Tag Archives: Music and Memory

COAT OF MANY COLORS

What does “CAN YOU SEE WHAT I HEAR” mean? While exploring the connection of music and memory (as you never lose your music memory). All of the art I create is inspired by a particular piece of music. As I spend time listening to the music and researching the song,  I ago one step further, l learn to play them on the piano. So, basically this series is the visual part of what I actually hear. But, to go further into this, I have picked eight songs that I would take with me to a deserted island which is inspired by a podcast I have been listening to while walking. I explored this a previous blog – HOW A WALK AND PODCAST MOVED ME TO GET PERSONAL WITH MY ART.

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain!” Dolly Parton

 Who doesn’t love Dolly? I began a relationship with her in the late 1970’s, seeing her perform for the first time in 1978 or 1979.  Dolly has written over 5000 songs in her career, and recorded over 1000. And – COAT OF MANY COLORS is Dolly’s personal favorite.  The song tells the story of her mother making a coat for her out of rags. Dolly was proud of it and rushed to school to only be made fun of. (I will post the lyrics at the end of the blog).

Below are three collages 

 

The Love from the Coat of Many Colors, 6×6 collage on 10×10 board ©vickiemartin 2021

Patchwork Coat, 6×6 collage using hand dyed paper (on 10×10 board ©vickiemartin 2021

Coat of Many Colors

Coat of Many Colors, collage, 6×6 on 10×10 background, ©vickiemartin2021

One of the reasons these collages became so personal to me is the dress patterns used are from actual coat patterns from my childhood that my mother made for me – sort of paralleling the story Dolly tells. The thread and the buttons that appear were also in my mother’s sewing supplies. See, my mother made all of my clothes while I was growing up.  Also, all the colored paper used in the collages were scraps of paper I hand dyed.

I also created two paintings. 

COAT OF MANY COLORS, 18×24 mixed media on canvas, ©vickiemartin 2020

I think of this painting as being 60+ individual paintings – I worked on each square individually, sanded them down, added threads and put a very thin wash over the coat to make the material look a little aged.

Coat of Many Colors Grid, 12×12 mixed media on canvas ©vickiemartin 2021

This painting is a study, or a meditation,  of color. Each horizontal row was begun using a “root” color, and I continued by adding a different color to each block in the row. For example, on the top row I began with Napthol Crimson, the next block is adding Titanium White to the crimson, the next is adding Mars Black to crimson. . The fourth block is Napthol Crimson with Turners Yellow. So, the song Coat of Many Colors inspired me to really look at color theory again!

Some fun facts to know about Dolly are:

  • I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU is the highest grossing song written by a woman. It also reached the charts four separate times
  • She wrote JOLENE and I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU at almost the same time
  • ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE named her the 30th Greatest Songwriter
  • She can’t read music
  • Beside playing the acoustic and electric guitar, she also plays the banjo, dulcimer, fiddle, autoharp, piano, saxophone and pan flute. She likes to refer to it as “playing at it”. You think she’d throw in the harmonica or ukulele too!
  • Her philanthropy is legendary – I’m not even going to begin to list them – too numerous to begin.
  • She has never riden the rides at Dollywood.

Next up is a tribute to another idol of mine (no, it isn’t David Bowie if you know me!) but Beethoven.

What songs would you take to a desert island?

Here are the lyrics to the chorus to COAT OF MANY COLORS and two verses:

My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
So with patches on my britches
And holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors
I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing
And making fun of me
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
 
But they didn’t understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me
 
 
What song would you take to a desert island?

 

HOW A WALK AND A PODCAST MOVED ME TO GET PERSONAL WITH MY ART

I have been exploring music and memory with my art for a couple of years with a series titled “CAN YOU SEE WHAT I HEAR?”.  This was initially inspired by my mother’s dementia, but the fact I come from a musical family had a part in this decision.  I know, you hear “my family is musical” a lot. But in my case, it is true. My grandfather was a piano tuner and had a music store. My father rebuilt pianos and my aunt taught piano for over 70 years (she probably taught half of North Georgia how to play the piano!). In fact, I began learning at age five.

Every piece I create is inspired by a specific song and I begin with writing the lyrics of the song on the first layer. I not only study the lyrics but I meditate on them, searching for visual cues within the lyrics.  I also learn to play each song on the piano and really study the structure of the music. But the choice of the songs was a little random. Yes, I took requests. Some songs were chosen simply because I already knew how to play it on the piano. Below you can see some of the songs chosen and the art it inspired – with a line given for why the song was chosen.

 

Inspired by the song Bridge Over Troubled Water

Inspired by the song Bridge Over Troubled Water, which should be the theme song for all caregivers out there.

Moon River

Inspired by Moon River, “this is my favorite song in the world” I was told. Plus – it is a fun song to play.

Inspired by Up UP and Aware

Inspired by Up Up and Away “It is such a positive song!”

While I enjoyed creating these pieces, there was something missing – ME!

When I say I started walking, I mean I started WALKING! Since March 29th, I have walked every day but one (migraine headache). Since the beginning of April, I have achieved my daily goal of 11,000 steps every day but two (again the migraine, and the first day after the time change – I miscalculated nightfall!). If I had walked a straight line going west from Atlanta, I would be looking Denver in my rear-view mirror.

The podcast that fueled these walks is DESERT ISLAND DISCS adapted from a radio show that has aired on the BBC since 1942. Each guest is seemingly whisked to a desert island taking only eight songs, one book (they are given the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare), and one luxury item. The people interviewed range from Margaret Thatcher to Keith Richards to Tom Hanks to public servants in England. The reasons the songs are chosen are very thought provoking and often revealing.   Usually it is not because of they are their favorite songs, but because of a memory associated with the song. For instance, Keith Richards picked  Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Why? He said Vivaldi was the only composer Mozart respected (who I believe he referred to as the North Star), and if he was going to a desert island, he wanted four seasons. Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono picked the same John Lennon song (Beautiful Boy). What is the most requested song? Beethoven’s Ninth – Ode to Joy. What is the most popular song by The Beatles? Something. 

So, it got me to thinking, what songs would I take? This was not an easy decision. In fact, I  have thought about this for months. So I finally sat down and made a list and I am ready to commit to my eight songs. So, for the next 8 weeks I will share one of my “picks” with you, with the history and background of the song, and the process used in creating the art the song inspired. And I am going to “gulp” start recording my version of the songs on the piano.

As for the other choices, my luxury item would be a piano, with a bench filled with music. Actually, the piano is a very popular choice, but so is a machete (you have to build shelter), and an unlimited supply of wine. In fact, one person chose a bathtub with three faucets, one for cold water, one for hot, and one for wine.  The book I would choose? I think I would pick the largest art history book I could find!

A quick note in closing. It has been scientifically proven one NEVER loses their music memory. I have seen people in adult day care that are totally incommunicable sit up straight and belt out all the words of a song they recognize.

What songs would you choose?  and why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JULY 2020 READING

As we all navigate through another month of “stay at home”, my reading is finally getting back to normal. For the past several months, I started more books than I finished. But, in July, I managed to finish 8 books – which is a normal amount for me.

THE ART DEALERS by Laura de Coppet – This book has been on my bookshelf for years, so I finally took it down and read it. Interesting, but a little dated because it was written in 1984. Thirty-two contemporary art dealers talk about their careers, trends in modern art, and their opinions on art history and evaluation. 

NEVER HAVE I EVER by Joshilyn Jackson – I picked this up from a Little Free Library while on a walk and it is written by a fellow Decatur, Ga. resident (who says she moved here because of the Decatur Book Festival, considered the largest independent book festival in the states). This is a psychological thriller, based on the game “never have I ever” that a new resident into the community introduces to the book club. There are some twists, many that involve blackmail. I put this in the “good beach read” category.

ONE PLUS ONE by JoJo Moyes – I have read several books by JoJo Moyes, and they are always fun reads. This is the story of Jess, a cleaner/barmaid struggling to make ends meet and IT Guru Ed, who is involved in a financial scandal. They embark on a road journey to Scotland with Jess’s daughter Tanzie (a math genius), Nicky (a goth,  kind of a stepson that has been bullied) and Norman, the drooling smelly dog. While it is a fun read, it seemed vaguely familiar. When I logged it into Goodreads – I had read it back in 2014!

LUNCH AT THE PICCADILLY by Clyde Edgerton  – Edgerton has a gift for capturing Southern dialogue, and this book gives us the challenges of aging with sympathy, sensitivity, all done with a sense of humor.

ANTI-RACIST BABY by Ibram X. Kendi – I have been very impressed with interviews with Ibram Kendi – so I ordered this  book prior to publication to send to my one year old grand niece – and of course I had to take a peak! I love it!

THE ENGINEER’S WIFE by Tracey Enerson Wood – Historical fiction based on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the role Emily Roebling played in it. When her husband, the chief engineer of the project is injured on the job, she puts her role in the women’s suffrage movement on hold and takes on the project under his guidance. It is interesting, but the introduction of P.T. Barnum as a possible love interest is not based on fact at all. Their paths may have crossed, they were in New York at the same time and P.T. Barnum historically took his circus across the bridge (with all the elephants) to prove the strength of the structure. But, it did succeed in sparking my curiosity to look up these characters.

THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander  – This is the first of two books I read in July where a musical instrument is actually a character.  I was captured by the first paragraph in the book referring to the spruce trees in Romania that would be made into a Bluthner, commonly referred to as one of the big “four” of the piano makers, (the others are Bechstein, Bosendorfer and Steinway). My grandfather sold pianos, and there is a Bosendorfer in my family and I have owned a Steinway. It is the story off Katya, who leaves her beloved Bluthner in Germany, and a woman that inherits one in 2012. It’s a good concept, but it turns into a road trip of a photographer moving the piano around to photograph it around a National Park. Even with an unbelievable story line of endlessly moving a piano around a national park, I couldn’t put it down!

GONE, A GIRL, A VIOLIN AND A LIFE UNSTRUNG by Min Kym – In this memoir, you learn what it is like to be a child prodigy – she wins her first international prize at age 11. Her violin is a personal choice for many reasons, and when it is stolen from her in a London cafe, her world crashes. She felt as though she had lost her soulmate, and with it her sense of who she was. Overnight she became unable to play or function and is silent. Even though the violin is recovered 3 years later, it no longer belongs to her – it belongs to the insurance company and she can’t afford it. I loved this book. I loved the way she described the music and the instrument. I loved the music history she threw in. For instance, I’m aware of Clara Schumann – who was herself a child prodigy – and I knew she was expected to take care of the entire household even while traveling and performing. I didn’t know Brahm’s was in love with her, they travelled together with her children, and he felt he had to choose between love and music – and obviously – he chose his music. 

I’m going to finish some of the books I began in April and May and research more books where a character is actually a musical  instrument. 

What are you reading during this “Stay at Home”? Are your reading habits changing? I’d like to know!

 

THE STORY BEHIND THE PAINTING

The Clock Ticks, ©vickiemartin2018,
20×24 Mixed Media

My new series “The Rhythms of Memory” is inspired by my journey with my mother as she struggled with dementia – arguably the most feared disease that happens to be incurable. This is the story behind the painting you see above.

I began the painting with multiple layers, adding texture as I went along, representing the abundance of plaques and tangles found in the brain of dementia patients.

One question I constantly hear from those with dementia is “What time is it?” In fact, losing track of time is an early symtom of dementia, they often loose track of dates and even the seasons of the year. As the dementia progresses, routine and structure become more important to them, it helps ease their anxiety and confusion. Knowing all of this, I placed a clock face into the painting.

I also painted a hill with the steps, illustrating the daily struggles they face. The steps have a rhythm that mimics the notes on a piano keyboard – this was intentional. Music has been proven to improve memory. Watch the short video I posted below of Henry’s transformation after hearing one of his favorite musicians, Cab Calloway.


“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” Plato

This is something we have known for a very long time. After all, Plato lived from 427-347 BC!

Do particular songs evoke certain memories? Have you ever reacted to music the way Henry does in the above video? I’d love to know about it!

I used the term “dementia”. Alzheimers accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases (depending which study is referenced). Click here if you want to read the !0 Early Signs of Alzheimers.

INTRODUCING MY NEW SERIES: MUSIC STILL REMAINS

Music and memory go together like a horse and carriage,  love and marriage, or my mom and dad.

“Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory”.  Oscar Wilde

I’ve always been vaguely aware of the power of music and how it can bring back memories at a moment’s notice. But, until I became my mother’s caregiver as she struggled with dementia, I’d never really paid attention to it. I guess there are things that are so much a part of your life, you don’t see what is right in front of your eyes.

Probably my first piano at age two.

To say I came from a musical family is an understatement. My grandfather taught singing around North Georgia and tuned pianos at concert halls in Atlanta and also at various universities and colleges, eventually opening a music store. My father followed in his footsteps, preferring to rebuild pianos instead of tuning them. I started banging a piano as soon as I was able, pointing out to my grandfather that “Middle C” was NOT in the middle of the keyboard.

My father’s sisters appeared on a local radio station and recorded gospel music.

Alas, I began to ignore my calling to create music, it took too much time, too much practice, too much everything. That is until my mother slipped into dementia. I returned to the piano so I could communicate with my mother, as well as other dementia patients. I was amazed how alive and engaged they become when hearing songs that previously meant something to them. I saw catatonic patients “wake up” when hearing music. they remember who they are. Doctors have discovered music memory can survive after other memory has disappeared.

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”  Oliver Sachs

SO, I am making a public statement that I am creating art that holds music and memory at it’s core  – beginning with music that has been known to trigger memories in dementia patients. Some of these songs include “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, “You Are My Sunshine”. As I create I will share the stories that inspired me.

I don’t know where this will lead, but I’m excited about this journey, and I would love to  have you follow along with me. Simply, scroll up to the top of the post and enter your email in the block on the right hand side of the page. And, I welcome and WANT to hear YOUR stories about the power of music and memory.

To show you how music has influenced my art in the past, here a few older pieces.

One in eight people are diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s (before age 65). Music is proving to be a powerful tool giving moments of clarity

If you are unsure about how powerful music is when it comes to memory, watch this six minute video of Henry reacting to music – get your tissues ready! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw7Y78aqf_I