Music

Easier than I thought…

It’s amazing how big something can seem in your brain when, in fact, the job itself is much more manageable.  I figured it would be quite a process to set up a youtube channel but….it took me about 30 seconds.  My first video is one that was a delightful collaboration and you probably won’t understand the words.  Do you remember “Sunset” that I posted last year?  Well here it is in Mandarin! 😉  (For those of you wondering why the heck I chose to get it translated into Mandarin, that’s a story for another day!)

Love

Laura

Music

One note to another…

I hope you ate plenty of turkey and pie last weekend!

Today I am still trying to get back into routine after an enjoyable break with the family, but I wanted to share a quote I heard while listening to an instructional video about arranging, composing, and publishing:

“Music is the thousanth of a millisecond between one note and another.  How you get from one to the other: that’s music.”  ~Joel Raney

Here’s the link in case you’re interested:  https://sites.baylor.edu/ccms/2013/07/24/joel-raney-ask-the-composer-2013-alleluia-conference/

 

 

Music

Master of Colors: The Story

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Hello again, Friends!  Today I’m happy to share with you a piece I wrote last year.  I read this story (see below) by Jill Thomas in November 2016 and was so touched.  Her visual descriptions resonated with me, and I immediately knew I would love to write a song based on the ideas she shared.  A few months later in the Spring of 2017, I was asked to speak at a Women’s Conference, but I had to turn down the opportunity knowing I was going to be out of town that weekend.  After thinking about the topic I had been asked to speak on, I realized it was the same idea presented in this story.

Suddenly I had a (crazy) thought that if I wrote and recorded this song, I could still share the message at the Women’s Conference without being there.  The deadline was less than two months away (and I didn’t really know anything about recording!) so I had to get cooking.  It was a joy working on this piece, and even more delightful when I presented the finished product to Jill.  Enjoy!  (For convenience, I posted the entire article below; but the original article can be found here: https://www.lds.org/blog/seeing-green?lang=eng.)

Four years ago I lost my 21-month-old daughter, Penny, in a tragic accident. The cliché is that the death of a loved one puts your faith to the test. While this might be technically true, the actual experience is far more devastating than this little catchphrase lets on.

In the weeks and months that followed my daughter’s death, I desperately sought for some kind of real, tangible connection with her. But her death had wrecked me. And I felt nothing.

I believed that the Sunday School answers to read my scriptures, say my prayers, and go to church were inspired and true. But I was earnestly doing those things, yet felt nothing. I didn’t know how to be inspired or guided anymore. I was lost.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this, my husband was also searching. He was looking for greater understanding, deeper knowledge, deeper connection, and deeper meaning to life. His searching had led him to question his faith.

So my situation was this: I had lost my daughter, and I believed the only way I could have her again was to fiercely live the gospel. But my husband was blocking our eternal progression by seeking answers outside of our church. I had lost my daughter. I was losing my husband. And according to my belief system, I was losing my eternal family. Where do you go from here?

My whole life I had found “formulas” to live by. There was a formula in my youth, to stay on the right path and to earn my parents’ trust. There was a formula as a young adult, to get married in the LDS temple and have a family. When I decided to be a film photographer in a very dense, digital age I found a formula that helped me become successful at my craft.

But now, with the death of my daughter, I found myself in a situation where the formula wasn’t right in front of me. I earnestly searched and prayed and eventually found a new formula that I discovered through the lens of photography. To understand it fully, bear with me as I share this story.

Imagine that we have a master and his intention is to create masters of green. Now imagine that up to this point we have never experienced color. So he could plant us into a world of green and it would be great. Except if the whole world is green, nothing is green.

The next option for the master would be to just tell us it’s green. Except this is how we teach our preschool students; we point and say, “This is green.” The master would be teaching us, but on a very basic level. This isn’t good enough for us. So what would the master do?

I propose he’d introduce distinction. He might plant us in a world of blue, but then he would take us out of the world of blue and plant us in a world of yellow. In doing so, there would be one group of people who would love yellow. They might even say, “Who needs blue anymore?”

But another group of people might hate yellow. They might say, “I hate these new ideas and these new perspectives. I just want to get back to what’s familiar. Get me out of here. Take me back to blue.”

Then you would have a third group of people. And this group is interesting because they wouldn’t abandon blue and they wouldn’t abandon yellow. They’d see that the master gave them both blue and yellow. In that moment they would have an awakening and they would see green.

This is called a paradox—two ideas or concepts that are both true but in general can’t be true at the same time. Now, I realize by definition blue and yellow are not paradoxical, but they are on opposite sides of the color wheel, one warm and one cool. And they’re helpful in explaining how you can have two contradictory ideas or concepts that can lead to a transcendent concept that eliminates the apparent contradiction.

It’s what I call “seeing green,” and I believe it’s where the highest truth lies. It’s how we learn to see things as the Master intended. And we can only do so through opposition in all things. Let me share how blue and yellow were manifested in my life.

seeing-green-web2When I got married, I lived in a world of blue. I had a great family and I was doing what I loved in film photography. Life was good.

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But the day my daughter Penny died, I was abruptly yanked out of my world of blue and thrown into a world of yellow. I hated yellow. It was full of grief and pain and suffering. My daughter wasn’t there. It was full of new ideas and new questions, like “What does it really mean to be a forever family?”

All I wanted was to go back to blue—to be happy again. So I tried. I tried to go back to my everyday life. But as I tried, I discovered that blue no longer felt blue any more. Things that used to excite me about life didn’t anymore. I knew the distinction between blue and yellow.

My world was just going to be yellow now. And since I didn’t feel like I was finding the answers I was looking for, I thought, “If I can just endure yellow, one day I’ll die and then answers will come.” But this didn’t resonate with me either.

So I started to create a space within myself where blue and yellow could exist together inside of me. At first this was very uncomfortable. But then something amazing happened. I realized the Master gave me blue and yellow because He wanted me to experience something more. He wanted me to see green. And I did. Through opposition in all things, I had direct experiences that brought me closer to God.

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So where am I now in this journey we call life? I found more than the apparent split of happiness and its opposite. Down this path I found green. I found God. And I found my daughter. They were in green the whole time.

Click here to hear the recording! Master of Colors

Music

Sunset: The Story

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About two weeks ago, I said goodbye to a wonderful friend.  His name is Norm.  I hadn’t known him very long.  In fact, I got to know him the best in his last few weeks of life.  My heart still fills with joy when I reflect on the time I was blessed to spend with him.  Perhaps you can glimpse the sweetness of that time as I tell you the story; so pull up a chair and get comfy.  Since I wrote out the whole story in my journal, I’ll share with you parts of my journal entry about this experience.

(Written 9/2/18 with an addendum a few days later)

Well I can’t sleep so I might as well write. 🙂  My heart is full to overflowing tonight.

Norm and Cathy have been our friends for some time, as have Mike and Marlene.  Norm has been in and out of the hospital for the past year and has not been in good health the entire time.  On Sunday we found out Norm was in the hospital, and Jon (my sweetheart) suggested that our family go visit him. So we headed up there on a walk.  When we arrived at his room, we saw that his wife, Cathy, was there as well as Marlene and Mike (good friends of Norm and Cathy).  As we were visiting, Mike mentioned off-hand that Norm had written a bunch of poems when he was in his 30’s and 40’s that were quite good.

I am always looking for words to set to music, so I started asking questions about these poems: Did they rhyme?  What were they about? Could I look at a copy?  Have you ever thought about having one of them set to music? Norm was looking a little down when we came in but at the thought of his poem being set to music, he perked right up. “I need to talk to you!” he said.  It was a sweet conversation and I knew I needed to get my hands on those poems. Marlene dropped off her copy (a bound book of his poetry) that evening, not an hour after we left the hospital.

As I looked through the poems, I flagged several that I thought had potential for becoming songs (my favorite being one called “Sunset”).  By the time I had finished looking through the book, I knew this was a project I wanted to take on.  Before getting started, I thought it would be neat to ask Norm about his favorites.  So I ran up to the hospital on Tuesday to chat with him.  Mike, Marlene and Cathy were all there as well, and we spent a good hour going through the book.  Mike read several of the poems to all of us, Norm made some comments about various experiences, we laughed at some of Norm’s light-hearted poetry, and they all pointed out their favorites. I left with Norm’s blessing to choose one and get started on the music. 

Before I left the hospital, I knew that I would write two songs- “Penny in my Pocket”, and “Sunset”.  There was something almost musical about those two poems; they both had a “ring” to them.  I knew logically I would be able to put them to music without too much difficulty, but more than that, I knew this wasn’t all happening by coincidence- the timing and situation was just too perfect and felt so right.  Because He loved Norm, Heavenly Father had sent me to fulfill a long-awaited desire of his heart.  I was honored to be the messenger, and I couldn’t wait to get started.  

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Interestingly enough, when I had left home for the hospital that morning I had the thought that maybe I should write the music in his presence- wouldn’t that be special?  I thought it might be a welcome distraction while he felt so lousy.  I knew there would be some challenges to writing it somewhere other than my home: I would have to get my hands on a portable keyboard, get permission to bring it to the hospital, and I’d have to haul it around.  Still, I felt compelled to pursue the possibility in case that opportunity was presented.  I checked with the nurses and found that they were enthusiastic about the idea of bringing a keyboard into the hospital, so that was no problem.  And I found a keyboard that a friend was not using after making one phonecall.  I picked it up that evening.  

Well, now I had a keyboard, but I didn’t know if Norm was headed home or not.  Each day included many doctor visits and tests to see where he was at medically.  It was challenging to know how persistent to be about the idea of bringing a keyboard up to the hospital.  Knowing it would delight Norm, I tried contacting Cathy on Wednesday to see when would be most convenient.  With so many unknowns it was impossible at that point to set a day and time, but I told Cathy I was available Friday and I would check in with them then.

Friday morning I tried getting a hold of Cathy and couldn’t.  I didn’t want to be pushy, but I kept feeling like that day was the day to do it.  I was antsy as I gathered my music-writing necessities together, and I eventually decided that i’d try to head up to the hospital about 1:00 and just feel out the situation.  I’d have my keyboard in the car so that if the opportunity came, I could take it. Jon’s parents were in town and had decided to take the kids out at 1:00 to go play tennis.  So when they left for the tennis courts, I left for the hospital.  I had a prayer in my heart the whole way, hoping and praying that I’d be sensitive to Heavenly guidance moment by moment since I really wasn’t sure what this would look like.

As I walked through the upstairs hallway, I met Cathy, almost at the elevator.  She was surprised to see me there and after a hug, shared that they had been given the news shortly before that Norm would not be leaving the hospital.  They would keep him there until he passed, which would likely be just a few days. She asked, “Could you bring your keyboard up to his room and help take his mind off of it?!”  Oh what a blessing! 

I stopped in to visit with Norm for a few minutes before grabbing my keyboard while Cathy ran a quick errand.  I remember him saying “I don’t have much time left.”  “I know,” I replied.  “I just saw Cathy in the hallway and she told me the news.  How do you feel about that?”  “Well,” he said, “I guess everyone has to go some time.”  I told him that I wanted to collaborate with him on “Penny in my Pocket” in his hospital room, but first I needed to read him my revised version to get his approval (I had done minor edits so the rhythm of each verse was the same).  He was enthusiastic about the revisions and was thrilled at the idea of me writing in his hospital room.  I ran out to the car and brought the keyboard in to get started.  Norm was (obviously) feeling pretty sick, but it was not hard to see that the idea of me playing music in his room cheered him up some. 

Part of the reason for picking “Penny in my Pocket” was that I had the sense that a sad emotional song wouldn’t be the thing for that day; he needed something light and cheerful to listen to.  I loved the spunk of his own words in that poem, and knew it would provide good atmosphere.  I worked on “Penny in my Pocket” as Cathy answered questions from the nurses and Norm dozed on and off. It was just the three of us and the occasional nurse for much of the afternoon. When Norm would wake up, he would ask where I was at with the music, and I had many chances to share.  The rest of the time I was providing background music: music therapy.

After 4 hours of joyful work, I had pretty much finished the sheet music for “Penny in my Pocket”.  I was amazed how quickly the process had gone.  It felt as if the music had flowed through me instead of coming from me.  I felt that there was no explanation except that I had received Heavenly help, and I was so thankful for it!  

On Saturday, I arrived at the hospital around 1:00. This time there was a lot of family there when I got there, and I was worried my presence would add chaos instead of calm.  Though I wanted to be sensitive to the family’s time, I knew Norm would enjoy hearing the finished product.  I was given the opportunity to sing “Penny in my Pocket” to him (using my music-writing computer program to accompany me) which was a joyful experience.  He was so peaceful as he listened with a little smile on his face. I’ll always remember that.

Then I tucked myself into a corner and started working on song #2 called “Sunset”.  The family gradually trickled out and soon there were only a few of us in the room again.  It was interesting because the tone of “Sunset” is very, very different than “Penny in my Pocket”. This one is tender and emotional.  It’s a “goodbye to life” song- one that could easily be used at a funeral, though it doesn’t specifically say anything about dying.  

Working on this piece was a very different experience.  Once again the music really flowed, but I found it was challenging to know how long to stay.  Norm needed rest, but every time I suggested that I leave, Norm would say something like “No- don’t go anywhere”.  It made me smile.  So I stayed a little longer. I felt that the words provided him with the opportunity to process what would be coming next: “Across the blue horizon where the mountains meet the sky……soon the creeping shadows will engulf the fading light.”  The music was soothing and overwhelmingly beautiful even to me. 

I joked that my Grandfather who passed away in June (an extremely talented composer) must have been sitting on those yoga blocks with me (I sat on yoga blocks to prop me up to be able to reach the keyboard better) because this music I was writing was beyond my capacity; though I said it in a light-hearted way, I really did believe I was getting angelic help…and if Heavenly Father was going to send an angel to help me in this circumstance, I knew it would be him for sure! 

IMG954047 (1)On this day especially, I felt I was performing a sacred service; I was there on a divine errand to fill this man with love and peace from his Father in Heaven as he got ready to transition from this life to the next.  I have always known Heavenly Father would be near in times that are difficult, but watching Him orchestrate a virtual symphony for one man made me recognize in a new way how much my Heavenly Father loves me, and how involved he is in my life, whether I recognize it or not. 

After 2 ½ hours, I had finished much of the song but had not put much down on the sheet music. I felt it was more important to spend the time playing this time, so I did.  I had everything pretty well nailed down- the melody, the chord structure- I just was needing to figure out the ending. I had some ideas, such as perhaps ending with a neat chord progression that really symbolized a new day had begun…but I wasn’t sure.  I left feeling that if I wanted to share this piece with Norm, I needed to be done by Sunday afternoon (about 24 hours away). So I got cooking.  

The experience of discovering the ending to “Sunset” was a special experience I won’t elaborate on here, but I miraculously finished the sheet music by 2:00 Sunday afternoon.  Record time, by any stretch of the imagination, once again. I knew that this song was a gift- the music flowed through me as it had the day before.  Perhaps I had previously underestimated how much of music writing is always a gift.  Perhaps that one shift mentally would allow the music to flow more than ever before as I let go of the control for future music writing endeavors.  My Uncle (David Gates) spoke at my grandfather’s funeral in June and I reflected on his comments as I wrote “Sunset”:

“I had known that my Dad had taught piano, music theory, conducting,
orchestration, and opera, and perhaps a dozen other musically related classes over
the years, but I only learned a few years ago that he had never taught composition,
when that was his greatest singular gift. I asked him about that. He replied that he
never taught it because he didn’t understand it. He did know how it worked. And
so he couldn’t really teach it to anyone else. He viewed it as a fundamentally
spiritual gift and sought to magnify it as much as possible. He viewed it as a kind
of worship. A way to express his gratitude and he constantly acknowledged its
source.”

That evening (Sunday) I went up to the hospital to sing for Norm and Cathy this beautiful gift, “Sunset”.  It was a tender experience.  I saw Norm one other time after that, on Wednesday afternoon.  I had the chance to sing “Sunset” to him again, and share my witness of life beyond death.  My tears flowed freely and I said my last goodbye.  I was honored to sing “Sunset” at Norm’s funeral the next week.  As my accompaniest played the interlude between verses, I smiled as I pictured him sitting nearby, listening.

I hope you enjoy Sunset!

(Recording of “Penny in my Pocket” is coming soon!)

Music

The Load: The Story

cold-colors-forest-688660Hello all!  Today I am excited to share a piece that was a collaborative effort, completed in 2017.  I wrote this summary when we completed the project last year:

This is my second collaboration with the very talented Shaillé Claypool!  We are excited to have put the final touches on this piece and send it out into the the world.  

This song originates from a talk given by Elder David A Bednar called “Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/bear-up-their-burdens-with-ease?lang=eng).  This talk had a lasting impression on me when it was given, but had particular significance to me during an anniversary trip that Jon and I took this year in February.  Jon had been called as Bishop (for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) six months earlier and was exhausted; this trip provided a much-needed get-away from the demands that he faced. We ended up reading this talk together on the Sunday before returning home, and it provided a great deal of comfort.  We needed the reminder that the heavy load we were carrying was not only needed for those we were serving but needed for US to move forward. “It was the load”. The heavy load was what enabled the husband in Elder Bednar’s story to return home.

When I returned home from the trip, I mentioned the talk and our experience to Shaillé and she wrote back stating that the idea to write a song about that talk was already in her computer file.  That was the beginning of “The Load”. The first versions were entitled “Burdens” and we subsequently changed the title to “The Load”. Shaillé wrote verses 2 and 3, and then later came up with lyrics for verse 1 which I feel adds a great deal to the entire piece.  

One interesting tidbit about the writing process is that I originally suggested that we end one of the verses by saying that our burdens will be light, instead of what Shaillé had drafted.  She wrote back saying that she didn’t want that to be the focal point- because she felt that real life has shown her that it doesn’t always feel like our burdens are light when Heavenly Father helps us.  Instead she suggested that we put the focus on greater understanding from Heavenly Father that the load is essential, and helps us return home. Yes, Heavenly Father will help us and lift our burdens, “but if not” or at least if it doesn’t feel like the burdens are lighter right now, know that the load is bringing you to Him, and bringing you home.  Ask him to help you and He will lead you home. That is the message of this piece. We hope you enjoy “The Load”!

The Load

Completed 10/27/17 by Shaillé Claypool and Laura Harper; see claypoolmusic.org for more of Shaillé Claypool’s music!)

Music

Come Home: The Story

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Here I am with Grandma Celesta outside her home in Farmington, April 2016.

For me, the New Year (2015) came in with struggle and by mid-January I was feeling so weighed down I wasn’t sure how long I could keep going with the current circumstances and keep my sanity in tact!  Thankfully it wasn’t debilitating to the point of being unable to function as a mom and wife (so many people have had it worse than me for sure!), but I had never experienced an experience period of feeling stressed and dark as I did during that time.

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At a soccer game with Grandma Celesta and Grandpa John (they make great cheerleaders!)

One day, out of the blue, Grandma Celesta called.  She felt compelled to invite me to stay overnight in Farmington so she and Grandpa John could pamper me and provide me with a much-needed break.  I took her up on it.  The 24 hours I spent with them in Farmington was blissful.  It was quiet.  I relaxed by the fire and read.  I enjoyed homemade soup and bread with Grandma and Grandpa for dinner.

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Grandpa loves horses and is passing it on to the next generation.

As we ate, Grandpa told stories about his parents, and growing up, and the farm.  After we finished eating, Grandma wouldn’t let me touch the dishes.  Instead, I sat in the rocking chair by the fire and visited with her as she washed the dishes.  That night I stayed in the blue “Texas” bedroom and looked out the windows at the bright country stars.  The next morning, I wasn’t sure that I could re-enter “reality” and shoulder my load again, as much as I loved being a mom to my three little guys.  But duty called, and I went home, a little more rested than before.

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This was taken in 2008 when Grandma Celesta and Grandpa John came to visit us at our home in Texas (my oldest son was just taking his first steps!).

Later that spring, I had the chance to fly to Utah and join my in-laws for a women’s conference.  At the end of the trip, I visited another home- this one was “The House of the Lord”- the Mount Timpanogos Temple in American Fork, Utah.

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Mount Timpanogos Temple (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)

I have felt Heavenly Father’s love and peace many times in my life.  But that night I felt His love so powerfully in the temple, it was as if I had never felt His love before.  My heart was filled with light, peace and wholeness, and though I did not see Him, I knew my Father in Heaven was near.  At the end of my visit to the temple I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the place where I felt so peaceful and whole after months of struggle.  As if in answer to my reluctance, I had a clear thought that later became the chorus of “Come Home”.  I am a witness that the temple- the House of the Lord- is a singular place in a challenging and confusing world where we can receive the most clarity, peace, light, and direction available in this life.  And so- “Come Home, to the House of the Lord!”  (What is a temple?  Visit https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/temples).

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Grandma Celesta and my youngest son are getting to know each other.

Soon after returning home from Utah, I was struck by how similarly I felt in my grandparents’ home and the temple: in both places I was overwhelmed with love.  I was invited to “Come Home” any time I needed relief, peace, comfort, and quiet.  And for a few hours each time, I set down my motherhood responsibilities and was cared for as a child.

This song is dedicated to my Grandma Celesta and Grandpa John, and their special Farmington farm that has been a “home” for so many over the years.

Come Home

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Grandma, Grandpa and the greats 🙂
Music

Emerge: The Story

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(Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash)

Mmm- I just love this photo.  It visually describes everything about my newly posted piece, Emerge.

Right now my life seems pretty easy.  Rewind a few years and my life was much different:  it was a time when I had 3 adorable little people that needed a lot of me (physically and otherwise), I was dealing with major health issues, I was tired all the time, and I was also dealing with pretty intense anxiety on a daily basis (partially because I had a child who was struggling).  It wasn’t that my life was horrible- I love being a mom, my husband is an amazing support, and I still say that we soaked up as much joy from that stage as possible; but compared to everything else I’d experienced in life, this was by far the hardest and lasted the longest.

I joked during that time that I felt like I was 30 going on 50 (maybe I’ll change my tune when I experience 50!) and I wondered if I would ever feel back to “normal”- whatever that meant.  The anxiety was particularly troubling to me- it felt as though my thoughts and emotions were often so much heavier and darker than I wanted them to be, but at the time I really didn’t know how to do change that.  I longed for more peace which had seemed much more accessible before.

I prayed to be rescued from the dense fog I found myself stuck in.  Though Heavenly Father didn’t send immediate all-in-one solutions like I wanted Him to, He did send help- gradually.  He sent bite-sized pieces so not only could I be cured, but I could grow through the process of healing.  I look back and see how he placed people, books, and other things in my path so that a step at a time, I learned how to deal with the anxiety in constructive ways.  I also had moments of feeling overwhelming love, peace or contentment; a sense that Heavenly Father was aware of my needs, and would continue to guide and help me.  The kids grew and became a little more independent and my health improved over several months (partly because the baby started sleeping through the night-hallelujah!)- I held on to faith and hope before, but now I could actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It was during this time that I began to experiment with writing music-not as a creative outlet, but as an emotional outlet.  I started playing around on the piano, attempting to express the way I felt through the music.  What could I “say”?  This was the result of that exploration.  Hind-sight is a funny thing: though I’d never sign up for a repeat course through the fog, I also wouldn’t trade what I learned from it for anything.  So without any more words, here is “Emerge”!

Emerge