The Bliss Blog

Helen's Funeral Band | Living Slowly

Ever listen to a CD by  musicians who were not on your radar screen and find yourself entranced by its charm? The entire recording by an unusually named group; Helen’s Funeral Band feels like a caress. Combine the silky voiced sounds reminiscent of Aaron Neville, the keyboard of Van Morrison and the tonings of Bobby McFerrin and Living Slowly is what you get. Michael Slattery’s classically trained voice is such a surprise on a pop-jazz-bluesy-funky release,  and when combined with multi-instrumentalist Alex Brofsky’s gifts, it is genre crossing delight. Not only are they superb musicians, but carry poets’ souls as they have penned a host of heart rending songs.

The echoing and haunting sounds of Rivertown have the listener feeling the penetrating depths of both water and the souls who have passed through “this forgotten river town”
There’s a world here left in time
But there is nothing left inside

A lacy trail of creeping vines

Over the river’s deep divide


By far, my favorite piece is Living Slowly, since it is what I most need to remember

Living slowly doesn’t hurt my soul

I learn much more that way

The time has come to bring a change of pace

As love can slip away



The Deep Water referenced in the third piece sounds like the journey our hearts take above, within and then below the  surface of love.

You know love isn’t fun

No not any more and didn’t it used to be fine

Is it the end of love?

And what did she say and how do I feel did she go did she make a scene?

This is the end of love

Oh just leave me alone a while


Evergreen  seems to be an ode to the tender care  relationships require.

Promise me this

Build me a garden

And I’ll tend to her

As I tend to you


Even in winter

I’ll faithfully guard her

Faithful and evergreen


An achingly powerful song, Longing has a darker feel than the others, with the deeply resonant voice of I, Storm issuing forth with:

All I know is anguish

Darkened is my language

Why did I think it would be painless when I’m alone I cannot frame this

And I wonder

If you ever think of me

Lullabye is a sweetly embracing offering for a beloved child

Ooh my baby child

Rest here in my arms awhile

Ooh just close your eyes

And listen to this lullaby


The Joni Mitchell classic Both Sides Now is re-imagined as the closing song.

Bows and flows of angel hair

And ice cream castles in the air

And feather canyons everywhere

I’ve looked at clouds that way


I love learning about what it is that inspires musicians and Alex Brosky shares the origin of this creation:
“The band was born after my wife Helene’s mother’s (Helen) funeral. It was the first time that Michael and I had performed live together. A year later we put a few songs together and needed a name, “Helen’s Funeral Band” rang true to us, and here we are.
About four years ago I was in a tough place; I had just lost my (plan B/not music) job and was drinking too much. I had sent Michael an email with an instrumental of “Coming Home”. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, but Michael called to say how much he loved the song and was already writing lyrics to it. That was the beginning of this project and also the start of my getting my life back together, and getting back to plan A.
“Today” and “Living Slowly” are songs I did years ago with a rhyme and horn melody, respectively, where the verse lyrics are now. Helene and Michael wrote the verses for “Today”, the verse in “Living Slowly” was all Michael. I wrote the lyrics to both hooks. The rest of the songs were a collaboration. I would put music down, and then Michael would expand on it with lyrics, and his beautiful interpretations of the music. “Deep Water” was inspired by an Ernest Hemingway short story “The End of Something”, always a favorite of mine. “Lullaby” was written to as a gift to our cousin Sara when she was beyond weary waiting to bring her daughter Vanessa (and Michael’s goddaughter) home. Fate gifted us back on this one as our first performance of “Lullaby” was the same day Sara brought Vanessa home to NYC, which also happened to be Michael’s birthday.  “Both Sides Now” is a great Joni Mitchell song that Michael has performed solo playing the Squeeze Box, I added the arrangement on the recorded version.
The album is a very organic project – several of our family members were involved, all of them great musicians. My sister Natasha Brofsky-Tapping wrote the intro melody on “Living Slowly” and her daughter (my niece) Cordelia sings it. My brother-in-law Roger Tapping (who recently joined the Juilliard String Quartet) plays Viola on “Deep Water” with Natasha playing cello. The two of them did the string arrangement for that song. Michael and Helene’s cousin Kate Murphy, a country singer in Nashville, sings on the outro of “Living Slowly.” The great drummer Abe Fogle (of Rob Thomas and my own AB+ band) plays drums on “Deep Water,” “Longing,” “Living Slowly,” and “Coming Home.” The solid and surprising Konrad Adderley (Sonny Rollins, Aretha Franklin, AB+) plays bass on the same songs.
Michael Slattery’s Bio:
Since graduating from Juilliard, Michael Slattery has enjoyed an exciting international career. He has worked with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, the French National Orchestra in Paris, the Akademie für Alte Musik in Berlin, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall. Career highlights include The Very Best of Lerner & Loewe with the NY Pops at Carnegie Hall, Bach’s B Minor Mass with Ivan Fischer and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, the Tristan Project with the LA Phil at Lincoln Center, the title role in Bernstein’s Candide at Royal Festival Hall in London, and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo at the Châtelet Theater in Paris, the Staatsoper in Berlin, and at Glimmerglass. He was recently included in The Spectator’s list of tenor “Heroes of the Concert Hall” and his “Dowland in Dublin” CD was chosen for “Opera News” Best of 2012 list.
Alex Brofsky’s Bio:
Alex Brofsky is a New York-based Composer/Arranger/Performer/Producer. He has performed and recorded with some of the greatest names in jazz including Miles Davis, Lenny Kravitz, Gil Evans, Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins, Michael Brecker, Woody Herman, McCoy Tyner, Jim Hall, Dave Holland and many others. He has done remixes for Da’ Brat and Mary J. Blige. Alex has released several CDs on NewBreed records and two solo CDs (“AB+ – the Unentitled” and “Absolution”), both available on Itunes and cdbaby. listed AB+ as one of the top ten artists of the new millennium after several of his song hit #1 on their charts. In addition to “Helen’s Funeral Band” he is preparing a release for the U.K. label “Adaptation Music” in 2013.

My wish is that this debut album be only the first of many for this collective and that, as is shared in the title song, wishing that you recognize that

Love is a celebration

photos taken at the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic over the years


What if you had a decision to make that involved your livelihood, relationships, your health, where you live, who you choose to have in your circles, or whether to pursue new ventures?  How would you face it? Daily, I speak with people in my personal and professional life who ask these questions.  I examine them myself  as well. When speaking with a friend tonight, I asked a question…”Is what you are doing now draining or sustaining?”; by my way of looking at things, a pivotal query with a ‘no brainer’ answer.  Back in June I left a job that I had held for more than a decade that had me on both sides of the equation. While much of it was rewarding and I made a difference in the lives of those I served, eventually the see-saw was imbalanced and I knew it was time to step outside of the pseudo-safety of full time with benefits job into the freedom and major responsibility of being a self employed conscious entrepreneur. I make my own schedule which explains why I am up at nearly midnight, writing this article and took time earlier in the day for such health enhancing activities as going to the gym, having dinner with a dear friend who is soon to be heading westward to her new home in Crestone, Colorado, and then enjoying a  massage. Prior to that, I designed a flier for a workshop I am teaching, paid bills, renewed my social work license, did promo work and laundry.

I consider relationships that I held onto way past the time when it was nurturing to my soul and plummeting into a feeling of toxicity. If I had allowed myself access to those polarities:  draining or sustaining, they would have been mercifully shorter and far less damaging. I might also have entered into other situations with greater gusto, if I recognized their power to enliven me.

Another recent conversation had an image come to mind about a hot air balloon tethered to the ground in anticipation of take off. What needs to happen in order for it to soar skyward is to lighten the load by tossing the sandbags out and untying it.

Sometimes it takes a leap of faith into something uncertain, growing my wings on the way down that has me leaning over a precipice, trusting that I will land safely. I am reminded of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:

The Journey
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice —
though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles.
Mend my life!” each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,
though their melancholy was terrible.
It was already late enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
 determined to do the only thing you could do — determined to save the only life you could save.


Imagine  light and energy beaming out from you, radiating in all directions, careening about people around you, even if you don’t speak or have physical contact. Do you wonder what impact that might have? This morning, I had the opportunity to ponder that idea as Kathy Milano spoke at Circle of Miracles. With an impressive professional pedigree (a Bryn Mawr grad), she has one foot in the mainstream therapeutic world as a Ph.D psychologist, offering integrative counseling for adults, teens and children and the other in the metaphysical realm; working with angelic energies. She seems to be able to bridge the worlds quite nicely.

Kathy referred to the above described concept as The Luminous Broadcast, which seemed to me to be about consciously allowing the heart of who we are to truly shine throughout our day. It feels easy when we are surrounded by like minded people and doing what we enjoy; not so simple to orchestrate in the midst of challenges and pain. I think of it as a radio station that broadcasts on a frequency and a station known as WLUV, rather than WFER. So easy to slide over to the other end of the dial when I am faced with situations and people that feel messy and yucky. It is when I am most in need of reminders, that people like Kathy show up to point out ways in which I can up the amps on love. She endeavors; as do I, to be a ‘living prayer’, putting out there, positive vibes to juice the area in which I maneuver. She described an experience of going to the Cherry Hill Mall (in the Philly suburb of Cherry Hill, NJ) a few days before Christmas, right after 12/21/12, which brought with it huge paradigm shifts. The intended purpose was to get a holiday outfit for her 13 year old daughter. Being highly sensitive to energy and having spent the day before immersed in it, they were particularly buzzed by the holiday hustle and bustle, finding comfort in french fries at the food court. It wasn’t until after they left the mall, that Kathy realized her daughter already had something she could wear. She had the sense that they needed to go there to test out their metaphorical/metaphysical wings. I sometimes go to department stores and grocery stores and beam out the love rays to see how people react. Mostly they smile back, sometimes they seem surprised, with  ‘what just happened here?’ looks on their astonished faces. Rarely are they still grumply and growly. Check it out yourself as an experiment.


I also enjoyed the ideas Kathy offered about being ‘cells in the body of Love’. How would your life be if you saw yourself as being one of billions of bio-spiritual beings bumping up against and around other cells?


This morning before I headed out the door, I donned a red shirt and red socks. It goes beyond liking the vibrant, energizing, fire-y color and stands as a symbol of something vital. Today is National Wear Red Day, sponsored by the American Heart Association. The purpose is to bring about awareness around the issue of heart disease in women in particular. The symptoms of a heart attack present differently for women than for men. Sweating, pressure, nausea, indigestion and jaw pain are common warning signs for women. Often they ignore them, for several reasons; perhaps because they don’t know what to look for and  also likely because women tend to keep on keepin’ on, putting others before them. Such was the case with my sister who had many risk factors AND she ignored both the internal prompting and the external haranguing of people who love her. She waited 4 1/2 hours following the onset of symptoms before she called 911.

I am facing the reality that my sister had a heart attack last week and  I have been riding a roller coaster ride with her as we speak a few times daily to get updates on her progress. Today brought more complications and required another cardiac catheterization. What it evidenced was something that should respond to medication. I am amply aware of the medical circumstances, but even more so, the psycho-spritual implications.  The heart is far more than simply a pump or muscle. In many traditions, it is the seat of the soul. It is where we locate our deepest emotions and longings and we use metaphors such as being ‘open hearted’, ‘closed hearted’, ‘big hearted’ or ‘broken hearted.’


Not coincidentally, I took a CPR/First Aid class today that is a requirement for my job. In it, we were reminded about the absolute neccesity to act quickly when if cardiac crisis arises. The lively, animated instructor had us laughing and smiling about the miracles he has either heard about or witnessed with regard to immediate and persistent response. He shared a story about a doctor who rescued a 17 year old from a hotel pool and began CPR immediately. A nurse who happened to be at the hotel, ran up and asked to assist. He sent her to call 911 instead. He kept it going for 15 minutes; likely exhausted, but his adrenalin probably kicked in and allowed what could be considered a superhuman feat. The ambulance arrived, took the young man to a local hospital where he remained in a coma. One day, the doctor came to visit him and he miraculously came to and asked for breakfast. He was astounded and realized he had participated in a miracle. Our instructor liked to share the story and in a training shortly aftwerward, he had another eye opening experience, as a woman in the class raised her hand and announced “I was the nurse.”

If you were to have a dialog with your heart, what would you say?  How would you respond? I would ask mine, what it is that it wants. What arises is the answer “Expansiveness. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Trust. Allowing. Surrendering. Slowing down.” All of these things would assist in calling in my deepest heart dreams and desires and help me to connect heart to heart.  To learn more about heart health. Heart of Gold-Neil Young