's do this.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, Part 1

Welcome to the first actual installment of my music therapy series. In case you missed it, I wrote an introduction to this series a couple of days ago that you can find here. The quick introduction is that I use music to help me cope with living with rheumatoid arthritis - with life in general, to be honest - and wanted to share some of the songs that help. Music has been proven to help with pain and depression, among other things. The power of music knows no bounds. This series will be ongoing, with the second installment coming later this week. For these first two installments, I've decided to take you all on an emotional progression of sorts. We're going to start in the dark and work our way towards the light. 

Before we get into it, I did want to mention an article I read a while back that suggested that listening to sad music all the time can make you more depressed. It's a valid point and one that I agree with. So why include sad songs? Because sometimes that's exactly what I need. Because it is my belief that you can't move past a negative emotion without first letting yourself feel it. We're not trying to marinate, if you will, in sadness. Instead, the idea is to use these songs as a way to tap into those emotions and to let them flow enough to be able to fully process them in order to be able to let them go. It's all about the release. The goal is ultimately to feel better, not worse. 

I've been in so many online support groups over the years. One of the things that drives me crazy is when someone is reaching out for support and gets bombarded by people ordering them to be positive. Now look. I'm not knocking positivity. It's true that a positive outlook, particularly when it involves your health, will help you more than a negative one. The problem is when people act like emotions are something you can turn off and on like a light switch. When people who already feel bad are made to feel worse because they can't control their emotions as well as others can. That it's somehow wrong to feel sad or depressed or angry or lonely. That they must not be trying hard enough. This is rude at best and dangerous at worst. Depression is a very real problem among the chronically ill. It is not unusual to see posts from people contemplating suicide because they don't feel like they can handle it anymore. Every now and then you hear of someone who actually went through with it. You have no idea what it took for someone to make that post. To find the courage to reach out. You don't know how close to the ledge they might be. Better to say nothing if all you're capable of is making them feel bad about having a tough time.

As my pastor says, it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to not have it all together. You are not a failure because you're struggling. Nor are you a failure for feeling sad or what have you. What you are is human. Maybe the first step isn't to listen to some music, but to take a breath. Just breathe. Hear me: if you're struggling with something, be it RA or something else, it's okay to be sad about it. It's okay to be angry. It's okay to feel however you feel. Ignoring those emotions, pretending that they don't exist, will not help you feel better. Emotions are like the truth - sooner or later they're going to come spilling out. They just will. Trust me, I know from experience. Better to deal with them as you feel them than to bottle them up until you explode. Remember. It's all about the release. That's how you move on. That's how you start to feel better. 

Let's begin.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, an introduction

May was Arthritis Awareness Month. Since being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in 2000, arthritis awareness has become pretty important to me. The sad reality is that there are still a lot of misconceptions about arthritis today, as well as a lack of caring from the general public. In some ways I get it. There are those who don't like thinking about disease or disability at all. Then there's the people who assume that because it's chronic it must not be all that bad. That is, of course, horribly untrue. The truth is that rheumatoid arthritis, or complications of it, can and do lead to death. RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system basically goes on a crazy power trip and starts attacking itself. RA is believed to decrease someone's lifespan by 10 or even 15 years. Even with medication. Speaking of medication, oftentime it seems like the side effects are just as bad or worse than the disease itself. It's easy for people who don't have RA to question why we would take these kind of medicines and I can assure you that this is not a decision that is made lightly. The pain is more than an average person could possibly imagine, save perhaps for people with other debilitating diseases. The fatigue is no joke either.

The worst part of RA, however, may just be the unpredictability. You never know how you're going to feel the next day. This illness can turn on a dime. You can wake up feeling great one day and struggle to get out of bed the next. You can be feeling fine one hour and terrible the next. Sometimes it works the other way. You wake up with your joints all stiff and swollen, but they can loosen up as the day goes on. Of course, the pain has a funny way of bouncing back right when you're ready to go to sleep. Painsomnia is a very real thing. A very real and downright lousy thing. To be so exhausted you can't even speak and in too much pain to sleep. Not that sleep is all that restful when it happens. You don't wake up feeling refreshed. Just somewhat less tired - if you got lucky. Sometimes just as tired. And then there's times when you wake up and somehow feel more tired. Don't ask me how that works; it just happens. Living with RA is a lot like being stuck on a roller coaster. For the rest of your life. This takes a toll on a person. Not just physically, but in every way possible. Emotionally. Mentally. Spiritually. Especially when you add in the fact that RA rarely comes alone. You tend to pick up various other diseases and conditions as you go. RA is not for the weak, that's for certain. 

I was 17 when I was diagnosed. It was near the beginning of my senior year of high school. Of all the things I imagined might happen during my last year of high school, being diagnosed with RA was not one of them. I struggled with it at first until I accepted it. Or until I thought I had. You see, acceptance, as I came to learn, is an ongoing process. At least with something like this. Denial has a funny way of sneaking back on you even if it's been years. Sometimes fear takes over. Sometimes depression. You lose the person you used to be and don't know who you are anymore. Or if the person you've become deserves to feel any better. RA can eat away at your self-worth until it turns into self-loathing. This can be hard to battle against. Other times it's arrogance that gets you. You get so angry about still dealing with it that it knocks you back to square one. RA has a way of kicking you in the teeth when you least expect it. 

It's not all bad. You turn into a fighter, a warrior of sorts, doing everything you can to beat back the disease trying to ruin your life. You get knocked down and don't think you can live with the pain one more day. Until you do. It makes you appreciate all the little victories. Anytime you can do something you couldn't do the day before, that's something to celebrate. Having a chronic illness lets you know who your true friends are, who really loves you. Sometimes the people you thought would always be there leave. Sometimes the most unexpected person becomes one of your biggest cheerleaders. Having RA has introduced me to so many wonderful people I never would have met otherwise. So, no, it's not all bad. 

Now. If May was Arthritis Awareness Month than why am I writing about it in June? Well, for one thing, I spent at least half of May knowing I wanted to write something for Arthritis Awareness Month and not knowing what. A few years ago I did a short series aimed more towards educating people. You can find that by clicking on the arthritis awareness tag at the end of this post. I decided I wanted to do something different this time, but what? I finally figured it all when struggling through both a bad flare up (a flare is anytime the pain and/or fatigue is worse than normal) and the terrible nausea caused by my main RA medication, the dreaded methotrexate. Incidentally, that would be the other reason I'm writing this in June. It got me thinking though. How do we cope with living in pain? With the ever present fatigue? With this insane roller coaster that is life with a chronic illness? Especially when there's no one else around. What do we do when we're alone? When it's the middle of the night and everyone else is asleep, but you're awake and hurting? Where do we turn when we don't think we can possibly go on? How do we get our minds off it all? 

Granted, everyone is different and so different things will work for different people. Sometimes different things work at different times. Speaking for myself, doing something creative is usually a safe bet. Be it making something completely new or coloring a picture, it's a wonderful distraction. Plus finishing a project always feels good. Reading is good too. Especially when you're really invested in the story. Binge watching your favorite TV shows can help. As can watching a favorite movie. 

Then there's what I'll refer to as the big guns: the two things that help me more than anything else can. First and foremost, my faith. As a Christian, this means turning to Jesus. I don't watch to preach at anyone, but I truly believe in the power of prayer. Doesn't have to be fancy. Just talking to God helps. Sometimes yelling at Him helps - He's God, He can take it. The anger, the doubt, the fear - it's amazing how much prayer can help. It may not cure the RA, but it puts things into perspective. It relieves the burden. It restores my hope. It helps me breathe again. It reminds me that I can do this. Not through my own strength, but His. 

Then there's music. Not as powerful as prayer, but a very strong second. Music has been proven to reduce pain and depression. Music therapy is used to help people cope with all kinds of conditions and fears. The right song can either help unlock your emotions or change your entire day. Music can even change your life. It can even save your life. Not a day goes by that I don't listen to some music. It's such a huge part of my life and has been for as long as I can remember. So it seemed only right to start a series where I talk about some of my go-to songs when I'm having a tough time. 

Now, there's no way I'll ever be able to list them all. The songs that get featured represent a very small portion of the songs that help. You know how earlier I said that different things help at different times? Well, that's true for music as well. A lot of it depends on my mood. On what I need at that moment. Sometimes it's sad songs. Sometimes it's dark songs. A word of caution: I think listening to these kinds of songs can be great because there's times when you need to cry. Times you need the release. That said, I think it's important to balance it out. Obviously, if something helps you, go with it. But remember to lighten things up sometimes too. After all, there might be times when you need to cry it out. There's also times when you need to dance it out. Sometimes I need to belt it out. Again: different songs work at different times. 

I was originally going to have the first batch of songs/videos included in this post, but well, I had more to say than I realized. So it is just as the title calls it. An introduction to this series. The first two installments will be posted this week. I'm using this as a platform to help bring some attention to arthritis, even if only in a small way. It was my fellow RA warriors that gave me the extra boost I needed to finally start this. But as I said a couple of paragraphs ago, music can help with all kinds of different things. If you have RA, keep reading the series as it goes on. If it's something else you're struggling with, keep up with it. If nothing else, this series might introduce you to songs you've never heard. At best, it might help you with your struggles. So stay tuned. The first installment will hopefully be up within the next day or two.  






Friday, May 27, 2016

Video spotlight: "Story of My Life" by The Piano Guys

I first came across The Piano Guys a few months ago, thanks to Peter and Evynne Hollens who had filmed a wonderful video for "What Are Words" with them. Since then, I've watched some more of their videos, though I don't believe I've seen them all. When I started this video spotlight series, I figured that I'd be featuring them at some point. I had another of their videos in mind for the first one I'd write about and was set to start writing about it. But then I watched this video and that was that. I don't think you can go wrong with any of these videos, but this one seemed like such a great introduction to the group. What I love about these guys is that they take classical pieces of music and pair them with recent hits in some fashion. I'm such a fan of this concept because I think it builds a nice bridge between different kinds of music and I always enjoy when people do that successfully. For those who may find classical music to be somewhat inaccessible for some reason, this will change that. On the flipside, there may be some who hate some or most of today's music, but it's amazing what an arrangement can do. I've said it before, but it really does all come down to the arrangement.

"Story of My Life" is a One Direction song and I imagine for some of you, seeing that might make you want to run for the hills. Don't. Trust me. The Piano Guys have done something wonderful with it. Their arrangement, which was done by Al van der Beek and Steven Sharp Nelson, was inspired by a piece by Saint-SaĆ«ns' called "Aquarium". This is part of his "Carnival of the Animals" Suite. If you watch this video on YouTube, The Piano Guys have included a link to that piece in the video description and I think it's worth checking out. You may have heard "Story of My Life" before, but I'm going to guess that you've never heard it performed like this. Not to mention that this is also among the best music videos I've seen in a while. It's so beautifully done. 

But maybe we should back up and talk about who The Piano Guys are first. There's a whole team behind them, but The Piano Guys are: producer and videographer Paul Anderson; pianist and songwriter Jon Schmidt; cellist and songwriter Steven Sharp Nelson; and music producer and songwriter Al van der Beek. For more information on how the group came together, check out their biography on their website which you can find here.

Now sit back and watch a lovely story about a boy, a girl and a very special tree.