Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

We need music to survive

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

By Karl Paulnack

Karl Paulnack is a pianist and director of the music division at the Boston Conservatory. This essay is adapted from a welcome speech he gave to incoming freshman.

Boston – One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not value me as a musician. I remember my mother’s reaction when I announced my decision to study music instead of medicine: “You’re wasting your SAT scores!” My parents love music, but at the time they were unclear about its value.

The confusion is understandable: We put music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper. But music often has little to do with entertainment. Quite the opposite.

The ancient Greeks had a fascinating way of articulating how music works. In their quadrivium – geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music – astronomy and music are two sides of the same coin. Astronomy describes relationships between observable, external, permanent objects.

Music illuminates relationships between invisible, internal, transient objects. I imagine us having internal planets, constellations of complicated thoughts and feelings. Music finds the invisible pieces inside our hearts and souls and helps describe the position of things inside us, like a telescope that looks in rather than out.

In June 1940, French composer Olivier Messiaen was captured by the Germans and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. There, he finished a quartet for piano, cello, violin, and clarinet, and performed it, with three other imprisoned musicians, for the inmates and guards of that camp. The piece (“Quartet for the End of Time”) is arguably one of the greatest successes in the history of music.

Given what we have since learned about life under Nazi occupation, why would anyone write music there? If you’re just trying to stay alive, why bother with music? And yet – even from concentration camps themselves, we have surviving evidence of poetry, music, and visual art – many people made art. Why?

Art must be, somehow, essential for life. In fact, art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are; art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a resident of Manhattan. Later that day I reached a new understanding of my art. Given the day’s events, the idea of playing the piano seemed absurd, disrespectful, and pointless. Amid ambulances, firefighters, and fighter jets, I heard an inner voice ask: “Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment?”

Then I saw how we survived. The first group activity in my neighborhood that night was singing. People sang. They sang around firehouses; they sang “We Shall Overcome,” “America the Beautiful,” “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they sang songs learned in elementary school, which some hadn’t sung since then.

Within days, we gathered at Lincoln Center for the Brahms Requiem. Along with firefighters and fighter jets, artists were “first responders” in this disaster, too. The military secured our airspace, but musicians led the recovery. In measuring the revival of New York, the return of Broadway – another art form – was as significant a milestone as the reopening of the stock markets.

I now understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment.” It’s not a luxury, something we fund from budget leftovers. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of things, a way to express feelings when we have no words, a way to understand things with our hearts when we cannot grasp them with our minds. Music is the language we choose when we are speechless.

Imagine a graduation with absolutely no music – or a wedding, a presidential inauguration, or a service celebrating the life and death of a close friend – imagine these with no music whatsoever. What’s missing – entertainment? Hardly.

What’s missing is the capacity to meaningfully experience these events, as though eating great food without tasting it. Music functions as a container for experience – it augments capacity to grasp complex things. Without music, the events of our lives slip like water through cupped hands. Music increases our capacity to hold life experiences, to celebrate them, to survive them.

The performance I think of as my most important concert took place in a nursing home in a small Midwestern town. I was playing with a dear friend of mine, a violinist. We began with Aaron Copland’s “Sonata,” which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young pilot who was shot down during the war.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. After we finished, we mentioned that the piece was dedicated to a downed pilot. The man became so disturbed he had to leave the auditorium, but showed up backstage afterward, tears and all, to explain himself.

He told us that during World War II, as a pilot, he was in an aerial combat situation where one of his team’s planes was hit. He watched his friend bail out and his parachute open. But the Japanese planes returned and machine-gunned across the parachute chords, separating the parachute from the pilot. He then watched his friend drop away into the ocean, lost. He said he had not thought about that for years, but during that first piece of music we played, this memory returned to him so vividly that it was as though he was reliving it.

How did Copland manage to capture that picture of internal planets so clearly?

People walk into concert halls as they walk into emergency rooms, in need of healing. They may bring a broken body to a hospital, but they often bring with them to the concert a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again depends partly on how well musicians do their craft.

A musician is more of a paramedic than an entertainer. I’m not interested in entertaining you; I’m interested in keeping you alive. Fully alive. We’re a lot like cardiac surgeons; we hold people’s hearts in our hands every day. We just use different instruments.

What should we expect from young people who choose a future in music? Frankly, I expect them to save the planet.

If there is a future wave of wellness, of harmony, of peace, an end to war, mutual understanding, equality, fairness, I don’t expect it to come from a government, a military force, or a corporation.

If there is a future of peace for humankind, if we are to have an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.

As we did in the Nazi camps and on the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.


Please check our website for beautiful Christmas music from WFM artists and composers!

Teaser – Julia Wade’s New CD, Silk Road

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

We’re now in the final throes of recording and mixing Julia Wade’s new CD, Silk Road – Inspirational Journeys Across Planet Earth.  Some of the material of this new work was actually started nearly two years ago and then the project was tabled when we developed her Solos CD as a farewell gift to the Christian Science community when she finished her tenure as Soloist in Boston.

But we knew we had something really interesting going in Silk Road and we couldn’t wait to get beck to it.

The CD is due to hit the streets in early December and will be our major impetus throughout the holiday season.  She has just two more vocals to complete, all the orchestrations are completed and by the end of this next week I’ll be half way through the mixing.

It’s simply a most special project.  You’ll say, “Aren’t they all?” and I must answer, “Of course, but this one’s, for both of us, particularly transforming.”

Silk Road marks Julia’s arrival at the threshold of a new evolution in her music.  Her departure from her past carries forth her commitment to inspire through song not only on a sacred level, but also with an in depth look at the issues of our world at large and the individual human condition.

So it’s an album of songs that will continue to inspire her growing fan base with fresh new looks at spiritual reach through songs like Thinking Made It So and Julie Gold’s When He Walks With Me, but it also ventures into new territory dealing with the issues of our world today.

For the first time she now tries her hand at lyric writing and scores instantly with her own thoughts on What Peace Looks Like from the perspective of three children of the world from Uganda, the Sudan, and the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica.  The title song, Silk Road, promises a comparison of the ancient Silk Roads spanning China, Tibet and Europe with the modern day impact of the Internet.

And then there are the songs of love … (more…)

Jim: Tribute To A Big Brother – Part 3

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Two bro’

Note: The following is Part 3 of a 4 part series written especially for my close family.  It is pretty personal stuff, but, in retrospect, eminently shareable with this readership family

When I had graduated from college, moved to New York City and had some early success in show business, I lived alone, a bachelor.  Every Christmas for 5-6 years I would go spend the holiday season with Jim and his family in St. Louis.  Mom and Dad lived there as well, but it was Jim’s house that I stayed in.  He had three of the sharpest kids I have ever laid eyes on – Cindy, Tina and a little red-headed ball-buster named Travis.  In those years I became the Jim to Travis’s Pete – except that I was about 25 years older than Travis rather than 5.

Jim, Travis, Tina, Pete, Cindy

We had a love/hate relationship that usually ended up with Travis going to his mom crying, but he too just could not turn from the opportunity to try to wallop Unca Pete.  Sometimes he would crawl up on the bed and wake me up with a slug to the nose or the closed eye.  Ouch!  Anyone who has ever raised a 5-year old knows that their punch can really hurt.  Sometimes I would hear him coming and just as he reared back to let one loose, I would wake up and scream “AAAAHHH” and scare him half to death so that he would run crying to Mom.

Those Christmases became the iconic Christmases for me because they were my way of hanging on to my own childhood and playing with those beautiful children that I had fallen so in love with.  Jim and I would stay up till 4 or 5 o’clock every Christmas Eve wrapping presents for the kids and often talking about our own childhood Christmases and the great times we had together as kids.  Whenever we would tell stories of when we were kids to his kids; they would gather around wide-eyed and fully concentrated, excited to hear about when we were like them.  These were their favorite stories and we had to tell them over and over.

Christmas Eve Preparation

For the next 30 years or so, Jim, the accountant, did my taxes for free each year and advised me how to take my proper deductions, organize my business life, steer clear of shady deals and stay on top of my roller coaster financial life in show biz.  One thing you can say about show biz:  It is not financially consistent.  I never had a real consistent  job until Watchfire Music.  I never knew where the next job was coming from, and yet I’m proud to say that I never had to work at any other job besides making music.  That one thing is a success story in itself in this business.  But it is an up and down life – like most entrepreneurs. (more…)

As Memory Serves Me – Part 2

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series reflecting on an experience I had as a much younger man as an actor playing a lead role on CBS television’s daily soap opera, As The World Turns.  I recommend, for clarity’s sake, starting with Part 1 if you can.

A sub-title for this post might be “Christmas Dinner At The Hughes.”

One of my most memorable adventures as an actor on “As The World Turns” was one year’s Christmas dinner.  As CBS-TV’s number one leading soap opera, when the final show before Christmas came, they would pull out all the stops.  On this particular Christmas show we were to have an assemblage of the entire Hughes family, about 20 or so troubled souls, (it was, after all, a soap opera) all coming together for an elegant dinner.

No expense was spared as the long banquet style table was appointed with elegant china, crystal glasses, silverware and food – real food, not plastic turkey props, but two gloriously cooked 25 pound turkeys replete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables of every kind, cranberry sauce – the whole works.  The scene was to be a long one covering several commercial interruptions.

Technically it was difficult because with all those actors and all those dramatic stories all gathered at one table, touching each life problem for each character was a difficult objective.  But the scene was clever and well written and we were all excited to work together and pull it off.

We rehearsed it and rehearsed it until we had the dialogue down and the banter back and forth natural and the camera shots organized.  It was a massive rehearsal for a show that normally featured two talking heads discussing their life problems.

And please remember that the show was live – in front of 30 million people.  There would be no fixing in the editing room at a later date.  What was worse is that the entire scene, which probably ran nearly a half hour, ended with a total surprise, as drama would have it.

To digress momentarily, I loved working with Eileen Fulton, the star of the show, who played my mother.  She was always kind, considerate and professional to me, the youngster.  We developed a sweet friendship over the course of the show.

Don Hastings

But my favorite actor and person in the entire experience was the actor who played her husband, and my father, Don Hastings.  First of all he was a truly funny guy and kept all on the set constantly loose with his banter, enthusiasm and general good humor.  On top of that, he was the consummate pro – always solid on his lines and a natural actor to play with in scenes.  As head of the household, he, of course, played the role of a doctor and a surgeon at that.  He was the good guy in a field of bad guys or confused guys or cheating guys or sad guys.

At Christmas dinner he sat at the head of the table where he belonged, surrounded by wife (Eileen), grandparents of both, as well as nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles and their troubled spouses on down the table.

After all the toasting, Christmas cheer and drama while we lingered on the salad, we were then, after the second commercial break, to move into the climax of the scene – and the climax of the year, for that matter.

Grandpa, sitting to Don Hastings left, was scripted to begin to choke on a hard roll with butter.  Grandma would then discover him choking and begin to pound him on the back further lodging the supposed roll in his throat.  Someone then was to grab Gramps and try the Heimlich maneuver on the old guy to no avail.  With all hope lost and Gramps turning blue and dying in front of us all, Don (the surgeon) was to swing into action and save the day by sweeping the entire dinner — china, turkeys, and all — off the table onto the floor and hoisting Gramps, with the help of three others, on to the table laying him on his back. There Don would perform open throat surgery on Gramps with the turkey carving knife in front of us all and miraculously save the day … and Gramps. (more…)

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

A number of you have asked whatever happened to my Inspirational music project called Goin’Home

 Goin’ Home
A Gospel Cantata
On Heaven and Beyond
Additional Music and Lyrics by
Peter Link

Yes, there is a light, and yes, there is a tunnel.  Turns out it’s an extremely expensive project that has been in the works for nearly two years now.  Time and money have, for too long, been the obstacle.  Now we’re poised to overcome both.

The plan is to get the CD out for Christmas of 2011.  But first we have to finish a song and a half, mix the album, master it, design it, manufacture it and promote it.

Originally, I raised about a 3rd of the money for the project from two very dear friends and supporters, Watchfire Music put in the another third and then time and money simply ran out before the project came to completion.  There’s a missing third. (more…)

Looking For Christmas…

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Christmas in Central Park

Christmas in NYC!  There’s nothing quite like it.  Truly beautiful, but sometimes a bit too much about Santa and not enough about Jesus.  Each year I go back to the same moment years ago when I first wrote this song to try to rediscover the essence of Christmas.

I’ll share it with you now:

Christmas In My Soul

Music and lyrics by Peter Link

It looks as though

There won’t be snow on Christmas

And the holly and the mistletoe

Were sold out long ago

The midtown rush was just a little too much

And this year Santa and his reindeer

Never left the pole

Suddenly it just don’t seem like Christmas

Suddenly it don’t seem so natural


What If Food Were Free?

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Pablo PicassoWhat if today you could go over to your neighborhood grocery, grab that cart and shop for anything your little ol’ heart desired, then, instead of getting into the checkout line, skip that and just head home with your groceries – steak, shrimp, Haagen Daz, salted cashews, throw in a little Kobe Beef, some chocolate truffles and perchance a tin or two of Almas Caviar.

When you got outside with your shopping cart overflowing, the police would be there, but would just look the other way as you passed by chuckling gleefully, licking your chops.

What a great idea!  Why don’t we do this?  Food should be free!  I think most of us would agree that things would be a lot easier if food were free. (more…)

WFM Listening Room 5

Friday, December 3rd, 2010
The Accidentals

The Accidentals

Last night Christmas and the Holiday season came to NYC in the form of The Accidentals and Julia Wade.  The WFM Listening Room produced its fifth concert in its experimental laboratory.  What has evolved is a dedicated audience coming back again and again to hear good and great music simply presented.

We’re most happy to say that the experiment works.  Two standing ovations last night – the first for The Accidentals and the second for MS Wade – proved that people don’t need all the hoopla that often accompanies the musical performances of the 21st century.  What they really want is just good music with inspired performances. (more…)

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