Stories from both Charlie and Karen
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Our lives continue to be a mix of change and sameness. We're happy to be releasing a new CD, The Distance Remaining.
We attended the US Social Forum in Detroit in June. We continue to accompany The Journey of Hope from Violence to Healing to end the death penalty, and to travel to the gates of Fort Benning, GA each November to close the School of the Americas. We have been thoroughly enjoying having a home of our own where we can host guests and grow vegetables. Charlie traveled to Ireland to lead a musical tour for our good friend Anne Feeney after she became ill, and Karen traveled to Mexico to do Spanish interpreting at an international conference about dams. We also continue to accompany friends dealing with health challenges, and are grateful that we have the time and good health to do so.
Here are some highlights from our musical lives.
We spent a solid month in the recording studio and are proud of the outcome. We were blessed by the presence of guest vocalist Reggie Harris, and stellar jazz pianist Miro Sprague, as well as other musicians. You can order our new CD here.
The Journey of Hope from Violence to Healing is made up of murder victim family members, people who have been exonerated from death row, and people who have loved ones on death row. It's one of the most inspiring groups we travel with. In October of 2010 we returned to Texas, the state responsible for one third of our country's executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
We look forward to the day when the United States joins the other 137 countries that have abolished the death penalty.
We brought our varied skills to the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in June of 2010.
Charlie was the troubadour of the alternative seminary program, Word and World, while Karen served as Spanish/English interpreter for some of the 1000 workshops offered during that week. Karen also co-led a workshop called "Caring for Ourselves and the World" with Sarah Weintraub, the new director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Charlie sang for the march and rally at Chase Bank, supporting farm workers and opposing foreclosures,
where he was marching side by side with Bob King, newly elected president of the United Auto Workers International Union.
They've often marched together before to close the School of the America's in Columbus, GA, and it is a great sign of hope that this champion of justice has been elected by members of one of the strongest activist unions in the country. Go Bob!
We've been getting to do our musical/historical performance pieces in more schools. Ted Warmbrand in Tucson has done a great job booking these workshops in AZ in high schools
and even elementary schools.
We would love to bring these performances to a school near you. Drop us a line.
We began 2010 by doing our annual "Duopalooza" concerts with Kim and Reggie Harris.
Charlie traveled to Philadelphia at the invitation of theologian and author Ched Myers, to act as an "elder" at a gathering of mostly young people devoted to living more in harmony with the earth and addressing issues of economic and racial inequality.
Charlie won an award from the International Labor Communications Association (AFL-CIO) for an article he wrote about music in labor history for Allegro magazine of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The honor was shared with fellow musician Anne Feeney.
Anne contacted Charlie when she became ill this summer and asked him to take her pace leading a musical tour of Ireland that she had set up. Charlie gladly obliged and 5 days after that call he was flying off to the land of his ancestors.
With fellow touristas he got to hear some great music and to share some of the hundreds of Irish songs he has in his repertoire.
Karen has been getting together with several other women, exploring a cappella harmony singing and healing songs, so there may be a different kind of performance or two in her future!
We finished the year performing with three of our favorites. Reggie Harris organized with us a four performance tourlette,
singing in Philadelphia, Washington DC and also Bethlehem PA with partner Kim Harris. Rick Burkhardt,
one half of the duo Prince Myshkins and a remarkable songwriter and theatrical performer in his own right, joined us for our annual Peoples Voice Cafe concert in NYC. Then Sue Kranz, who added so much in the studio on our new CD, became our magical mystery guest at the annual Haley House concert in Boston.
Charlie has been playing these two venues for over 30 years without a break in service.
We'll be doing tours of the Southwest and Midwest in February and March, so please check our touring schedule to find out where we'll be, join us, and tell your friends.
People keep asking me "Didn't you retire?" Well, sorta. The truth is, living off retirement income from my musicians' union pension and social security allows me to settle into a comfortable routine of doing the work I want to do without worrying about how to pay the bills. I get to pick and choose the gigs that have been best attended and most enjoyable over the past 32 years of active touring, and the ones that are easy to book. Nice work if you can get it. More and more Karen and I are working for causes we believe in rather than venues that can pay us. It means working more locally, something we've always wanted but could rarely get hired to do. And as any retiree will tell you, I've never been so busy!
One of the things that keeps us traveling is the chance to see the friends we've made all over the country (or hemisphere, in Karen's case). So a regular rhythm to the year is visiting Ted & Jacky (and now Izeah!) in AZ;
Dennis, Rosella, Thomas & Tenzie
as well as Ched & Elaine
on our now biennial CA tour; or Kathleen & Matt who have welcomed us and numerous stray musicians into their GA home on the annual SOA Watch journey.
And speaking of the SOA Watch annual demo, the thing that draws me back year after year (12 & counting) is the remarkable way this determined movement to end the training of assassins and torturers at the US Army's Fort Benning school has integrated culture (especially music) at every level of their organizing strategy. Being a singer at an SOA Watch event is to be exhaustively exploited and wonderfully affirmed. It's a rare opportunity to share the stage with a wide diversity of performers
And a wonderful chance to reunite with old friends
This year we made some new friends when we stumbled into a party on the balcony outside our motel room. Mexican workers, housed 4 to a room, are brought to Fort Benning as guest workers by private contractors. The army pays the contractor who deducts his estimate of "expenses" and pays them a small fraction of what he collects while the Army looks the other way. It was wonderful to watch and listen as Colleen Kattau, Karen & Elise Witt serenaded these men for over an hour,
singing songs of Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and more as our "guest workers" sang along.
The trip to Ireland was a total windfall gratefully received from Anne Feeney when she was unable to take the trip herself. Not only did Anne gift me with the trip, she friended me with a gang of new friends, activists all and fans of Anne
who graciously accepted me as a poor substitute for Anne in the flesh. It was a joy to travel intensively through the southwest of Ireland, to learn much more about the history that brought my ancestors to America and to revel in that wonderful tradition of music that has so informed my own songwriting. Thank you Anne, thank you Ireland.
On the at-home front, I continue to do a lot of reading. My contacts over the years with Ched Myers and the Word & World gatherings have deepened my interest in biblical studies (a primary focus in my college days, nurtured by my on-going links to the Catholic Worker movement). I've been getting together regularly with local friends Bob Rottenberg and Pam Porter to read and discuss scripture studies and I pursue quite a bit on my own. Recent research on the history and archeology of first century Palestine and the Jewish resistance to Empire reflected in the writings of that time and place are good models of analysis and action for resistance to Empire here in the belly of the beast. I spent a week at the Maryknoll Institute with theologian and Capuchin priest Michael Crosby studying economic justice and the gospels. I've been encouraged further by groups like Spiritus Christi parish in Rochester NY and the Progressive Catholic Coalition, who invite Karen & me each year at the SOA Watch weekend to sing at their liturgies celebrated by a women priest, Janice Sevre-Duszynska.
Spurred on by courage of SOA watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois, shown here blessing Janice at her ordination, I've been speaking out and acting up more against patriarchal domination within the Roman Catholic church. As a lifelong catholic I see this as an issue of fundamental justice and institutional survival, to reform a shrinking and rapidly deteriorating celibate male hierarchy.
And oh, yes. Although we lack a television, I discovered I can find live streaming Boston Celtics games on my trusty laptop. Uh oh.
Family news includes daughter Nell completing her Masters in Art Therapy and landing a demanding but rewarding job working with dually diagnosed clients with mental illness and substance abuse. And down in Brooklyn son Jamie and his partner Jessica are expecting the arrival of their first child in April, the grandchild I've been hoping for for quite a while. You may expect pictures.
The year 2009 ended by bringing me into another period of mourning. My beloved close friend, Genie Zeiger
passed away on December 24 after dealing with cancer. I was closely involved in her care and support, and will miss her important presence in my own life and the life of this community. Genie was a talented writer and writing teacher and you can find her poems and memoirs on line and in the archives of the Sun Magazine.
I still revel in the role of "homemaker,"
shoveling snow, painting walls, mowing the lawn, hosting gatherings
and planting a wildly successful first vegetable garden.
It's been fun to becoming a homeowner at this stage of life, as many of my friends who have been doing this for years are more than eager to part with furniture stored in their attics and garages, so there's little we've needed to buy. Last fall we installed a sweet woodstove that takes care of heating half the house, and since the previous owners left us several cords of seasoned wood, we've both become proficient at the art of woodstove maintenance.
Spurred by an interview with Tim Wise in the Sun Magazine, I was reminded of how important it is for me to explore and address issues of white privilege and racism. I formed a local study group that met for seven weeks, each week reading and discussing a chapter in Tim's book, White Like Me. It can be challenging to figure out how to address racism when living in such a predominantly white town, and I'm still sorting that out.
After talking about it for years, I finally joined a gym in order to get resistance training to keep my bones happy. I'm not sure if it's something to celebrate or not, but I ordered my first "senior meal" at a restaurant that starts that privilege at age 55.
Having missed a year due to my mom's passing, I went back to Florida's death row to visit Omar Blanco for the fourth time and will be going again in January 2011.
We've been corresponding for about 7 years now, and he has been on death row for 29 years. Remarkable. I'm heartened by the decreasing use of capital punishment and the increasing number of cases of exoneration of people in prison through DNA.
In September of 2009 as the Jewish High Holidays approached, I did some honest soul searching and acknowledged that Judaism is my cultural home but not my spiritual one. I am more and more drawn to Buddhism. In the past year I've participated in a 12 week study group based on the Zen precepts (Buddhist guidelines for ethical behavior), attended a weekend workshop offered by inspiring Buddhist elder Joanna Macy, and helped to coordinate volunteers during a weeklong symposium on Socially Engaged Buddhism that took place 40 minutes from my home. I'm involved in an effort to revive a local chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, where I have found a group of social justice activists who practice Buddhism with whom I will meet regularly to explore the intersection of these aspects of our lives.
In October of 2010, I spent 10 days in rural Mexico being a Spanish interpreter at a conference. It was my first time in a Spanish speaking country since my 2000 trip to Cuba. I loved being in a place that felt familiar, even though I'd never been there. Over 300 people from 60 countries gathered to discuss the negative impacts of dam construction in their communities.
Inspired by my experience with the interpreters' team at the U.S. Social Forum, I connected with another interpreter with whom I'm forming a local social justice interpreters' collective to serve Western MA political and social service organizations. We have over a dozen people interested and access to interpreting equipment for up to 200! It's exciting to be part of this effort, and to explore the political aspects of language access, equality and empowerment, in addition to providing a service.
Finally, I got to attend a reunion of my 6th grade class from Pennypacker Elementary school in Philadelphia, getting together with people I hadn't seen for 45 years. It was fun to match up the photos with the people, and to see the man who gave me my big push in performing, Mr. Ronald Schultz, who directed "The Wizard of Oz" with me as the scarecrow. He went on to bigger and better things, starring as the Hebrew school teacher in the Coen brothers' film, "A Serious Man."
So long! Stay warm!
Posted: to General News on Sat, Nov 27, 2010
Updated: Wed, Oct 3, 2012
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