Category Archives: music

Musings on life, death, and wildlife (and Prince)

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

When I heard the news that Prince had died, I was in the cemetery. I’d been there for hours with my sister Jackie and my friend Linsay, exploring the hills and dales, and mostly tracking critters . We spotted groundhogs, remarked on the number of chipmunks, stumbled (literally) upon a Prehistoric looking amphibian, and investigated critter dens.

A most unusual amphibian.

A most unusual amphibian.

Can you find the critter in this photo?

Can you find the critter in this photo?

We made some unusual discoveries. I learned, for example, that in Scotland, where Linsay is from, there are no critters like groundhogs or chipmunks; in fact, other than Pepe LePew, she’s never seen a skunk. Or smelled one. That led to a discussion about removing skunk smell with tomato juice, which sounds really weird to someone who’s never smelled a skunk.

We also found parts of old caskets that critters had dragged to the surface, handles of varying shapes and sizes scattered here and there in the cemetery, and we imagined what life underground must be like for a groundhog.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

I’d met a groundhog a few days earlier, sitting for 45 minutes next to his den to see if he’d emerge. He did, slowly. When he was fully exposed, we considered each other. Then he retreated down the hole and I went home. I’ve been thinking ever since about what it must be like underground, among the caskets and remains, what the groundhogs and chipmunks disturb, and if anyone minds. Continue reading


Notes from the Fringe: Pirates and Downton and Disco, oh my!

The cast of the Cabinet of Wonders.

The cast of the Cabinet of Wonders. Photo credit Erich Camping

As the festival winds down to the last days, just a quick recap of yesterday and a reminder of a few shows you’ll not want to miss.

The Steele Sisters

The Steele Sisters

Yesterday, my improv teammates Laura Fleming and Don Beechner joined me for the Steele Sisters at the Strong Museum of Play. We hit the 9 PM special pirate show. Well, actually, Don went to the earlier show and had so much fun he came back for more comedy, sword-fighting, and sisterly love.  The Steele Sisters’ run at the festival is done, so you’ll have to catch them on the Renaissance Festival circuit.
Continue reading

Notes from The Fringe: Alexander Morgan and the music from the Cabinet of Wonders

Music from Alexander Morgan provided the soundtrack to the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year's First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. It was spellbinding.

Music from Alexander Morgan provided the soundtrack to the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year’s First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. It was spellbinding. (photo Joanne Brokaw)

Just a quick update: I spent the evening on Thursday at the opening night of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, checking out the art, shows and activities in the Spiegelgarden, the heart of the festival. I’m doing a long post for Rochester Subway, but since it won’t run until Monday I wanted to quickly share something amazing from a show called the Cabinet of Wonders.

It’s this really funky, classy, smart and sassy variety show with comedy, acrobatics, juggling and more. It was really, really entertaining. (There’s more in this post.) But I walked away really moved by the music from Alexander Morgan, which offered the musical backdrop to the aerial dancer and acrobatics.

The show was amazing, but the music really tied it all together. It was spellbinding. And since there wasn’t much of a plug for him specifically – the performers were mentioned by name at the end of the show but that’s it –  I wanted to make sure that if you saw the show, you knew how to get his music. He’s just released his debut album, “For The King”, available on iTunes.

For The King is the debut album from alternative rocker Alexander Morgan, who also does the music for the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year's First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival.

For The King is the debut album from alternative rocker Alexander Morgan, who also provides the music for the Cabinet of Wonders show at this year’s First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival.

Many of you know that for a long time I used to cover entertainment for Christian and community publications, so naturally I was intrigued by the album and a few of the song titles. You get sensitive to certain words and phrases  (“The Flood”, “Thoughts Upon A Hill”, stuff like that) , and I wondered if there was a spiritual inspiration to his songwriting. So I asked, and he answered:

“Though most of [the songs] don’t speak literally to a particular faith or belief, I absolutely draw upon my relationship with religion and spirituality. Many of the questions I ask in these songs involve a philosophical challenge to even my own beliefs. So the fact that you pick up on that is certainly no coincidence. The title of the album refers to a sort of fictional antagonist in the loose ‘story’ of the album, but really represents people who put it upon themselves to abuse power and act as (very dramatically put mind you) Demi-gods. People in politics, war lords, religious heads, or even those who govern our hearts. It’s a broad metaphor, but they certainly all relate in my mind. “

It’s beautiful music with thought provoking themes. You can learn more on his website,

You can find my posts about the Fringe on, including my review of Remote Rochester, one of the many fascinating events taking place this week.

You can find links to all of my posts from the Fringe here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #26 What is Christian music and why do you care?

I amassed quite the collection of CDs over my years covering Christian music, most of which just collects dust.

I amassed quite the collection of CDs over my years covering Christian music, most of which just collects dust

I was contacted recently by a new Christian music magazine about maybe doing some writing for them. I admit I was tempted enough to ask for more information. I miss my artist friends. I miss my publicist friends. I miss my fellow music writing friends. I need the money.

But then I saw this post today about TobyMac, and it reminded me of the reasons why I stopped writing about music and entertainment.

I don’t miss the bullshit.

Is TobyMac singing about the Illuminati? Who knows. Who cares. Do you like his music? Then listen. If not, then don’t. If listening to a song that may or may not be about the Illuminati is dangerous to your faith, then the problem isn’t TobyMac. The problem is that your beliefs are so shaky that they can be wavered by a guy wearing a t-shirt with an eyeball on it.

I wrote the following post back in 2009 for a website called Wrecked For The Ordinary. I share it as part of my 50 Thoughts On Turning 50 series because I learned a lot of lessons in my years covering Christian music. Mostly that there’s no such thing as Christian music, because music can’t be Christian. It’s music.

Or maybe I’m just an idiot. I certainly heard that often enough.

But what I learned, at least by the time I got to writing the essay that follows, is that my faith is not a commercial product, and when you strip away all of the extraneous bullshit, you get … well, God. Faith. The wonder of Creation. No Jesus fish stickers required.

In the end, I didn’t pursue the offer to write for this new magazine, in no small part because every time I asked what the assignment paid, they avoided the question. That’s because in the Christian genre, writers are often expected to write for free, because, you know, it’s about Jesus and all, and you should just do it for the Lord.

But that’s another story for another day.

* * * * * * **

What Is Christian Music And Why Do You Care?
(This originally ran in 2009 on the website Wrecked For The Ordinary.)

I once wrote a post on my blog at in which I threw out this joke:

“You might be a Christian music fan if you didn’t let your kids listen to the Jonas Brothers until you found out they were Christians. But you did let your kids listen to David Archuleta until you found out he was Mormon.” Continue reading

My first post at Paradise Uganda blog

I forgot to tell you that I posted my first post at the Paradise, Uganda blog. I actually posted it before my little musing the other day but it ironically touched on the same theme: being on the outside, looking in, and wondering why you’re there.

For the record, what I originally thought I was volunteering to write is nothing like where my blog posts are going – and with the blessing of my dear friends. Rather than help with the fundraising “rah rah”, I’m writing more about faith and life and … well, stuff that’s where I’m most comfortable. Yay!

Here’s the beginning of the post; there’s a link at the end that’ll take you to the Paradise, Uganda blog where you’ll also see a little video of Jesse in Africa:


When my friend Jesse Sprinkle asked me if I wanted to be involved in a project he was working on, I didn’t ask what it was or what he needed from me. There are moments in your life when someone asks and you say yes and you know it’s exactly as it should be.

I’m not a musician. I’m not a missionary. I’m not a fundraiser or a world traveler. I’m not hip or cool or trendy.

I’m just a writer. For years I’ve written feature articles in magazines and websites on everything from entertainment to dog food. I love telling stories. So when Jesse asked me to join the team for Paradise, Uganda, I signed on for the one task I knew how to do: blog.

It’s never easy jumping into a project that’s already been moving along at mach speed. It’s difficult to find your place, to keep up, to feel part of the crowd. The things I’d originally planned to blog about … well, they just don’t seem like where I’m supposed to be. The ideas I had … someone else has them, too. The things I thought I brought to the table … not so helpful right now.

It would be easy to just back out, just say, “Gee, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here, I think I made a mistake” and go home and hide under a rock because I don’t fit in.

And yet I know I’m supposed to be here. I don’t know how or why I know, I just do. (Click here to finish reading on the Paradise, Uganda blog)

Welcome to Paradise, Uganda

Me. Africa. Not two words you’d expect to hear in the same sentence, right? But it is with lots of excitement (and a few tingles) that I’m happy to share with you that I’ve signed on to help my old friend, the very creative and talented Jesse Sprinkle, and his music partner, the also very creative and talented Kurt Johnson, with an amazing new project: Paradise, Uganda.

For the last few years, Jesse has been traveling to Kampala, Uganda with the Ugandan Water Project. While there, he’s been working with street kids living in Kivulu, a slum hidden in the shadows of the city. Not just working with, not just befriending, but falling in love with these kids and their country.

And if a musician is looking for a way to help his fellow man, it only makes sense that there’s some sort of music involved. Right? Enter, Paradise, Uganda. 

In 2013, Jesse and Kurt will be traveling to Uganda to record music with the street kids for the project, “Paradise, Uganda”. It’s a “musical collaboration of love and hope.” Proceeds from the project will directly benefit the street kids.

My job is to run the blog for I’ll be blogging about the project, Africa, how you can help, and probably lots of personal reflections as I step back into the world of music and faith. (Let’s face it; the last few years of my life have pretty much been spent trying to find meaning in my life and avoiding anything music related. It’s no accident that my search and this project collided head on from out of the blue. God spoke. I’m going to listen this time.)

We’ll also be sharing amazing photographs from Africa on “Wordless Wednesdays”, and Jesse and Kurt will be blogging about the project, their creative process, their thoughts as they work with the kids, and anything else they want to share.

It’s going to be exciting, I promise. Because there’s more …

I’ll also be talking to some of the artists who’ve already signed on to support the project so they can share their thoughts about Africa, serving and our place in this big, wide world – artists like The Almost, Anberlin, Demon Hunter, Dead Poetic, Bill Malonee/Viglantes of Love, Brendan Benson, Poor Old Lu, Kutless, Tooth and Nail Records, Terry Taylor (DA), Eisley, The Choir, Lovedrug, The Waiting, One Republic, and Denison Witmer.

Did you just get tingles, too? Oh, good.

I know your next question: am I going to Africa? Of course I’ve invited myself along on a trip; that’s no surprise. It was mostly in jest, at least at this point. A trip like that costs money (so you know if I do go I’ll be hitting you all up for support). But I also have learned that I don’t need to be involved in everything to be of service. Yes, it would be easier to write about something I’ve experienced first hand. But one of my strengths as a writer (if I have one) is that I can extract great information from people to tell their story. So I don’t necessarily need to go to Africa to tell the story of people who’ve  been to Africa.

But if God sends me to Africa … well, you better start praying now for Jesse and Kurt. Because you know I can be a giant pain in the ass to be around for extended periods of time. Imagine being trapped with me on another continent.

But that’s down the road. For now, you can follow along on the Paradise, Uganda FB page and website. Stay tuned, folks, the ride has just begun.

(NOTE: if you’re not logged into WordPress, you’re going to see some stupid video ads at the end of this post. Please ignore them. I don’t know how to make them go away.)

Caution: influence may appear much bigger in rear view mirror

I was cleaning my office on Sunday – I’ll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor – and for reasons I can’t explain pulled out the old CD player and a box of my favorite CDs and started blasting music.

I mean, blasting music. Windows open, breeze blowing in, music pouring out.

I haven’t done that in a long, long long time, since before I crawled under my emotional rock and curled up into a ball with the dogs and dust bunnies.

But on Sunday? It was rock and roll and sing out loud and dance with whichever dog was closest to me.

I’m no musician, and I couldn’t tell you anything about the art of making music. Which, of course, is why I always felt like a fraud when I was covering music. I just know what makes me happy,  makes my blood tingle and my spirit soar. And doggone it, I love a song I can sing along with. Loudly and off-key.

What I loved about covering music was the people. I’d go to music events and pick the unknown bands to interview, especially the ones who had the time to hang out and talk, who weren’t dishing out pat, rehearsed answers about how they wanted to share Christ with their music when in reality, they just loved making music and being on stage. Which of course was often not only the more honest answer, but the one that may actually have served God the most.

So this music I was blasting away on Sunday made me think of old friends. A lot of CDs were from artists I know or I’d interviewed and remained friends with, or music that was playing while I was with friends having fun times and making memories.

But I didn’t just listen. In between listening to music and doing the cha-cha with Bandit, I actually contacted with those friends. Sent a little Facebook “I’m thinking about you today” hello.

It was awesome.

I had a discussion, for example, with an artist pal who caught me up on the band and added that he hoped big things would happen soon. I told him, “Hopefully big things will happen soon – but remember that just doing what you’re supposed to be doing might actually be the ‘big thing’. You just might not get to see how big it is until it’s in the rearview mirror.” He said that was actually encouraging.

The truth is, that was something I needed to be reminded of, too. Trying to lift the boulder I’ve been living under has been exhausting, and when I look at the work that needs to be done to clean house – literally and figuratively – I can get overwhelmed.

Which is why I am so grateful that, while at a writing conference a few years ago, someone encouraged us to create a writing mission statement to help guide us when things got overwhelming. Here’s mine:

“Connect. Inspire. Change the world.”

Nothing drastic. No plans for world peace (I can’t even manage dog peace in my own house). No specific goals to save the world or feed the hungry – although those are all tasks that happen within that little mission statement (although not nearly as much as they used to happen, which may be one of the contributing factors in my years under the rock. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

I’m reminded of that quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which I often share but will share again because it’s so darned inspiring for me (bold emphasis mine):

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

There’s nothing in there about meeting page view goals, making money, or being a literary rock star. I’m good at a few things: connecting people and encouraging people, and hopefully in the process facilitating others to fulfill their missions in life and thereby be a link in the chain that will change the world. 

So here I am, halfway through the week, feeling so flipping fantastic, so happy to have reached out to people and found them still there, to be reminded that nothing more is expected of me than to do exactly what I’m supposed to do today.

Which, if I’m reading the signs right,  means some serious puppy snuggling.