Friday, August 12, 2005

Musicians on Call

Your humble GuitarGirl reporting from the plane, en route to Italy. Go get your coffee, gang. I’m running long today.

Guitar backpack strapped on tight, I am walking along Sixth Avenue on my way downtown. It is a very pleasant afternoon. I hear Hebrew, Italian and Greek spoken in the street. It’s the day before our cruise to Italy, Croatia and Greece with the Israel holiday add-on. I am going to places where I will probably hear nothing but English in the street since apparently all of the locals are here in New York on holiday.

I arrive at the Foundling Hospital. It’s exactly as my friend Lisa Ludwig the rock star says it will be. I have come as a volunteer to perform music for three floors of kids, infants through teens. Most of them are too sick to be home and there are a too many palliative, non-responsive kids.

This is my first gig for Musicians on Call, a non-profit organization that arranges bedside visits by musicians to hospitals and homes. I learned about it from my first chance meeting with Michael Solomon, its founder, who also manages the fabulously gifted singer songwriter John Mayer.

Michael and I met when I attended a fund raiser for the Kristen Ann Carr Foundation, which labours tirelessly in its pursuit of a cure for sarcoma. When we first arrived, a wonderfully energetic and dashing young turk came by to say hello. In no time I learned that Michael had been the fiancé of Kristen Ann Carr, who was stricken with the disease which tragically robbed her of her life. Having lost a young love myself, I connected with Michael. Although you can never really recover from such loss, Michael was a true leader who took tragedy and made from it something positive and hopeful.

Kristen’s parents, Dave Marsh and Barbara Carr, were at the event and were surrounded by many of Kristen’s friends who now participate in the foundation’s events. They also get a lot of support from Bruce Springsteen and the E Streeters. Barbara is Bruce’s manager, and Kristen had basically grown up in the music business around these people. Dave is “That” Dave Marsh, the prominent rock journalist from Rolling Stone.

As we spoke, Michael mentioned that his father was a prominent Jewish communal professional. It turned out that his father was a longtime colleague of my husband. Furthermore, he and his wife had given us a lovely wedding gift, which adorns our house to this day. In fact, we had socialized with them and had been to their home for dinner. His parents were on the board of Musicians on Call.

Michael really inspired me. We kept up. The day came that I would be meeting him at his management office on the Upper West Side. I will never forget that day. It was gorgeous out. I figured I’d go for a walk in the park before the meeting. I even remember what I listened to that day: a reggae compilation.

I got to the house, feeling mightily righteous and ready to start my day. I called Michael on my way out the door at 9 a.m. The phone was out of order. There was only one other problem.

It was Sept. 11, 2001.

So now it’s four years later and I’m walking down to the Foundling Hospital, ready to do my thing.

It’s an amazing little hospital in what must be a historic building, filled with fabulous staff, all smiling and friendly. The kids are everywhere. I am being led around by a host from Musicians on Call who is also training a new volunteer host. We make our rounds together. They guide me and I go in there and do my thing.

Lisa Ludwig, who has a killer band called Black Flamingo and is a New York City icon, is a tough act to follow, but I do my best. I am the maverick cowgirl with funky jewelry to her black/leopardskin/sparkles rockstar. It’s a good match. The kids are thrilled to hear that we are connected. So it’s like a visit from a favorite relative. That makes me feel good and I am in top form, working the room, learning the names, improvising and playing with the kids as though I were one of them.

There are many rooms that are sealed off because there is a bug going around the wards and the kids are very susceptible. Or because some of the kids are very excitable or can’t handle the stimulation. Reasons for everything and signs up to let you know if you absolutely can’t enter a room.

I do manage a few smiles down on the third floor, where most kids are on respirators and are not responsive, other than eye contact. Yet, a few tiny kids in wheelchairs reach out to strum my guitar when I come around. I let ‘em. I sing. I talk to them. Sometimes we even laugh. Mostly their smiles made me laugh and that made them smile more.

Up on the fourth floor my first encounter is with Lisa’s “boyfriend.” He is in his single digits, wheelchair bound. And at the computer station, playing a game. He has no time for music today.

“Uh-uh, not today,” he says, and I get brushed off, as does another kid. But he’s funny about it and I’m actually kind of flattered when he is told, “This is Lisa’s friend.” Even so, I am shooed away in favour of the game.

A West African kid with a gorgeous smile is flirting with me. I say to him, “Here’s a song your parents know for sure,” and launch into My Girl. He is excited and very appreciative. Doesn’t want me to go.

I turn to walk away for a moment and then I turn back to him.

“Parles-tu francais? I ask him.

He vehemently shakes his head no and laughs. I ask again. Of course he does. Note to myself: Next time, a French song.

I’ve loosened up now, in a room filled with three girls who are my teenage daughter’s age. I’m now singing in Hebrew if I sense that the child is Jewish. And I throw in a French song, too. These girls transcended their bodies and were just being girls.

I sang Stand By Me. I hadn’t done that song since the Passover seder at my mum’s, which was the Seder To Remember: her last one. My longtime musical partner, the wildly talented Ardene Shapiro, joined me in a little concert of all my mum’s favourites from our old band days. It was the last time I saw my mum smile and really interact with her friends and loved ones.

In this room, with these girls, I felt the presence of my mother for the very first time since she died. She was with me, and she was happy.

Before I know it, two hours have passed and it’s time to go.

A quick debrief with the music therapist. I mention to her that I sort of ethnicated my song list and tried to play to the crowd. We talked about certain kids’ responses. She was thrilled to hear that some kids actually sat up (or really tried to) and participated.

On the way home, I walk with the new volunteer and we talk about our experience. Uplifting. Profoundly sad. A little piece of Gd on Sixth Avenue.

You can really learn a lot from these kids, like how precious every second is. I was fortunate to be able to serve them a little piece of quality time. I hope I did a good job.

Great news. Musicians On Call asked me back. I’d love to take my girls next time. Maybe I will.

Huge shout out to Michael Solomon and to Lisa Ludwig. We need more people like that.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I'm doing this little ad for my wonderful friend, Annette Tedesco. Many thanks to Seth Lipkin. I couldn't have done it without him. :)


You may be packing your lightest clothes for the heat of Reno, but it is not too soon to bundle up your Scrabble gear for the Nor'Easter in Lake George, NY. Registration is now open. From Thursday, Oct. 20, to Sunday, Oct. 23, it's guaranteed non-stop game action like never before.

Click on the link below to learn about the exciting, new TWO Early Bird mini tournaments plus the 15-game Main Event. You will find an easy-to-read page of information and a link to a printable registration form, which you simply mail back to Annette. All contact info, rates and dates can be found at:

For a very limited time you can also access the link to the Nor'Easter by visiting the front page of Seth Lipkin's amazing stats website, . Click on "Flyer: Lake George Tourney October 20-23, 2005." Be early. Book now and avoid the rush.

See you in Lake George! Submitted by Lynda Kraar on behalf of Annette Tedesco and staff

C’est une chanson, qui nous ressemble
Toi tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous, les deux ensemble
Toi que m’aimais moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable les pas des amants désunis

- from Autumn Leaves (French lyrics Jacques Prévert, English lyrics Johnny Mercer, music Joseph Kosma)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Up in Gravenhurst:
A Town Stuck in Neutral

A week prior to my visit up to Sudbury was Yona's visitors' day at Camp Shalom in Gravenhurst. Marty came up from the States to see Yona with me. The party was over: After the blistering, record-breaking heat and humidity, the skies opened up and spewed forth the wrath of the gods. We were under inches of water everywhere you could see.

In true Canadian spirit, no one cared. The 400 northbound lanes were packed with cottagers, their kids, ORVs and their two fours. There was a uniform noise coming from practically every car: the sound of Q107 blaring licks by every blazing triplet-playing guitarist known to mankind. And despite the terrifying road rage and crazy driving, everyone seemed pretty happy. An hour and a half after departing the Bathurst Manor Ancestral Home, there it was. Gravenhurst. I imagine it's like visiting one's grandmother's house.

I spent the summers of 1968 through 1977 up the road in Torrance at Camp Massad, which is now the Camp Crossroads. The Mennonites gentrified it, but it is still recognizable by us Massad orphans. They do get the occasional former Massadnik and they are pretty hospitable. Sometimes I am one of those trespassers.

Gravenhurst was where we spent our days off. It was always a hospitable place. We would go down to Gull Lake Park and then our dining options were pizza at Rombo's, a delicious slice of blueberry pie at Sloan's, maybe grab a beer at the Albion Hotel. Then maybe stop by the Kee to Bala and see what bands were playing. In true Muskoka time, these are still the options.

My reunions with Yona are always fabulous. She has such incredible energy when she first sees me. There's always a lot of screeching and a lot of jumping around. Yona gets into the act, too. After three minutes our shoes are filled with sand and we are filthy.

This day the grounds were nothing but water and mud. Nonetheless, we picked our spot and unfolded all the chairs. It was pointless to throw down a blanket. Instead, I draped the goodie-filled plastic bags over the armrests. Yona had a feast of her favourites. We had Gryfe's pizzas and bagels, strawberry yogourt with bitter chocolate shavings, gummy things from Johnvince, and three flavours of Kernels. The intention was to save much of it for the campers' afterparty in the cabin, but much of the crunchy stuff just wilted in the intense moisture of the air and the intermittent storms.

The weather did not put a damper on much. The program was performed in the rec hall of the camp. Yona was a star. When she screamed, the kids screamed. When she sang, they sang. She danced, they danced. She got an excellent report from counselors and also the specialists, particularly the drama specialist. She looked so happy. I was so grateful that at least for a stolen moment in time, once a year, she could have this carefree experience that will sustain when all other memories are gone.

Desserts were served, tea was taken. The kids were happy. We parents were ecstatic to see our friends and their kids, maybe catch up on a little gossip. At three in the afternoon, Marty and I departed. It took three gruelling hours crawling in the rain, the mist and among a lot of exhausted and drunken drivers to get back down to city limits.

As we passed through Orillia I had a flashback to last year, same trip, same spot. A sunny day, the end of another great visitors day at camp. The cellphone rang as we were in the middle of a bad zone. It was a doctor at a hospital in the west end. My mother was brought there by ambulance. She was having a bowel blockage. Phone cuts out. An hour later a message. He wanted to operate as soon as possible but wanted to be sure we approved, because the patient was not cooperating. Around King City I made contact. I told him to do nothing. He had not known she was a cancer patient at Mount Sinai downtown. We got down there at 5 p.m. My best friend Masha met me there. Before I went in to see her, we all stopped by the Second Cup for a coffee. Three Equals. A blend of skim and 2 percent milk.

Within an hour we had mum discharged and we drove her down to Mount Sinai where she was admitted. Marty and I got back to the house at 3 a.m. I was still in my khaki shorts and Merrell mocs. The house was eerily still. That was the first time I was convinced she was going to die. I was at the depths. I was debating graveside or funeral home. At 4 in the morning we took a spin to the 24-hour Dominion. I had a bowl of roasted red pepper soup, a cup of peppermint tea and went to bed. Funny the things you remember.

So it's been a very lonely summer without my mum. She gave me camp as a centerpiece in my life. Like all good greenies, she sent me away for the summer so that I could have a normal time. Now I do it for my own kids. Even when I am a million miles away, in addition to my mum, I always have Gravenhurst with me. It keeps me sane. I know it will do the same for my kids when they go out and have their own lives.