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Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Row row row your boat music sheetThat is such a cool, Zen-like approach to life, and it comes to us in the form of an English children’s nursery rhyme. The song is actually a round—a musical composition in which 2 or more voices sing exactly the same melody, each voice beginning at a different time. The different parts of the melody coincide and fit harmoniously together. It is one of the easiest forms of ‘part’ singing, as only one line of melody must be learned by all the singers, and it can be repeated over and over. This simple ditty has quite a history—little kids sing it, Star Trek Five had Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy singing it, another episode had a bunch of weird space kids singing it. It’s featured in the films Dante’s Peak, the Red Danube and even Hackers. Maybe it’s a metaphor for our passage here on earth—we propel ourselves with humor and joy in natural waters which bring us to the simple comfort of the abstract world. But the key word here is dreams.

What a wonderful and multi-faceted word, just chock full of contradictions. Dreams are something involuntary that happen to you while you’re sleeping, and can be pleasant or horrible and frightening. Shrinks, shamans, witch doctors, scientists, poets, priests, gurus, artists and fools all think they’ve got the inside track on figuring out the source and importance of our dreams.

But we also call the wide-awake goals and achievements we actively pursue our dreams. Someone may ‘dream’ of playing pro-ball, or getting into clown school, or playing with a symphony, or winning the surf contest. It’s a respectful kind of compliment to say “he’s got big dreams”, or “she had a dream and made it come true”. Yet in the same breath, dreamers are kind of looked down on as unrealistic losers. We disparage someone who “lives in a dream world”, or we dis some guy cause “he’s just a dreamer”. Remember that Everly Brothers song,

“When I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms, whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream. Dream, dream, dream. I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine, anytime night or day. Only trouble is—gee whiz, I’m dreaming my life away….”

A lot of folks recollect their music dreams, but according to scientist types they happen twice as often to musicians, and their frequency seems to be related to when those musicians started playing. I’ve had music dreams with very clear and specific melody lines—where I knew exactly which fingers to use and how to articulate the piece. Sometimes I’ve got a whole band going on in my head, and sometimes I can actually see the piece of music I’m hearing. Maybe it’s a line I played earlier, or heard somewhere or something that I’ve been trying to learn or to write. Of course, like lots of dreams, just when it unfolds into total clarity it will suddenly vanish—like the bursting of a bubble.

Many classical composers swear that their best compositions came to them in dreams. Ravel, Stravinsky, Handel, Mozart, Chopin and Brahms all insisted that they woke up with entire symphonies intact in their heads. Scientific studies conclude that nearly half of the musical pieces that are ‘dreamed’ are not standard or known pieces, but truly original music. After brain trauma or illness, many non-musicians have stories of dreaming music that they never closely listened to before and were certainly unable to play. Dream experts say that music is the opposite of chaos, and that in dreams it represents harmony and the infinite potential of creative life. Dreams can also express the emotions that you are feeling at that moment in time—which is why I don’t really trust bad dreams. To me they sneak out from some dark and paranoid place that isn’t really valid and shouldn’t be allowed to influence us. I think bad dreams are kind of like what that late night stupid shot of tequila does to most of us. We turn off the positive attitude button and press the pity party switch. We wake up feeling bad about ourselves and feeling guilty for no good reason. We can have bad music dreams—panicky dreams where you’re playing something in public you’ve never played before, or trying to sing and nothing comes out, or my favorite nightmare—playing during a rest when the entire orchestra is correctly silent. You can’t let them affect you. They have been triggered by tequila. Don’t eat the worm!

Girl with dreamsPaul McCartney woke up one morning and wrote down the song he had just dreamed—complete with melody, rhythm, chords, lyrics and orchestration. The lyrics were part gibberish, so he re-wrote those, but he didn’t trust the fact that everything was his own creativity. He was convinced for a while that he must have heard it somewhere before and was subconsciously plagiarizing someone else’s music. That song is the haunting hit ‘Yesterday’. The Beatles song ‘Day in the Life’ also talked about dreams—but in a sort of psychedelic spaced out way.

“Found my coat and grabbed my hat, made the bus in seconds flat. Found my way upstairs and had a smoke—somebody spoke and I went into a dream….”

Jim Morrison was a wild and sometimes disturbing and disturbed musician, but was at heart a poet, and he wrote, “Shake dreams from your hair, my pretty child, my sweet one. Choose the day and choose the sign of your day—the day’s divinity the first thing you see.” The Eurythmics got profound in their song ‘Sweet Dreams’.

“Sweet dreams are made of this—who am I to disagree? I travel the world and the seven seas—everybody’s looking for something. Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to be used by you. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them just want to be abused!”

The dream theme is certainly common in music—ballet, opera and instrumental classical music often have ‘dream sequences’ that allow for the music and dancing to be a little more abstract, and modern songwriters use dream imagery all the time. ‘California Dreaming’, written by the Mamas and Papas in the 60’s practically defined the hippy search for…well, whatever it was for…during that time period. In the 40’s, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sang and scatted their way through the beautiful and haunting song, ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’. The Monkees sang about a ‘Daydream Believer’, Stevie Wonder ‘Never Had a Dream Come True’, Mariah Carey had a ‘Dream Lover’, Dave Matthews has a ‘Dream Girl’, Aerosmith said to ‘Dream On’, and Radiohead had a ‘Nice Dream’. Otis Redding wrote a haunting song called ‘I’ve Got Dreams to Remember’, which was a hit for Delbert McClinton as well. “I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember. Many many dreams. Hard dreams and rough dreams to remember…” It’s all about seeing the love of his life kissing another guy, but still wanting her.

John Lennon Imagine coverBut perhaps the best dream song of all is John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. This is Vera’s favorite song and I love it when she sings along with the band at Dos Locos—I can picture her with arms outstretched and love in her face for all of us. It is certainly as relevant today as it ever was.

“Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace! Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger—a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people sharing all the world! You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.”

I found a dream that I could speak to—a dream that I can call my own. Etta James

The fact is, my dreams are still dreaming me. Willie Nelson

A dream you dream alone is only a dream, but a dream you dream together is reality. John Lennon

Lose your dreams, and you might lose your mind. Mick Jagger


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