Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Collage of Music

Have I been making some music lately?

Though I couldn't blame anyone for being skeptical, I have in fact been working on a little bit of music in these days.

I am definitely making instrumental collages😉...while listening to music. These are some of the musical instruments I have around the house, but by no means all of them.

I'm inspired. Stay tuned....🎵

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Violence or Prayer

The heart has no boundaries.

Yet here we are, in this moment, in the midst of things that are limited.

If we try to grasp things and stretch them so that they correspond to the scope of our hearts, we will distort them and ultimately tear them apart.

This is the source of violence.

But if we act with the recognition that there is something more, that the goodness of things points to something and promises something that we do not see and cannot attain by our own power, then we act with receptivity, with a need and a question that opens us up to something or Someone who corresponds to our boundless hearts.

This is the seed of prayer.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jesus Invites Us to Receive a "Good Measure"

Jesus said, "Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you."

~Luke 6:37-38

I like to think I'm one of the people who don't "judge" or "condemn," but too often I'm just someone who wants to be "neutral" and disengaged. I don't want to cause trouble for myself or anyone else.

I want to be nice. I want to avoid controversy. I want to be left alone.

And this is exactly what I get. The walls I put up are very convincing. Everyone "respects" them. But behind those walls I am left alone.

I am left alone.

Often I really do think my misery is my own fault. Though perhaps I ought not to judge or condemn myself either. God alone judges, and even as he searches out our hidden faults, he also knows all the complex circumstances that constrain us and that can diminish somewhat our culpability.

This world, with its unprecedented and ongoing multiplication of so many kinds of power, smashes and breaks people in the places where they are vulnerable. It's a world of constant mental strain, and those who cannot keep up with the pace of its relentless, absorbing expansion of forces—or at least manage the stress—must shift through the wreckage it leaves behind in themselves.

I know this well enough. It's another more authentic reason why I don't want to be too hard on any person, and I suppose I should include myself. All these external pressures, along with my own weakness, overwhelm me on so many levels. I am more than vulnerable and sick. I am traumatized.

But I do not put this forth as a sufficient excuse. I also know that I am a sinner. I throw myself upon the mercy of God.

Many of us are traumatized. We are all desperate and busy building walls around ourselves. Isolation is the order of the day. And isolation can take various forms.

We can be alone by ourselves, as intellectuals who analyze everything and commit to nothing. Or we can be alone "together" behind the fortress walls of our tribes—our illusory substitutes for commitment and community—bound together by violence and fear and the desire to make war on others.

Jesus says "stop judging" and "stop condemning," but at the same time he says, "Give..." which is akin to the exhortation to love, to suffer for the sake of justice, to lose ourselves for his sake so that we might truly find ourselves.

But he does not only exhort us. He draws us on the path that he himself has made through the cross to the resurrection.

Perhaps the closest step in this journey for each one of us is expressed in the words of this text that echo the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive and you will be forgiven." Every time we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we implore God our Father for the fulfillment of all reality and of our own lives: for our daily bread, for his will, for deliverance from evil, for the coming of his kingdom.

In the midst of these pleadings, we make one petition in explicit relation to our own conduct: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The call to forgive others appears to be laden with psychological associations that can seem crushing insofar as we have been deeply hurt by others. But there is no simple formula for expressing how the psychological and emotional profile of forgiveness should play itself out in a person's subjective experience. Wherever we may feel ourselves to be, we can only turn to God and beg him to empower us to give him what he asks of us.

God always loves us first. He wants to heal us and to open our hearts to receive his forgiveness and share it with others. Jesus came for forgiveness of sins. He came with the readiness to pour out a good measure, an overflowing love by which we might love him and one another.

He promises that good measure, and even now he prompts us to ask him to change us, to make us capable of receiving it, to be freed for the outpouring of forgiveness. He will show us the way and he will carry us on his shoulders.

"Ask and you will receive."

Sunday, February 25, 2018

I'm an Old Patchy Garden on a Ruined Estate

I am growing old. And I am like an old patchy garden on a ruined estate.

The layout is grand, but the walls are broken down. Weeds are everywhere. I have been tended at the edges, and there are bright blooming new flowers and bushes (brought from all over the world). The gaps are filled in by artificial foliage.

This is all for show, really. Most of it is fake.

It looks good to people who drive by the outskirts, people who drive fast.

Inside the garden the paths that are still left are scarcely visible. All the rows that were meant for the cultivation of delicate things are overrun with wild grasses and the crude but tenacious plants that can grow anywhere.

Other parts are barren, blighted by invasive weeds and plagues of insects, or dried up in exhausted unnourished soil. Yet another section is flooded into swampland and reeks of stagnant water and dead leaves.

There are places, nonetheless, where roses still grow. The bushes are rarely pruned, and so the roses are wild. But they have not lost their beauty.

A few of the great old trees survive, spreading shade in their spots and vitality beneath their soil. They nurture mosses and vines and clover and the hardy things of the forest that no one notices, but that break through the ground and reach up in search of the sun.

And there are flowers. Small and simple, pale and common, large and strange flowers in different places. Some look misshapen or half-dead, struggling against a polluted atmosphere. Half-dead, but also half-alive.

And they are flowers. They are alive. They have their own beauty.

I am an old patchy spoiled garden on a ruined estate—and the years have made a wreck of me, a wasteland.

But the sun still shines, the rains fall, and even now, a few new things are born from the earth.

There are new things and old things that still grow.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace

Pope Francis has proposed that today be voluntarily observed as a day of prayer and fasting for peace, especially for the central African countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

Both of these places are enduring protracted political instability, the effects of civil war, and ongoing humanitarian crises of gigantic proportions.

He invites all people of good will to join him in this appeal to God and self-sacrifice, to solidarity and compassion toward these suffering human beings in central Africa and though out the world.

I'm sure even people of "not-so-good-will" can join in too. The proportions of what's going on here are so enormous and catastrophic—everybody, just bring whatever you can to the table!

Click below to learn more:

Voluntary Day of Prayer and Fasting

Situation in Democratic Republic of Congo

Situation in South Sudan

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Rock

There is some serious rock in the region of Caesarea Philippi.
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply,
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

~Matthew 16:13-19

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rolling Country

Any time of year, any kind of weather, I just can't help loving this rolling country!

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.❤️

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Unpredictable Changes: Life is Full of Them

Reepicheep the cat doesn't seem to mind summer in February.😏

I haven't done an episode of My Front Porch in a while, but today seemed like a perfect day. So here I am, talking about the weather that has been changing from warm to cold/snow to hot within the past week.

Unpredictable changes: life is full of them!

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Grace and Freedom of Life in the Spirit

In the first days of Lent, we are exhorted to prayer, fasting, and works of mercy, justice, charity, and compassion.

At the same time, we are reminded that our very capacity to do good and the value of all our good actions are themselves his gifts to us and his work through us in the world.

He is the Creator and Lord, which means also that he is ever the origin, sustenance, and fulfillment of love. He creates us as persons endowed with freedom and sustains us in being at every moment.

Moreover, the gift of his grace in Jesus Christ raises us up beyond ourselves to a participation in his infinite life and love, a "divinized" existence that is fulfilled in our eternal destiny, but that begins even in the here-and-now: in the ordinary circumstances, joys, responsibilities, and sufferings of this life on earth.

This is life in the Spirit, the path along which we are called to grow to full maturity in Christ, and to help one another in living this vocation. Our freedom is empowered by the gift of his grace, and our actions of sacrifice and love sustained by it.

It is true that we must cooperate with grace. When God our Creator and Redeemer works "in" our freedom, he doesn't take its place. Rather, he makes our personal freedom more free, more profoundly our own, just as in creating us he gives us (really) to ourselves.

To live in the Spirit—to live and act by the grace of God—is to live in freedom, to grow toward becoming the fullness of the unique person he is calling us to be with him and with our brothers and sisters forever.

Still, freedom cannot be forced. God wants to empower us to choose and attain happiness, to love him and share in his life. But he doesn't compel us to respond to him, adhere to him, or stay with him. We can ignore his call of love; he won't force us to journey with him on the road he has prepared for our happiness and fulfillment.

But we cannot make ourselves happy by our own power. All good comes from God. Without him we cannot be whole and good; we cannot be happy. Let us therefore turn to him and trust in the grace and love that he surrounds us with all through our lives.

This Collect prayer from the second day of the Lenten season expresses well our recognition of our total dependence on the grace and mercy of the God who loves us and wants to bring us to our fulfillment in his image and likeness:

         "Prompt our actions with your inspiration,
         we pray, O Lord,
         and further them with your constant help,
         that all we do may always begin from you
         and by you be brought to completion.
         Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
         who lives and reigns with you in the unity
         of the Holy Spirit,
         one God, for ever and ever."

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Horror in Parkland Florida

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland Florida. Wednesday, February 14, 2018.

Rapid-fire shots blistering through the halls and classrooms from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle wielded by angry young hands.

Seventeen students and teachers killed. Numerous others wounded. An entire community reeling from the trauma.

Ugh, the horror. The horror of it! Words can't make it go away. Black ribbons, condolences, sorrow, none of it begins to fathom the depths of the ugliness, the evil, the laceration of humanity.

And the tears of parents, brothers, sisters, family, friends: yet another river of tears that runs into a vast ocean of all the tears that have already been shed.

These are evil times we live in. This is a death culture, with its illusions and excess and waste and loneliness, with "freedom" understood as the proliferation of meaningless choices.

By all means, let's make better laws.

Let's remember too that the particularly ugly violence of our times is not new. It's just getting harder to ignore. It's coming out of hiding. It's showing itself in more brazen forms.

It's showing itself in our own hearts. I see it in my heart: I hurt people, mock them, scoff at them, look down upon them. I do this above all to the people who are closest to me.

The horror casts its shadow within me, and its poison is always within reach. Violence is not just a problem in society. It's a problem in me.

And I can't resolve it. I don't have the answer, and I don't know how to extricate myself from complicity in the war that we all wage against one another.

"Non-violence." Is that just another impossible idea? Is that just more useless talk?

But I am convinced that the non-violence of love is greater than the violence of our hearts, of my own heart—not because I grasp this as a theoretical scheme or a social ideology or an imaginative utopian aspiration.

I am convinced because I have encountered love. I have met love in the flesh, and now my heart pleads for the freedom to follow that love, to see the face of that love every day.

Sometimes it's very hard to remember that beautiful face; it seems shrouded in darkness and there is the danger that we will begin to think that we just dreamed the whole thing up.

We must resist this sad sleep. Let's help one another to stay awake and remember.

It is only when I remember the face of love that I myself begin to have the courage to take the risks of love that bridge the abyss of death.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Open Our Ears and Our Hearts

Here is something of a reflection, a poem, a prayer, a plea from my own misery to the omnipotence, goodness, and mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

This text was published last week in MAGNIFICAT. It seemed to resonate with others, so I am reproducing it here as we enter upon this holy season of prayer, penance, and preparation for the celebration of the victory of Christ's all-embracing love.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Josephine Bakhita Shows Us How to be Free

Today we honor an African woman born in 1869 who endured years of slavery under brutal inhuman conditions before being freed, and discovering an even greater freedom in following Jesus.

She was called "Bakhita" by the Arab slave traders. It means "lucky one."

There was nothing that looked lucky about the horrible abuse and mutilation that she suffered as a slave in Sudan. But then she was brought to Italy, where she worked in the household of an Italian diplomat and merchant and helped care for his daughter.

Accompanying the girl to her convent school, Bakhita encountered the love of Christ among the Canossian sisters, gave her life to him, and was baptized Giuseppina Fortunata ("lucky one" in Latin).

Though the diplomat's family treated her well, her position in Italy had not been legally clarified. An Italian court recognized her freedom, however, when she decided that she herself wanted to join the Canossian sisters.

As a consecrated religious sister she worked for 50 years at the convent and among the people, simply but with profound charity and great joy. She not only forgave her enslavers and oppressors, but said she would kiss their hands if she saw them, because through their hands the Lord had brought her to Jesus.

She died on February 8, 1947 and was canonized in the year 2000.
Saint Josephine Bakhita, you have a lot to pray for. We need your prayers especially in today's world.
Pray for an end to racism, human trafficking, child abuse, and violence against women.
Pray for South Sudan, your homeland. Pray for Africa and people everywhere of African heritage, especially those subjected to racial prejudice.
Pray for people all over the world who have been driven from their homes by war, persecution, or inhuman living conditions.
Pray for us, that we might love our enemies and and not seek vengeance against those who hurt us. Pray for us to be strengthened in the conviction that God loves us and them, that God has a plan, and that God orders everything to the good.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Twenty Six From Nagasaki

"My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves" (Saint Paul Miki, as he was crucified along with 25 others in Nagasaki, Japan, February 5, 1597).

[Photo above, at Martyrs' Memorial, Nagasaki.]

Today we honor the TWENTY SIX MARTYRS OF NAGASAKI, JAPAN. My current research has led me to this same place in the 20th century, to a remarkable Japanese doctor Takashi Nagai, who found Christ thanks to the witness of the spiritual children of these martyrs.

(Sorry, no spoilers from me on Takashi Nagai's amazing story, of which I am writing only the first part. You'll have to wait for the article.)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Miracle is that "Something is Different" in Our Lives

If we are committed Christians, we know that the love of Jesus is everything. This love has touched our lives, and we know that its power is nothing short of miraculous.

We know that it is wonderful. It is transforming. We know that he wants to share this love with every human person.

And we are his witnesses.

Surely, we want to be on fire with this love so that it can shine through. We want the change in our lives to show that miracles are possible.

Right?  "...Uh...yeah, sure.... I mean, yes, of course. Of course! Hallelujah!" how's that "witness" going?

Maybe not so well, if we're honest about it. If we have known the love of God himself in the embrace of Christ, why do we keep forgetting and going back to selfishness, egoism, distraction, and strife?

Every day we fail. Even those who aim the highest find that they fall short again and again. Should this be a cause for discouragement?

Certainly not.

It should be cause for humility, for prayer, for turning and returning to the sources of grace, the places where Jesus "touches" us. Our faith makes especially clear the fragility of our humanity, our immense poverty, our utter dependence on God for everything.

Still, we know that God is good and merciful, and that he has embraced our lives. We must not give up, but on the contrary cling ever more fully to him.

Knowing the depths of God's love and our own weakness, we have all the more reason to look upon the struggles of every human person with compassion. Knowing God's generosity and our own vulnerability, we have every reason to forgive others when they hurt us.

We cannot be complacent. We must always strive to say "yes" to the love God pours out on our lives, to beg for his love to change us, to turn us into lovers, to show the wonder of his beauty through us.

The "miracle" that people can discover when they look at our witness is not that we're "totally perfect" human beings. We're not even remotely closeand we don't need to hide that fact or pretend that's what we claim to be.

The miracle is not that everything is different in our lives, or that we have become totally coherent—that we have become overnight "instant saints."

Rather, if we are faithful, what people will begin to see is that in the midst of all our real messy flawed human lives, something is different— there is Something Else that gives us hope, "Something"(SomeONE) for whom we live....

Or at least they might see that we try to live for the One who loves us, that we desire it, we yearn for it and beg for it... because he is drawing us to himself.

I look at myself and it's clear that I'm so obviously mediocre, vain, and lazy that if there is any spark of that difference—that newness of life—in me (or even the desire for it) there must be Another at work in me.

I pray to be open to his work, to stay with him, to walk with him, and then in all the craziness of my life something new begins to happen. If as Christians we share the journey of our lives honestly and humbly, the light of the miraculous love that is changing us will shine and awaken hope in the hearts of others. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Presentation 2018

Details from Mosaic of the Presentation in the Temple, Marko Rupnik.

"Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
'Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed'"
(Luke 2:34-35).

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Grammy Awards: It Wasn't ALL Bad

You know the old saying about a broken clock? It's still right twice a day.

Looking at the news, you might conclude that the recent 60th Grammy Awards was a real dumpster fire. I can't say that it wasn't, but the level of conflict doesn't surprise me. The whole music "industry" in its current form is unsustainable.

There are so many issues here that one doesn't know where to begin a diagnosis of the overall problem.

I didn't watch the awards show. One reason is because—like so many "old media" events—it has a bit of the feeling of a 1907 convention of horse-carriage makers giving out awards to one another and ignoring that vulgar and preposterous novelty of the "auto-mobile."

Recording technology has certainly advanced in some astonishing ways, but new multimedia platforms are increasingly catching up and making these developments (and entirely new techniques) accessible to a vast range of creative people, most of whom are "outside" the current system and are not even aware of how they're changing it.

These independent artists might feel a bit snubbed, not invited to the party, etc. People making music on regular labels within the system feel snubbed. Meanwhile, the Recording Academy is stretched way beyond any reasonable limit.

It wouldn't be so bad if the Grammy Awards show was not presented as the Contest For Ultimate Awesomeness, the "Uber-Olympics of Music." Unfortunately, such hyperbole is built in to the current music business model. This garish overreach is part of what's killing the whole thing.

Nevertheless, for an artist to be nominated for a Grammy certainly means something. And winning is a thing to be proud of. It's a recognition of achievement by the USA's realm of professional recorded music. It encourages artists and gives them a platform for their work to become better known.

I don't ignore the Grammys, but I prefer to wait until they're all over and done and then comb through the long list of winners and nominees to see if there was some outstanding work last year that I missed. It takes a little time, but it's a pretty good list.

Even though the Grammys are not attuned to so much of the larger world of outstanding artists who are working independently, and even though the actual process of determining the winner is somewhat inscrutable, the nominations are vetted by a large pool of recording professionals. There are also a lot of categories, the vast majority of which don't appear on the big Prime Time show.

Daniil Trifonov won Best Instrumental Solo for this great record.
Maybe that's too bad. It wouldn't hurt the pop stars and the glitterati (or the rest of us) to sit down for a few minutes and listen to somebody like 26 year old Russian pianist Daniil Trifanov play a bit of Liszt and Chopin. You don't have to be a music snob, or locked on to the lower frequencies of FM radio, to appreciate this guy. He'd blow. everybody's. minds! He is insanely good, and that may be one of the least controversial things I've ever said about music.

Or let's hear four-time Grammy winner and Queen of the Violin, Anne-Sophie Mutter, bring a flow of vivid tones from her 1701 Stradivarius (no amplification required). Or America's own Grammy winning Hilary Hahn who is boldly bringing classical violin into the 21st century.

Classical music is alive and well, peeps. In some sense, it's never been better. In fact, it's overwhelming (like everything else in our world today). The Grammy winners and nominees don't necessarily correspond to the best performances evah but it is a pretty good list of top quality recent material. If, like me, you are looking for some excellent recordings not just for your iTunes playlists but for actually buying in CD form and listening to on a decent music system (or at least with real headphones), the Grammy list is useful. These CDs are expensive, but there's a reason for that.

I've been listening to "records" for over fifty years (I remember "air-conducting" Toscanini's Beethoven with my Dad at age four). The advances in recording technology are just stunning. I see this especially in the category of "Orchestral Performance"—while they still can't capture all the range and nuance (and excitement) of seeing and hearing a live orchestra, recordings have become exquisite works of art in their own right, and they should be appreciated as such.

THIS! Good call, Grammys!
When recording excellence and musical genius come together, the result is pure gold. The Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance in 2017 did not fail to find the gold. I'm excited because this recording is a discovery for me of the past week.

I am so loving this magnificent and intense interpretation of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony by Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Granted, I am a fan of this complex, sometimes tormented but brilliant 20th century Russian composer. When he wrote this symphony, Dmitri Shostakovich was trying to stay alive in Stalin's Soviet Union in 1937. As we know, lots of folks were having trouble staying alive at that time, particularly anyone with cultural status.

While he was willing to fake devotion to the Great Man, Shostakovich would not compromise his music. The result was an epic sonic poem that travels through the deep places of Russia's suffering, and touches the souls of the people while deftly mocking the totalitarian state that enslaved them. Music was the only language that could still speak in those days, and even music had to be careful. Stalin, however, was sufficiently tone-deaf that he did not have the composer shot in 1937. Shostakovich would continue to write an extensive repertoire of such works thoughout the Stalinist era and beyond.

Maestro Honeck is noted for bringing out the hidden gems of orchestral pieces, and after ten years with the world-renowned Pittsburgh Symphony he and the musicians have a great rapport. And just from the streaming of this recording I can tell that it's top notch. I'm waiting for my CD to arrive, with Honeck's extensive liner notes on Shostakovich and on Samuel Barber's beautiful Adagio that completes the record.

Manfred Honeck, Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

But here's the thing: I didn't even know about this record until this week. I have the Grammy Awards to thank for pointing it out to me. So, <cough cough> "Thank you, Grammys!"

I still have to browse some other categories: Jazz, Roots Music, even "Rock Instrumental" (you'd be surprised at the good stuff you never hear about).

The "Big Four," which get all the media attention, have often disappointed me. This year, however, they got one of them right on target. Or, to put it another way, I was very happy to hear that Alessia Cara won the Grammy for Best New Artist.

"Best New Artist." There is something ironic about the whole category. It is, of course, really "Best New Popular Music Artist" which is fine, I suppose, because everybody already knows that. And the varieties of popular music have an excellence of their own.

Here a singer is distinguished by his or her unique style. It's not easy to put this up for a vote to music professionals. The key to the artistry is mastering one's particular voice, bringing various elements together and shaping them into a musically expressive "instrument" of a very fragile type of beauty.

It's a kind of self-exposure, a risky endeavor—thus, not surprisingly, often taken up by adolescents in the boldness of their youth. It's a tremendous thing, to discover and refine a unique talent. But in the past, very young people have often been unprepared for what a combination of success and luck brought about as they suddenly became celebrities.

Now the teens are the pioneers of new media technology. They are finding the creative spaces that open up new paths of putting out music and new (sometimes more manageable) levels of success. These new media also create new problems, but that's a topic for another day. What I want to do here, besides indicate once again the significance of YouTube, is point out how it has served Alessia Cara's development as an artist.

People were saying that Alessia shouldn't have qualified as a "new artist" because her music first hit the charts in 2015. She was well within the limits of the Grammy qualifications for this category, however, so this is all petty quibbling.

The fact is, this kid from Brampton, Ontario started a YouTube channel in 2010 and began posting covers and accompanying herself on guitar. (Brampton is basically part of "the metro Toronto area," but one of the things I like about Alessia is that she specifies it as Brampton. She comes from a real place, and has a sense of connection to it; as far as I know she still lives there.)

She was a 14 year old girl who loved singing, but was actually afraid to sing in front of other people. So she started out in her closet with a camera, hoping that posting videos would ease her into the prospect of singing in front of people. Her original channel is still active, and those first videos are still there. She was good. She had a sound and lots of heart and she worked on it and improved for several years.

Shy? A little bit. Afraid? Not any more.
Unlike others I have written about, Alessia didn't start by becoming a "YouTube star." She developed a small following at her own pace, and eventually got the attention of a talent developer, started writing songs and doing studio recording while finishing high school and living a regular life, having friends, going to parties, going to dumb parties and not having fun at dumb parties....

Apparently, kids all over North America and the world were not having fun at stupid parties. (Maybe this is a sign of hope?) But they weren't telling the rest of us. They were, it seems, waiting for someone to write a song about it. Alessia Cara's song "Here" was all over the place in 2015, as was the clever and stylized music video. My brother and I are both music nerds and between the two of us we have heard everything, but we both thought "this is...interesting, and...different, and, gosh...refreshing, real...and really good."

So she had a Billboard Top 40 hit, but it wasn't instant fame. In 2016 she had a very fine and successful debut album and several more hit songs. She won the Juno Award (i.e. the "Canadian version"😉 of the Grammy) for "Emerging Artist" in 2016. The Grammys, however, hadn't yet noticed her. But this may have been just as well; it gave her more time to grow in an organic, human way.

She kept putting in the hard work, touring, recording, and hitting the audiovisual media a lot: by now, she was big on "YouTube," and she used her official VEVO channel very well. I have followed her since 2015, and it has been great to see her maturing as an artist while still keeping her feet on the ground.

Most importantly, her voice has gotten better and better. Her songwriting is solid and very real. She's a soul singer who puts her soul deeply into her voice. Today, Alessia Caracciolo is 21 years old (what a great name, both parents from Calabria, which is way down South Mediterranean Italy, a place of ardent, expressive people). She's still a "new artist," and I don't care if she was famous, is famous, stays famous, whatever. I want her to keep making great music.

What I would say to her is, "Congratulations! Don't let anybody put you down; you've earned this. Keep making the music, at your own pace, young lady. Work with the raw, earthy sound that you have in your live videos; don't let the studio 'overproduce' it and put too much electronic shine on your voice. Your living voice is what makes you different from the rest of pop-dom. And time is on your side."

Watch and listen to this girl, from early 2017 (video below). PSA: If you don't like this kind of singing, you probably won't like her style. But don't get down on it just because it's not to your taste. The fact is, it's very well done. Recognize that the passion you see here is artistic passion. It's not a common thing.

"And, Alessia, please don't move to some mega-music city like Los Angeles. You don't need to be there. The Big American Entertainment Scene is one huge stupid party and you are not going to have fun. Travel the world, go everywhere, be brave, but don't ever lose touch with your roots in Brampton, Ontario, near the people and places that help you to be strong."

Thank you, Grammy Awards, for getting this one right.