I almost always hear music

relative pitch

An old friend, C, asked:

When you hear non-playing music, what genre(s)? Do you recognize the tune right away, or do you get to play ‘Name that Tune’ with yourself?

I suppose I should clarify. Often, I have said that I almost always hear music. Even when there is no obvious music source, I can hear music.

There are two answers to the question. One is that I usually hear the bass line. About 5% of the time, it’s the bass at the beginning of Keep On Running by the Spencer Davis Group, which I used to hear when trying to to ride a bicycle uphill. But it could be almost anything I’ve heard more than a dozen times.

It doesn’t have to be pop music. The pedals on the organ often come to mind. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor may be my favorite, not just the last three chords, but that deliciously dissonant section at 7:25 to 7:35 on this recording.

Sometimes, it’s vocal, usually something in my range. The low harmony part of Rosanna by Toto during “Not quite a year since she went away.” (0:51-1:04). I don’t love the song, but I love that bit, and I don’t have to have listened to it recently to recreate it in my head.

But it could be almost anything.

The siren song

The other answer to the question is that music is everywhere. Someone was mowing the lawn next door the day after I received the question. I discovered I was humming to the tune, only a third higher. Specifically, harmony is everywhere.

I was on a plane recently, an A321. The sounds I heard were two pitches, which reminded me of the song, Western Union. I couldn’t even remember the group’s name – the Five Americans.

My not-so-old friend ADD posted an article about David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison discussing “the restored version of their iconic documentary [Stop Making Sense], the band’s classic albums, and being a Talking Head for life.”

As I’ve mentioned frequently, I saw Talking Heads on that tour in Saratoga Springs, NY, one of the two greatest concerts I’ve ever attended, though I’ve never seen the movie. Moreover, I’ve met backup singer Lynn Mabry, pictured in the article. She sings backup for Sheila E. and is her business partner. Niece Rebecca Jade made the intros.

In the article, David Byrne recalled that keyboardist Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic, the music director for the tour, “had perfect pitch. So, he would hear a siren go by, or car brakes, or something on the street when we’re on the bus. And he had a little tiny keyboard, and he would start playing along with it, perfectly in the right key.”

I certainly do NOT have perfect pitch. Like many singers and other musicians, I have relative pitch, so I’ve also harmonized with sirens, which is interesting because it’s not a sustained sound but variable and often multiple.


All that said, I listen to external music, usually compact discs [wotta dinosaur], for most of the day when I’m writing (currently listening to Double Fantasy by John and Yoko) and ESPECIALLY when cleaning the house. And I’ll sing harmony to them if necessary.

On a recent Sunday, there was a hymn in the church bulletin. The words were unfamiliar, but the tune was a standard. Only the melody line appeared, but now there were altos, tenors, and basses singing harmony in the middle verses.

Day in the life: July 30, 2023


hospitalSunday, July 30, 2023, didn’t track the way either my wife or I expected. She had awakened with a chill. More problematic: a red spot on the back of her leg near her ankle had expanded around her leg. Moreover, it was warm to the touch.

It sounded like the return of the cellulitis she experienced in October 2022, which became so problematic that she was hospitalized for four days as complications ensued.

She asked me to contact the local urgent care place. Alas, there were NO slots open in Albany or Troy. So she decided to drive to the Emergency Department at St. Peter’s Hospital, which seemed sage.

I noted that she was scheduled to count the offering at church. The task involves training, and only about a dozen people were equipped to do so; I’m not one of them.

I sent an email at 7:55 a.m., but the only people who replied were those who could not take on the task; I thought recent knee surgery was a perfect excuse for staying home.

Breaking bread

Meanwhile, I needed to get to church early to help set up for communion before the 9:30 service. This meant catching the 8:48 bus, which only runs every 30 minutes. It takes me three or four minutes to get to the stop. Sometimes it’s running early, so I want to leave about ten minutes early.

The phone rings at 8:39. I’m going out the door. My wife needs the name of the antibiotic she’d been taking for another ailment. I needed to find and spell the container name twice because it had 14 letters.

I walked very fast to the corner. Fortunately, the bus was one minute late, and I just caught it, getting to church by 9:03.

Besides communion prep, I needed to find someone to sub for my wife, which fortunately worked out. A couple of other snags were addressed.

Seems like old times

After communion cleanup, some folks were putting the library back together. The shelves had been removed from the walls and painted. Though there were dropcloths, flakes of dried paint still got onto the carpet.

I vacuumed once I was told where the recessed cord was hiding. It reminded me twice when I was a custodian, in 1974 at a department store in a New Paltz, NY strip mall, and in 1975, at Binghamton (NY) City Hall.

I stopped at the local pizzeria to bring home slices for my daughter and me and took the bus home.

There’s a particular bond among bus patrons. A  patron pulled the cord to get out at the downtown SUNY campus. As the driver blew past the stop, the guy told the driver he wanted to debark. The driver said one had to pull the cord, but I saw that he had; I heard the sound and could see the red STOP REQUESTED sign. The driver insisted he hadn’t heard the signal, possibly over the air conditioning. From my seat near the front, I insisted the rider was correct.

The driver then looks at his console and sees that the signal had been initiated. The driver tells the patron, “You were right, and I was wrong.” Twice. The customer said, “It’s cool,” as the driver again restated his mantra. The patron says, “It’s OK. It’s OK. I didn’t want to walk two extra blocks.”

To the hospital

After my weekly ZOOM talk with my sisters, I took a bus to St. Peter’s. My wife had said she was still in the ER area, but by the time I arrived, she had been taken to a room.

It occurred to me that I’ve mastered how to get to several hospital areas because of my wife’s time there last fall. I brought her a change of clothes, toiletries, and reading material.

Having missed the last bus home, I walked, first to Junior’s for takeout, then home. I very seldom have takeout twice in one day. But it was a weird day.

My wife spent two nights at the hospital, getting IV antibiotics, and she’s much better.

Practice Joy

Karen Oliveto

Since Easter, our pastors have offered a series of sermons called Practice Joy. The anthems and hymns have been joy-based.

Still, sometimes I forget about doing joy. I read the news or watch it on television and become distraught. It’s not just the latest shooting, but about some state legislator from Tennessee (I think) who says we can’t do anything about it.  Or the book bans that are designed to “protect”  our kids from becoming transvestite Latinx bisexuals spouting Critical Race Theory. When I see this, I curse at my television, quite literally.

But two events last weekend reminded me of the power of joy. One was the sermon, tied to Romans 12:9-21. Specifically, in verse 15,  “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There is power in not going through the pain alone; there is even a reflective joy.

The other was that my wife and I attended a gathering at the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady. The congregation was celebrating its 27th Anniversary as a Reconciling Congregation. For those not versed in UMC lingo, “All persons are recipients of God’s love and grace; God intends the church to be a community which embodies love, grace and justice for all people as a sign of God’s covenant. We, therefore, will continue to seek and welcome persons of any age, gender, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability as full participants in our community of faith.”

The speaker

The speaker was Bishop Karen P. Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Conference, the first openly LGBTQAI Bishop in the United Methodist Church. She may be the most optimistic pastor I’ve encountered, and I’ve known a few.

After speaking for a while, she asked us to discuss the things that distress us with a neighbor. This was very easy. After another bit of her sharing, she called on us to share what we did to bring ourselves joy. This was more difficult.

After the talk, my wife and Karen got reacquainted. Karen is the sister of one of my wife’s best friends since college. Karen had spoken in Oneonta, about an hour from here, at some point pre-COVID, but I couldn’t make it.

On the lookout

After the talk, I started looking for every opportunity to find joy. We went out to a diner and had cheeseburgers. Of late, we rarely have beef, so it was terrific.

Then I went home. A blanket had covered my stuffed animals because I was tidying up. But they gave me joy – I was reminded of this when a young girl at the Karen Oliveto talk mentioned hers – so I needed to liberate them. One of my favorites is Lenny. He’s named after Leonard Bernstein and has the sweetest roar. We hung out on the sofa and watched TV.

The next day at church, there were several opportunities for humor. Like many funny things, the humor is diminished in the retelling. One encounter involved pizza, inside out.

Don’t forget to practice joy. It’s easy to forget.

Three years of COVID

Only remotely interested in “remote”

Back in January, fillyjonk wrote about three years of COVID. The first case of COVID in the United States occurred in that month. But it didn’t really affect me until March 13.

I’ll back up to when I retired on June 30, 2019. my wife and daughter were home from school, but come fall, I had the run of the house. I’d read and write in the morning, exercise and clean in the afternoon. It was glorious. And after Christmas break, more wonderfulness.

My wife and I went to the cinema often. I saw Cheap Trick at the Palace Theater in February 2022.

The church production of Once on This Island occurred on Sunday, March 8th, with the afterparty the following evening. Choir met as usual on Thursday, March 12.

But the buzz was out that everything was going to shut down after Friday the 13th. At 4:30 pm, I rushed to the Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library with my daughter. I WANTED to take out ten videos for me, but she wanted to get a few, so I checked out seven Marvel Cinematic Universe films I had not seen. Sure enough, the library was closed on Saturday and for months after that.

The annual hearts game at my abode occurred as scheduled for March 14; some people came, but others begged off, which I understood intellectually, if not emotionally.

School at home

After a week of figuring out what to do, school districts made laptops available to students, and remote learning began. My wife specifically was disappointed (too weak a word) when then-Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that the spring break be canceled. The rest of that semester was a slog.

One thing I insisted on is that my wife teach in the old guest room. Otherwise, every time I went downstairs, I was in her classroom. In hindsight, it was a great decision, as she held her church session meetings and other private conversations there.

My daughter was engaged in school for about a month, then not so much.

Starting March 22, my church began having services online on Facebook, a feature that continues to this day. Early on, it was okay; better than nothing.

I was feeling very isolated. Starting in April, I started calling, on the telephone, people who I hadn’t spoken with for a while, some of them for years, even though they live in my metropolitan area. It was a worthwhile project. I completed two calls daily until Memorial Day, then one per day until August. By this point, I was also phoning people I used to see weekly at church.

Meanwhile, my father-in-law, Richard, was dying from lymphoma and passed on April 22; his funeral was 13 months later. His death led to weekly family Zoom meetings, which ended abruptly over political differences at the end of June.

I did start having regular ZOOM meetings with my sisters, which have continued.

New job

I had expressed interest in working on the 2020 Census in mid-2019. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that I learned I’d be trained to work, as I wrote about here. It was more difficult than it was 30 years earlier because it started later in the year. COVID did a number on this enumeration.

My wife, despite her trepidations, had to return to school in person and teach both online and classroom, which was way more work for her. My daughter opted to stay home to do school, which was probably a suboptimal decision.

Church was still remote, though some section leaders recorded music in an empty church on a Monday, and it was shown during the service. Specifically, some previous choir recordings were shared, especially on Christmas Eve. Watching myself sing instead of actually performing brought me to tears.

We watched a few events online. Frankly, though, way more offerings were available than I wanted to consume. I watched a few movies and plays, but most didn’t capture me.

2021: the vaccine!

When the vaccine became available, I wanted it yesterday. There were priority lists. My wife got her first shot in February 2021. I kept checking places for availability but found none that didn’t involve traveling hundreds of miles.

Finally, I logged onto the CVS website again on March 1 at 6 a.m., and Pfizer vaccines were available the next day! I got my first shot, then my second three weeks later. Minimal reactions other than a sore arm for a day.

So on April 6, my kindergarten friends Bill, Carol, Karen, and our friend Michael went to an outdoor restaurant. A sign of normalcy!

I went to a few movies in person, and maybe a half dozen people were there.

The library was quasi-open, and the FFAPL offered remote book reviews online or in the Bach branch garden. It was hard to hear outside because of the wind and, sometimes, the neighbors.

The church is back!

Finally, in June, the church began meeting again, masked, distanced, but in person! We had a coffee hour in the parking lot. Then in October, the choir started rehearsing, though we didn’t sing at service until late November. We did sing on Christmas Eve. I was so happy I probably wept.

But after the holidays, the surge put us back to red/orange, and the church went back to remote. I thought I’d be okay, knowing intellectually it wouldn’t last long, and it didn’t. But I did end up in my sad place for a time.

Since then, and possibly before that, I’ve been checking the COVID status of Albany County and nearby Rensselaer County, which have been in lockstep. I’ve also been obsessively reading related medical news, such as this: RSV Vaccine Succeeds in Phase III Trial of Older Adults.

Fortunately, we sang again in person by February 2022, though Black History Month adult education, which I was in charge of, was primarily remote.


In August 2022, my daughter, my wife, and I all got COVID, probably the Omicron variant. It wasn’t awful, but it was inconvenient.

That’s essentially it. I’m seeking to get past it all. I still refer to events as before or after COVID, and I usually have no idea what happened when after March 2020 unless I look it up. Heck, I probably forgot several things.

Still hate ZOOM, and I use the term generically, for meetings, especially events. My ability to focus in front of a screen with 13 or more rectangles is diminished.

Mom was born with a veil?

Ten Commandments

Trudy.Green_dressAmong the tales I heard about my mother was that she was born with a veil in November 1927. What’s that? According to this article: An en caul birth — or veiled birth, “as they’re also referred to -… [are] incredibly rare… where the baby is born encased in their amniotic sac.” It is a medical anomaly, estimated to occur “in less than one out of 80,000 live births.”

That’s somewhat interesting but nearly as much as the other part. “As is the case with many rare events, en caul births are thought to be a sign of good fortune…

“Susan B. Martinez, author and paranormal researcher with a doctorate in anthropology, writes: ‘The veil, it was believed…, protects its bearer against danger; thus was it superstitiously gathered and preserved as a valuable charm against malevolent spirits. The caul… made one ‘special,’ even destined for greatness.'”

Apparently, the veil was broken, and my mother was happy and relieved about this. She did not want the power.

Her mother, Gert, was very much into fortune-telling and the occult. Yet Gert sent her daughter to the Oak Street Methodist Church. My sisters and I were musing on why. Maybe it was socialization, or perhaps it was to keep the child occupied for a few hours while the mother delved into the dark arts. Of course, we have no way of knowing.

The power

Yet there were at least a couple of times when my mother experienced unexplainable phenomena. One was when a voice told her to stop the car, which avoided an accident.

Another time, I wrote in 2015 about the house my mother grew up in. “I DID need the space heater… and the colorful quilt that kept me from freezing.

“One night in February [1975], I woke up with a start. The quilt had caught fire, having fallen on the space heater. It generated an acrid stretch, which might have killed me if the fire, which I could somehow smother, hadn’t.

“A day or two later, I called my mom in North Carolina and told her this story. And she told me that she knew this had happened. She woke up from a dream or a vision, she called me mentally to wake up, and I did. This is NOT the type of tale my mother generally told, so I believed her, believe her still.”

The church

For someone who attended church for decades, my mom had an odd lack of theological curiosity about her faith. When sister Leslie asked her what she thought “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” meant to her, she really didn’t seem to have an idea. My more pointed questions about her declaration that she just “followed the Ten Commandments” were without much context. Yet she attended Bible study reasonably often.

Moreover, she was highly active in the church both in Binghamton, NY, and later in Charlotte, NC. She was very sociable and sought responsible positions in the congregation.

My mom passed away a dozen years ago today, and yet she as much an enigma to me as she was the day she died.

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