Category Archives: Singing

How Life Changes Sometimes—the surprising backstory for “The Vision: A Fable of Our Times”

Read poem here          Listen to poem-video

In April, 25 years ago, I healed from multiple sclerosis and then left my job teaching in the Biology Department at Lake Forest College. I didn’t know where my life was going from there, but I had a wispy notion that it involved music and healing.

For 8 years I’d been singing alto in the Waukegan Concert Chorus (WCC). Our conductor was going through a rocky period and I wanted to write something to support him. I tried writing a letter, but nothing came together.

That summer, my husband and I were listening to a Chicago classical radio station and heard about a concert that night at Ravinia, a nearby popular outdoor music venue. This concert was Montserrat Caballe, a Spanish operatic soprano we had not heard before. We got two inexpensive seats on the lawn.

As it turned out, the people around us were more interested in talking than in listening to the music. Frustrated, I went and stood behind the pavilion where I could see her performing. She sang Spanish folk opera in a lighter voice and then for an encore, three classic opera arias. The hair stood up on my arms. I could feel the full power and heart connection of her singing. I thought that the healing vibration of the notes would soak into even those who were not paying attention.

At home, as I was doing my nightly stretching, getting ready for bed, words began lining up in my head, “There was a Teddy bear tall and true who sat on a throne…” The words felt very compelling, but it was late. Still, I thought, if I don’t write them down, they’ll vanish. I got up from the floor and began handwriting in a spiral notebook, several pages in all. There were gaps I left blank where I knew something was supposed to go. I worked on the piece for a week. Although I was interested in writing, I had never done anything like this before.

On a sunny Saturday morning I knew the piece—a poem—was done. My heart beating fast, I went outside and asked my husband if he would listen to it. He said poetry was not really his thing, but agreed to listen. I read it to him and later to my voice teacher, Kip Snyder, who was the vocal techniques coach for the WCC. My voice lessons were in the room next door to my conductor’s office. Kip treated my poem as if it was a normal thing that people did. And we talked about how I wanted to present the poem to my conductor.

I wanted him to hear the poem the way I had heard it. I had a boom box with a REC button, so I got a blank cassette and gave it a go. The first time through my reading was too fast, the second time was a more conversational pace, about 5 minutes long.

Since the poem is a fable, it takes place in another world. I wanted to indicate this so I tried printing it on various illustrated papers and played with fonts. I chose one with misty pine trees on the side and a kind of medieval font. I also got a Teddy bear (on sale at Kohl’s) that was very dignified with a plaid bow. And I wrote out the story of how the poem had come to be.

When I gave it all to my choral director—the poem on special paper, the cassette with my reading, the bear, and the handwritten account—I asked him to sit and listen to the recording before reading it.

It was several months before I heard back from him. He burst into my lesson one day (which had never happened before). He was very happy with the poem, etc. I was so surprised I later didn’t remember any details of what he’d said, only the feeling. It was as if a lightening bolt went from his open heart to mine. It was quite astonishing.

As it turned out, he did stay with the chorus for another couple years (including the year I had treatment for breast cancer) and he then left the WCC. Shortly after, I also left.

At the time, I thought that someone might illustrate the poem—like a children’s picture book—and with the recording, it could be sold to support the chorus. Instead, it sat in my computer for all these years. Every so often I would think of doing something with it, but nothing ever happened. Shortly after I wrote “The Vision,” I began a poetic journal, writing poems with a healing intention. With my first cancer diagnosis had come more writing and more healing. And life moved on. I continued writing and the poems became the core of my new life, with greeting cards, books, recording, a workshop series, a website….

Why bring “The Vision” back now in this strange, chaotic time? At first, I wondered if I could even find the poem. I didn’t have the word processing program to read it on my computer any more, but a written copy was in my office files and I retyped it in.

I didn’t know if I would still like it. The writing style is very different from almost all my other work. Twenty-five years of practicing writing craft and living life led me to write in quite a different voice now. But as I read the poem and got to the end, I knew I had to let it go out into this world, at this particular time, to do what healing was possible from the divisiveness and harshness of today. “…Then the world could be changed / based on love and not fear…”

Recently I asked a number of people to read “The Vision” to get their feedback and ideas. Thank you so much to Melissa, Midge, Carol, Mary, Crystal, Marie, and Carol! Your positive comments encouraged me to take the leap and let this poem go. For now, it is a blog post and poem-video. I am working on a chapbook illustrated with my photos.

So…25 years ago, with this first poem, the writing, the recording, the visual, the design of the “whole” was all laid out, as I followed my heart’s longing and healing intention. From not knowing what direction to take, with just a wisp of an idea, my new life began. Weaving these poems used all aspects of me, what I thought, read, felt, experienced, what stories I was told or my own stories, all of my life, no parts left out. And the writing could then go out and help others, my dearest wish. It all began with this one poem and following an inner prompt to write it and let it go.

We can all be of service in various ways, however large or small, during this extraordinary pandemic time. What is your role to play? What has your heart been longing to do? Tell me your story.

Read poem here              Listen to poem-video

The Vision: A Fable of Our Times

Listen to the poem here

The Vision:
A Fable of Our Times

by Margaret Dubay Mikus

There was a Teddy Bear
tall and true
who sat on a throne.
He conducted music
when few were at home.
How frustrating he found this
was made very clear
when he said to those gathered
“This may be my last year here.”

The faithful awoke
to the challenge he made.
They redoubled their efforts
and soon made the grade.
They worked hard together
and even at home!
to make more magic together
than they could do alone.

The rest (or unfaithful
I suppose you could say)
soon fell by the wayside
and chose not to stay.

The result of this challenge
issued from on High
was a short time of confusion,
complaints and some tears,
renewed efforts and energy spent,
ultimately resulting in more heartfelt music
than had been heard in the land for years.

Those hearing this music
were moved beyond saying.
They thought to themselves
“This sounds like angels are praying.”
And they told their friends
who told their friends,
till all over the town
this became the new trend.

Along with the news
something else spread too,
some of the heart magic
acted like glue
to bring people together
instead of apart;
this was powerful magic
these songs from the heart.

Now, the faithful who stayed
and sang from their hearts
who struggled and worked
to learn their own parts,
they too were rewarded
by the magic of song.
The energy they spent
in singing well together
returned to them doubled,
cares light as a feather.

Support sprang up
from the businesses there
who knew a good thing
and wanted to share.
The Chamber of Commerce
swore undying devotion
and set up a committee
to set things in motion.

Elders and teens
did whatever was needed
to support behind the scenes.
Family and friends
and friends of friends too
sold tickets, raised money, ate dinners
sewed costumes, made handouts, bought flowers,
sold ads, designed posters, put up sets,
took down chairs, created decorations,
sold candy, handed out programs,
all as best they knew.

The politicians of the town
jumped on the bandwagon too,
as the music drew more people
and the phenomenon grew.
For politicians know
what is good for the town
turns out to be good for them too.
As the singers traveled all over the land
they carried the name of the town.
First nearer, then farther
they spread their heart music around.

The town became known
as a place for the arts
somewhere you could go
for opera or concerts
or paintings or a show.
The businesses prospered
from the people who came
first for art, then for shopping
as the town got its name.

Then the townspeople said
“What we need is a Home
to welcome back our singers
whenever they roam.
A place to hear heart music
in all of its glory.”
And so it was done.
There’s more to this story.

The Teddy Bear had a vision you see
of what heart music could do
and how it could be
that more and more people
would come and be healed
and say to those near
“I love” and “I forgive.”
Then the world could be changed
based on love and not fear
and the Teddy Bear would stay
for year after year.

© 1995


Listen to the poem here

Where did “The Fable” come from and why release it now? A story of intention and inspiration and taking a leap. Backstory of The Vision

My 4th book, “Transcending Boundaries” is Out!!!

I’m thrilled to tell you that my 4th book, Transcending Boundaries: Inspired by Eric Whitacre and Virtual Choir, is out!!! The paperback is on amazon (and elsewhere). I am still working on the ebook. It took over a year longer than expected, but there were additional poems…and life…. Here is my reading of a poem inspired by a VC friend, “ On Imperfection: For Corax.”

Have you ever felt deeply moved by a piece of art? Perhaps a movie, book, dance, painting, or piece of music even spurred you to create? Transcending Boundaries is a wide-ranging collection of poems inspired by Eric Whitacre and Virtual Choir. These poems of inclusiveness and love act as an antidote to divisiveness and fear.

I first heard about Eric Whitacre from his TED talk. He’s a Grammy award-winning composer/conductor who envisioned what became the global phenomenon of Virtual Choir. The way it works is this: From anywhere in the world, singers learn and record their individual parts (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass) to one of his choral pieces. The videos are sent via the internet, compiled, and released. The first 4 VC videos have been viewed more than ten million times! Singers of all ages and abilities, from everywhere in the world, are encouraged to join in. Thousands of singers from more than 100 countries have participated. No one is turned away.

My whole life I’ve loved to sing. Once I heard about Virtual Choir, I longed to be part of it. For VC3 and VC4, I learned the music, recorded, and sent in my alto videos. For five years I also wrote a series of poems sparked by Eric Whitacre—his glorious music, gracious interviews, and Facebook posts—and the compelling stories and true connections with VC singers. My intention with Transcending Boundaries is to aid in healing what seems to divide us, enhance compassion and empathy, and awaken the imagination, encouraging yet further creativity.

Who should read this? Anyone who has ever felt the power of music (or any art) to move us: listeners, singers, musicians, and of course, those who are part of Virtual Choir. These reflective poems allow you to experience optimism, generosity, playfulness, kindness, and beauty, celebrating the open-hearted, richness of being human.

May healing inspiration continue to ripple out. Thank you for your support!

57–“Virtual Choir 4” from “Frazzle” and “Transcending Boundaries”

Door County in September by Margaret Dubay Mikus, Copyright 2013

7/16/13

Virtual Choir 4
Watching screen shots by Elisabeth

To be seen,
to be seen singing,

to allow
sounds to emerge

and release,
to take the step

driven to connect
or belong or create

a tiny piece of beauty,
trusting.

To open heart
and mouth,

let energy go forth
meshing with others

in the same quest,
hoping.

To strive and persist,
to learn and teach,

to wait for the outcome,
patient.

To join without boundaries,
to encourage, to support,

to accept grace and be
generous.

To demonstrate flight,
each a feather on a wing,

at least a little bit…
fearless.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
Copyright 2013

From my books, Thrown Again into the Frazzle Machine, and Transcending Boundaries: Inspired by Eric Whitacre and Virtual Choir.

Listen here: https://youtu.be/_scl4qd8Aes (Video begins with an introduction and de-stressing, join in.)

I have been a singer all my life, usually in choirs (church, school, or community). When I first heard about Virtual Choir, created by composer/conductor, Eric Whitacre, I was determined to be part of it. Though I was not a particularly tech savvy person, and very shy as a singer in some ways, I still was moved by the music and the possibility of connection. When Virtual Choir 3 came along, I read all support comments on their Facebook page to see if I could manage it. I learned the music and practiced, putting together a recording setup in my office. I was so affected by all the encouragement from the support team (for other people), I overcame my “issues” and got my video in (alto 2). I was unable to find myself in the final film, but that did not diminish my joy in being part of it all.

When Virtual Choir 4 was announced, I was eager to do it. I donated to the Kickstarter campaign. I practiced to learn my part and upgraded my recording setup. In the final film I found myself right away, which was awesome. When Elisabeth, from Chicago, one of the support crew, decided to help singers find their videos by taking hundreds of screen shots, I watched all of them (no sound, just the faces) and was powerfully moved by all the people I was connected to, from all over the globe.

These videos have gotten millions of views on YouTube. Listen here to VC 3 and here to VC4.

This connection has blossomed into an online community, a Virtual Choir family, that supports each other in hard times and celebrates together in joyful times. When possible they meet in real life and may even sing together. I am blessed to be part of it. Thank you, Eric, and all.

For more poem videos in the series

THROWN AGAIN into the FRAZZLE MACHINE: Poems of Grace, Hope, and Healing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transcending Boundaries: Inspired by Eric Whitacre and Virtual Choir

Inviting You to a Celebration

Roadside store, Door County, Wis., Copyright 2015--MDMikus

Roadside store, Door County, Wis., Copyright 2015–MDMikus

Twenty years ago this week I began a poetic journal to “sing from the heart.” I had healed from multiple sclerosis and my creativity was cracked open. The words lined up in my ear, compelling me to write them down, see where they would take me. This was quite a surprise since I had a Ph.D. in Microbiology and had been headed for a career in molecular genetics research and teaching.

But something about writing the poems aligned me, healed me, even increasing my body temperature (another story) indicating reduced stress. At first I didn’t know what to do with them, maybe they were just for me. But I noticed that sometimes when I spoke to someone, recent poems would come to my mind. I sent them a packet of poems and they responded. The poems helped.

Sometimes after talking with someone a poem would come to me for them, not the entire thing at first, but those compelling opening lines that led to the rest. If I read the finished poem aloud to them, often I could feel the words soak in. And that poem changed some thing, shifted some small thing. I keep a folder of letters that I got after such events to remind me that this work matters, to not get so discouraged that I stop writing.

Tied Boat, Door County, Wis., Copyright 2015 by MDMikus

Tied Boat, Door County, Wis., Copyright 2015 by MDMikus

So for you now, here are a few recent poems. During this past year I have had several serious medical problems and at one point the poems stopped coming. I wondered if the “run” was over and I grieved the loss. But I also waited to see. All these years I have worked on building trust and patience. When I am in the middle of a “shift” –physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—in the past I might stop writing…as if change is hard to do on the fly. “Sometimes you have to stop and take stock, be quiet enough to listen, raise a finger to the wind…” (see below)

And that was true this time. The writing began again and had changed. But the joy of expression, the trance feeling of time that disappeared, the joyfulness, that was back. So in celebration of two poetic decades here are poems inspired by, or that directly came out of songs by Krista Detor, including from her new CD, Barely. Usually it takes me some time to grow into loving a new CD of hers; the earlier ones had become such heart-favorites. But this time, I fell in love with these lush songs instantly. And my poems flowed out of her music. Listen for yourself.

10/6/15

From Krista’s New CD

The story behind
every song bright or dark
where it came from
where it is going
what life happened
what was chosen

combined with the lilt
and grace notes, the flexibility
the hope of conveying something
complex maybe or maybe
ultimately simple
just soak it in and do not worry
about the intention, let it be

what it is
without interpretation

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2015

10/7/15

Krista

When you sing
there is a certain inevitability
as the words line up
and you remember.

Fingertips brushing the feathers
the pure church bells of notes
that soar and swoop
dance and turn expressing
unbidden emotion, drawing us in
to feel again.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2015

10/7/15

A Story True and Not True
Krista: The World is Water

Let me remove the stray thread
from the sleeve of your jacket.
It could have been white or black
no matter it doesn’t belong.
I pluck it off casually
and we keep walking along.
Listening to Krista before sleep—
it is not what I dream
but what I wake up from.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2015

Watching Sunset, Fish Creek, Wis., Copyright 2015 by MDMikus

Watching Sunset, Fish Creek, Wis., Copyright 2015 by MDMikus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the poem from above, one of the early “signature” poems:

After Lisel Mueller

Sometimes
you have to stop

and take stock,
be quiet enough

to listen,
raise a finger

to the wind;
be still enough

to hear direction
even when heart

pounds in the darkness…
sometimes.

Sometimes
living life

is not writing,
but living,

not writing,
but waiting.

Sometimes
you must breathe out

before you can
breathe in again.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1999

From As Easy as Breathing

Clouds and Road, Door County. Copyright 2015 by MDMikus

Clouds and Road, Door County. Copyright 2015 by MDMikus