Wednesday, March 23, 2011

sowin’, drummin’, prayin’

Oh man, my wife is an avid reader!  Nicole lent her eight books last weekend and she’s already read three!  What I love about how she reads is that she doesn’t just devour books, she really enjoys them.  She’ll often curl up on the couch with a blanket and disappear.  I wish I had the same appetite as she does, but I’ve found lately that the book really needs to grip me if I’m going to invest my time in it.  Hopefully it’s just a phase—there are so many books out there now, and I want to read all the best ones!

     I’ll have to read four C.S. Lewis books for my Regent class this summer, too, so hopefully that’ll be good incentive to get back into more fiction.

     Giving drum lessons every week has encouraged me to spend more time drumming myself.  I find that I can easily become stuck in a rut, so I like to find sources of inspiration to make me try something new or show me something I’ve never thought of on my own. 

I really enjoy watching Mike Johnston’s drumming lessons on youtube.  Not only is he hilarious, but he’s a really good educator.  I learned this beat last night while Sarah was on the phone with her parents:

    This week has seen another adjustment in my work schedule.  Our sowing days now start at 7:30.  I’ve been disciplining myself to get up for 6:15 or so, that way I’m not rushed to get ready and Sarah and I can spend some time together before I head off to the nursery.  We’ve returned to a morning tradition we started while living in Eston together which is doing morning devotions together.  It’s so good to have that at the start of the day.  We’ve been working through the Morning Prayer in the Celtic Daily Prayer book of the Northumbrian monastic community.  You can actually read through the same daily morning, midday and evening prayers on the Northumbria community’s website.  I highly recommend it for anyone interested in cultivating a daily routine in prayer.

    It looks as though I am finally getting over this dry cough.  Looking forward to good night’s sleep.  I’ll leave you with a sample from today’s meditation.  I’m off to bed!  Good night!

As the rain hides the stars,
as the autumn mist hides the hills,
happenings of my lot
hide the shining of Thy face from me.
Yet, if I may hold Thy hand
in the darkness,
it is enough;
since I know that,
though I may stumble in my going,
Thou dost not fall.
Alistair Maclean

Friday, March 18, 2011

knowing rhythm

     It takes effort to acknowledge rhythm: both our need for it, and how it already is at work in our lives.  We rise, we eat and shower, we speak and are silent, we work and play, we retire for the evening.  Finding rhythm is not so much about creating rhythm as it is about recognizing that which is already present and knowing it for the first time.  As drummers we seek to bring out the inherent rhythm of a song, not to impose our own patterns upon it.  There is already something at work here, behind the scenes, which calls us to attention.

100_5964So how do we start?
How do we attune to those latent rhythms within and around us? 

   I think the first step is in realizing what is directly before us.  I found a reflection by the Monks of New Skete, an Eastern Orthodox monastic community in Cambridge, New York, which I think really relates to this idea:

Planting yourself squarely in the present moment is a condition for being truly alive and happy. . . .Take time to notice.  A freshly brewed cup of coffee that we savor in silence, an invigorating shower that rinses away the past night’s sleep – these are but two examples of daily rites that have the power to lift our spirits and carry us forward through the day.  What counts in these routines is our awareness of them.  We can go through such moments on automatic, or we can discipline ourselves to pay attention to them with a spirit of openness and gratitude.  Keep track of yourself today and see if this is not true: Life feels so different to the one who takes time to notice it. (Rise Up, 55)

   Noticing.  Paying attention.  Being present.  This will take some getting used to!

   Far too often when we hear the words ‘daily rhythm’ or ‘habits’ our minds automatically think of strict adherence to a system of rules, like a boarding school which regulates every spare moment of its students’ lives.  Unfortunately, that image is sometimes the reality.  We can overdo finding rhythms in such a way that we forget the purpose behind having such rhythms in the first place.  And what is that purpose?  To cultivate an inner life which is regularly watered and fed, like a garden, where routine care and work is necessary to keep its world alive.  If our inner lives still feel like a cacophonous zoo in our blustering to achieve a regularly paced routine then perhaps the routine is itself too rigorous or overly detailed.  If finding rhythm is just another check box on a to-do list, we’ve already missed the point.  This is not another thing we do: this is an attitude that we live out of.

We need to start small.  Baby steps.

Eugene PetersonIn his reflections on the Psalms, Eugene Peterson draws our attention to the rhythm of language: words and silence.  What we learn from the poetry of the Psalms has much to say about our prayers and our lives.  We need to slow down:

You cannot speed-read a poem.  Poetry cannot be hurried.  We must slow our minds (and, in prayer, our lives) to the pace of the poet’s breathing, phrases separated by pauses. . . . Poetry requires equal time be given to sounds and silences.  In all language silence is as important as sound.  But more often than not we are merely impatient with the silence.  Mobs of words run out of our mouths, non-stop, trampling the grassy and sacred silence.  We stop only when breathless.  Why do we talk so much?  Why do we talk so fast?  Hurry is a form of violence practised on time.  But time is sacred.  The purpose of language is not to murder to the silence but to enter it, cautiously and reverently. (Answering God, 60-61)

   One of my first lessons in drumming with a band—finding the rhythm within the music—was not to fill space haphazardly.  I can still hear the instruction, “Less is more.”  We need to give room to the pockets of silence between sound.  Likewise, we need to be attentive to the moments of rhythm and renewal in our lives, instead of always rushing and seeking to fill our days pell-mell. 

   Less is more.  In drumming less (less hurried, less busy and less sporadic) I found that the beats that are played have greater resonance.  There is space for the skin to reverberate the sound.  The parallels to life are abundant: by learning to slow down and take the time we can discover great purpose in the opportunities before us—even the seemingly menial ones.  The daily routine, so easily dismissed, now come alive with meaning.  This is far from legalistic rule-setting.  This is life!   

   Whatever the specific regularities demanded upon us by our lives or work schedules there are still the general or universal rhythms which nearly all of us find ourselves in.  The basics of life: sleeping, waking, rising, eating, bathing, clothing, working, playing, praying.  

   By choosing to observe these ordinary rites we better prepare ourselves to live: to engage one another, ourselves and our God.  As we slow down and attune ourselves to those daily routines we move from finding rhythm to knowing it.

   Be well this weekend,


Related Posts: 
Finding Rhythm, Truth & Stories, Daring to Rejuvenate, Lessons from the Orchestral Hall  


Rise Up with a Listening Heart by The Monks of New SketeRise Up with a Listening Heart, The Monks of New Skete. New York, N.Y.: Yorkville Press, 2005.



Answering God by Eugene PetersonAnswering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, Eugene Peterson. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

sharin’ some music

So, Sarah’s been reading the Inkheart series and she’s almost finished the last book and she’s very excited about it!  I started the first one and have hardly scratched the surface… *sigh*…. so much reading to do!  

And apparently so much listening to do too.  Here’s some more favourite songs I thought I’d share as we inch closer to springtime (it was +10 out today!) 

Lately Sarah and I have been really enjoying listening to Paul McDonald’s rendition of “Maggie May’ which he sang on American Idol last week.  He’s definitely one of the happiest singers on the show:

Skip to 0:35 to jump right to the song

Ray Lamontagne is one of Sarah’s favourites.  This song comes on the radio nearly everyday on Sirius XM 51, the Coffeehouse, when I’m on my way to or from the tree nursery.  Just found this video on youtube today:

A refreshing sound from so much of the garbage pop music out there, hey?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

finding rhythm

Just recently I began giving drum lessons to a new friend of mine from church. I felt honoured by his request—I’m an intermediate drummer, not an advanced professional.  But he reinforced to me that he wanted me to teach him, not someone else.  It was humbling. Opportunities where we are asked to pass on knowledge or skill or wisdom should, I think, humble us.  And remind us that we are growing and learning and getting older: that we do have something to pass on.

Nik's Drums: Pearl Export SelectOn our first lesson together I asked him what he wanted to achieve through these lessons.  We swapped ideas, set some goals, shared stories and then got to work.  Though he’d had some previous informal training, he repeated that he wanted to “start at the beginning, as though I know nothing.” So that’s what we did.

One of the most basic and important concepts for beginner drummers (especially exuberant ones) is the ability to count and play a steady beat continuously over several minutes.  It’s one thing to hammer out a basic rock beat for four bars.  It’s something else entirely to play that same beat for three minutes without deviating the tempo.  So that’s where we began: I’d set a tempo and we’d play through a basic beat for a minute.  Then I’d set another tempo and we’d do it again.  Slowly we began to build up the muscle memory, to fine-tune the movement, to gain a sense of steady rhythm.

A lot of drummers want to get up there and solo.  To them playing drums is about flashy stick spins and flailing limbs.  It’s entertaining and exciting to be sure (and usually incredibly loud!) but is seldom in and of itself a song.  It may serve to get the crowd going during a show, or spotlight the drummer, but it is seldom applied appropriately to music—to the stuff of the band itself.  Soloing is done by oneself; a band implies giving of oneself for the betterment of the group.  It can be fun to drum solo, but the adrenaline wears off after a few moments.  Playing in a band brings a deeper sense of joy, we begin to find pockets where our flourishes are not done outside the larger whole, but contribute to the beauty of all.  In short, learning the slow, steady rhythm can bring about a deeper, more long-term sort of passion…better than the 1-minute solo.

Rhythm.  It’s the drummer’s job to keep the band on track, not to show off.  Out of that steady, regular rhythm the rest of the band is allowed to shine: the guitar, the bass, the keyboard, the vocals, whoever!  Out of that rhythm comes life.  And good drummers can play the rhythm with soul.  The sticking is no longer a series of mathematical figures or hand patterns but a groove.  And from there, from that place of regularity, comes the freedom and maturity to be able to make the song come truly alive.

I say all of that to say this: just as finding a rhythm is key to the true fulfillment of a drummer and the musicians as a whole, so to is finding a daily rhythm to our inner lives so that we might better live in community with others.  At first this may feel boring, as I’m sure it does to the novice drummer.  We’d rather be playing fills: soloing.  Yet a life that is only fills feels devoid of order, of healthy structure.  And a life of soloing is, well, hard to be around.  None of us was meant to live in utter isolation for all time.  And though solitude is itself a valid discipline, most of us are engaged regularly with family, friends, co-workers, fellow students, whomever.  There is a band on stage with us.  And what we do, how we choose to order ourselves will surely effect those closest to us.  By incorporating daily rhythms we can better give ourselves to one another.

Over time, as familiarity is gained, our attitude shifts from begrudging the repetition to appreciating its daily regularity.  Setting the rhythm and keeping at it is the hardest part, especially as we first begin to structure our lives to it.  It can feel constricting, we’d rather be ‘doing nothing’ with our time; or we say it feels ‘pointless’ simply because we can not yet see immediate results (the unfortunate by-product of our instantly satisfied culture) Yet reward does come.  The garden of the inner life needs regular work: tilling, watering, weeding, fertilizing and so on, before we begin to see the fruit of our labour. 

And that’s what seems so contradictory here: that we need to find rhythm, structure, in order to find freedom.  A good drum solo can only be played by a drummer who knows something about playing the regular everyday beats.  For out of rhythm comes to ability to groove, to solo, to react spontaneously at the right moment, to find the freedom.  Daily rhythm does not bind us from life, it opens us up to the fullness of life.

Be well,


Sunday, March 06, 2011

winter stargazing part 2: orion to gemini and auriga

Hello, and welcome back to another astronomy blog entry!  I was inspired to write this one last night, we were leaving a friend’s house who lives out down Sandy Beach Road after a potluck dinner and movie night and the stars were incredibly crisp and clear.  It’s nice to know we can still get away from the lights of the city and escape into the wilderness to watch the sky.

These pictures are taken with Stellarium as though we were in Dryden, on March 6th at 8:30pm.  Keep in mind that as time goes on what you see at 8:30 will gradually shift as all the constellations will rotate around Polaris, the North Star.

The gemini twins: Castor and Pollux (Image by Stellarium time we talked about using Orion as a signpost, specifically his distinctive three-star belt, to locate Canis Major, Taurus and the Pleiades (if you’d like to read the first astronomy post click here for a refresher!)  Today we’re going to be using the hunter’s shoulders to pinpoint Gemini and Auriga.

First, locate Orion.  He should still be somewhat lower, though fully visible, in the southern skies at 8:30.  Anytime before 8 should be fine as well once the sun has set; past 8 he’ll begin to sink into the west.

Orion the Hunter (Image by Stellarium

To start we’re going to locate the Gemini twins.  Two of the brightest stars in Orion are Rigel, Orion’s foot, and Betelgeuse, the right shoulder of his upraised arm.  Use these two stars to travel ‘upwards’ to the stars Castor and Pollux.  They might be difficult to identify at first so it might help to familiarize yourself with the shape of the twins (see pictures): they have brighter stars at their heads, long bodies, two legs each and a row of stars just below their heads represents their arms.  They have often been visualized as holding hands, which you can notice in the image below.

Orion to Gemini (Image by Stellarium

Saturday, March 05, 2011

artist spotlight: koko relleve + rough cuts ep

Playing in the field behind Dorm 2; Koko Relleve with acoustic guitar,  2007     Today I want to spotlight a good friend of mine, Koko Relleve, and his new self-recorded EP, Rough Cuts.  Sarah and I went to college with Koko and I had the honour of living in dorm with him where he would regularly serenade us with the sounds of the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Jack Johnson.  During those Dorm 2 days I watched as his talent and ability grew and today I’m super excited to showcase Koko’s first EP, which he recorded, he’ll tell you, with “an old ibook G4 and one USB condenser microphone,” in the month of December.

     What I love about Rough Cuts is that it is so true to Koko’s character.  There’s nothing flashy or put-on; the songs are down-to-earth and thoughtful like I know him to be.  His songs are incredibly open and vulnerable.  The first line of the first song, “I’m really not that good at what I do.” reflects a man who has pondered his weaknesses and is willing to grow form them.  Thematically Rough Cuts is a meditation on some basic human realities: broken relationships, longing for the eternal, and a genuine grappling with our failures and dreams.  These songs and this man embody a gentleness and humility that I feel can be really lacking in a lot today’s mainstream entertainment industry, and that’s what makes Koko stand out.

Rough Cuts EP comes packaged in a homeade cardboard sleeve.The album opens with the steady acoustic riffs of On My Toes, a humble confession exploring one’s weakness and the need to surround ourselves with those “who will see us through”.  The track’s uncomplicated arrangement adds to its hopeful, reflective sauntering style.  Having now eased us in, Be Free showcases Koko’s feel-good upbeat rhythms as well as the addition of djembe and glockenspiel to accompany the acoustic guitar.  The song transitions into a reggae-flavoured outro: musical correspondence to the lyric’s acknowledgement of the past and the call to face a better future.  Fans of Jack Johnson will feel right at home here.

     Possibly my favourite song is Mountainside, which I’d describe as an acoustic folk ballad about returning home.  The track begins with longing for the familiar but ends contemplating a deeper home-coming of full significance:
Take me home
to the mountainside
where I belong.
Let me breathe
Let the air fill my lungs
Until I cease to be 
I chose the sand against the stone. 
Built a shelter of excuses from the storms. 
Prayin’ for the day when I will leave this place. 
So please take me back.  Take me home.

~ Koko Relleve; “Mountainside”,  Rough Cuts EP 2011
We’ve been invited to explore living well, dying well, and the life hereafter.
Koko Relleve | Jessica Morgan Photography; Victoria, B.C.
     For anyone familiar with the funk/rock quartet, Heavy Get Go, Let Go will become an instant favourite.  Koko was staying with Sarah and I last March while we were living in Eston, SK, and I can remember us jamming together to the earliest renditions of this one.  Koko described it as being similar to Trenchcoat, the first track on Heavy Get Go’s self-titled debut album, as though both songs are written about the same person.  Let Go is the rival to Mountainside for my favourite song, not only because I got to witness its beginnings in my living room, but because it now boasts Rough Cut’s best guitar solo.

     From here on in the EP takes on an eerie, experimental mood.  The following three tracks, Lament I, Just Listen, and Lament II could stand alone as a single three part moment.  The Laments are stripped down, atmospheric and hauntingly poignant.  At times they feel reminiscent of the thoughtful and melodic aspects of the alternative rock band, Thrice.  And lastly, To Sea bookends the album with a song about longing and memories of the past.

     If you’re looking for something new to listen I recommend you check out Rough Cuts, you can listen to online samples at the links listed below.  Koko is also on facebook and myspace, so drop him a line if you get a chance.  He is currently living in Victoria B.C. and regularly plays gigs in the city.

     All the best, my friend!  Let it be.
     Be well.

     We hope to have Koko join us for a Conversation in the near future!  Stay tuned.

Picture of Rough Cuts EP cardboard sleeves belongs to Koko.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

sweeping is the life for me

So I’ve returned to the tree nursery for sowing and greenhouse cleaning.  It’s been good so far, though I’ve missing the extra time I’d had each day to write.

Like I said work started up again last week.  We’re sowing right now at the tree nursery.  This means filling our 31 greenhouses with styroblocks each with hundreds of trees.  Tree Seedlings from our Wedding | June 2009I’m not sure how many seedlings we grow in a year, but for some reason 9 million comes to mind.  I could be wrong.  It’s a lot anyway.  And each of the styroblocks has to get placed by hand onto a conveyor belt at the front of the sow line.  We call it being ‘on the pez’ because it’s like working a giant pez dispenser. 

Last Tuesday I was working the pez and Carp, the nursery manager, wandered by just to check up on things.  Out the blue he asked how much he was paying me.  So I told him.  And he said he wanted to make it a dollar more.  I couldn’t wait to get home to tell Sarah.

That Saturday Sarah went to a watercolour class at the art gallery.  Painting is a passion of hers, though she rarely finds the time to do it.  They were learning how to paint birch trees using two different styles.  The class was three hours long and every bit worth it.  You could tell that it had been really good for her to have the chance to do something she loves and to be taught some new techniques.  I’m very proud of her.

So it’s become a tradition to watch American Idol now with Mom and Dad each week.  We have our favourite contestants already—though it’s Steven Tyler who steals the show.  He’s hilarious!  You never know what he’s going to do next!  We also just finished the first season of The Mentalist.  At first I didn’t know if I was going to like it, but it really grew on me and now I can’t wait to see season two.  Sarah even had a dream with Patrick Jane in it! (She also had a dream where she was on a cruise ship with the entire cast of Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s another story!)

Work has been about sweeping.  All day sweeping.  We’re cleaning out the greenhouses so we can sow into them.  It’s solitary labour, which I like, but it’s repetitive.  “Piddily,” Mom would say.  Whenever I feel sore or overwhelmed I have to imagine faraway foggy London rooftops where Dick van Dyke is smiling down on me!

To wrap things up, here’s a few things that I’m excited for: