Notes from Jan

Keep Counting

June 22, 2020

Music matters.  Almost every day, my brother forwards links to YouTube music.   Sometimes it’s hand-clapping-foot-stomping songs, other times orchestral, soul-soothers, or amazing skyped-together pieces. This morning Dan sent the Salvation Army Songsters singing, Count Your Blessings.   Actually, that’s a good practice. As for me,  it  beats succumbing to  fear, or tabulating what’s  missing.

For instance, when I was growing up, we didn’t have much, but we  had a piano. Taking piano lessons wasn’t put to  a vote. We took them.   And as for practicing, we did!  Often Mama sat beside me,  pounding out the beats like a human metronome. I never thought to count that as a blessing. Most nights, we gathered around the piano and sang in two or three part harmony. Music took us to better places, fed faith and hope, poured joy  into empty places. Music brought us together. And it still does in this world of pandemics and just protests,  whether singing to cheer,  marching to bring about change, attending a memorial service or participating in a virtual church service.

Like I said, music matters.  But why? A few years ago I came across this poem and shared it with some of you. Today I hope it comes as a thoughtful blessing. Keep counting.

MUSIC by Anne Porter from Living Things: Collected Poems

When I was a child

I once sat sobbing on the floor

Beside my mother’s piano

As she played and sang

For there was in her singing

A shy yet solemn glory

My smallness could not hold


And when I was asked

Why I was crying

I had no words for it

I only shook my head

And went on crying


Why is it that music

At its most beautiful

Opens a wound in us

An ache a desolation

Deep as a homesickness

For some far-off

And half-forgotten country


I’ve never understood

Why this is so


But there’s an ancient legend

From the other side of the world

That gives away the secret

Of this mysterious sorrow


For centuries on centuries

We have been wandering

But we were made for Paradise

As deer for the forest


And when music comes to us

With its heavenly beauty

It brings us desolation

For when we  hear it

We half remember

That lost native country


We dimly remember the fields

Their fragrant windswept clover

The birdsongs in the orchard

The wild white violets in the moss

By the transparent streams


And shining at the heart of it

Is the longed-for beauty

Of the One who waits for us

Who will always wait for us

In those radiant meadows


Yet also came to live with us

And wanders where we wander.








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  • Reply Dan Russ June 22, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    Jan, Mucho gracias for the poem and your reflections. It reminded me of a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel the Bluest Eye. The young narrative Claudia laments over her mother’s anger from all who have wronged her in this world, but…” when she looks back to when she was a young girl who hated those days when her bitter and angry mother could stand at the kitchen sink in a tirade all day, enraged at everyone from her no-account children to President Roosevelt. But, Claudia recalls:

    If my mother was in a singing mood, it wasn’t so bad. She would sing about hard times, bad times, and somebody-done-gone-and-left-me times. But her voice was so sweet and her singing eyes so melty I found myself longing for those hard times, yearning to be grown without “a thin di-i-ime to my name.” … Misery colored by the greens and blues in my mother’s voice took all of the grief out of the words and left me with a conviction that pain was not only endurable, it was sweet” (25-26).

  • Reply Jan Carlberg June 22, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    Beautiful, tender prose, Dan. Thank you for sharing these words. They sing into my soul. Now,I must add this novel to my to-be-read-list. Peace blessings to you in Colorado.

  • Reply Dale June 22, 2020 at 7:46 pm

    Believe it or NOT, I used to sing to our middle child, Doug, who did not sleep through the night for over two years – no hyperbole included. I still remember the words, but what I remember most was the love I felt as I sang and looked at this young child. Of course, later I learned he went to sleep to avoid my song. No matter; it was a sweet time.

    Blessings, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg June 22, 2020 at 9:23 pm

      You’re a good dad, and a faithful friend, Dale. I’ll include you in my blessing count tonight.

  • Reply Rhonda Gibson June 23, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    I enjoy reading your notes, Jan. This came to my inbox around the same time as your post today. A beautiful rendition of “Life Every Voice and Sing” from a Baylor University student: Music does encourage, inspire and challenge us. Thanks for your good words.

  • Reply Evelyn Morgan June 23, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    You struck a chord with me on this one. U-Tube puts me to sleep each night with the wonderful, melodious quartets and choirs singing the inspiring old hymns that speak to my heart. I respond to music more than anything else this world has to offer, which isn’t much. Keep singing!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg June 24, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks, Evie. You can sing! I remember that well. May music continue to speak to places that need comfort, hope and a healthy dose of joy.

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