“The music of the spheres,” he says when I ask him what being he would like to sing like for all eternity. Then, he gives me this sideways grin – is he serious? “Or maybe the ‘sound of silence’ – is that better?” he says. I grin – I like this guy. This Hiram Ring.
I found out about Hiram just on Friday when Ken Mueller blogged about him and gave him such a glowing review that I had to check it out. When I caught up with Ken last night, he told me that he thought Hiram was part of this “phenomenal” music scene that is Lancaster, PA. “I’d put Lancaster up against cities like Seattle, or Austin, or Athens, GA for it’s music scene. And Hiram is a part of that.” Now that’s some endorsement.
Will I ever know the touch of your hand on my face? Will I ever see the lines of your shape in the dawn light? Cool breeze through my window. Will my eyes ever blow butterfly kisses on your skin? Will I ever, Will I ever. . . These are the opening lines to Hiram Ring‘s ballad of aching for a partner, for “someone by [his] side.” And in them a cynical person – like I can be – could read sentimentality or naivete – but somehow, even for me, these words and the way that Hiram sings them – with solid and real desire and yearning – makes them sincere, honest in a way the world is often not. Perhaps this is why Hiram says if he were a spice he would be cardomom, the pod that is nearly the most expensive (second only to saffron) but that calms the stomach, flavors the richest food, and is as versatile as the cook that wields it. Hiram tells me he likes it because it’s exotic – that seems to fit, too.
Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Hiram sing at Building Character in Lancaster, PA. The show was celebrating the release of his first full-length CD, Breathing Deep. His music reminded Kathy and I of Damien Rice, James Taylor, and Sixpence None the Richer at moments. When the groove hit just right, I felt like I was sitting in a dusky jazz club where the music made the room throb and people settle into themselves. A phenomenal harmonica player joined in occasionally to show us all that a harmonica doesn’t just have to be that thing strapped onto a guitarist’s neck; it can be a symphony all alone. And the cello and violin gave Hiram’s music a language of forever and ancientness to wrap around the honesty and truth of the hard-wrung lyrics. Over it all, Hiram’s voice strode strong, like the sound of tumbled gem stones rolling over his breath.
Hiram grew up in Ghana where his parents were workers helping to translate the Bible for the Buem people, and is the case for most missionary kids, Hiram moved a lot; his family shifted their existence back and forth for most of this singer’s life. But while the movement must have been painful – as his song “Play Switch” describes – it has helped to create a man with a true WORLD view and with the ability to find himself in any place, home or not. When I asked him what has influenced his music, he said he grew up listening to his parents sing together and singing with the whole family and that his time in Ghana definitely affected his musical sensibilities (as have Simon and Garfunkel). In a family of ten children, those must have been some hymn sings.
While Hiram tells me that his family’s nomadic life didn’t leave much room for pets, he did say that if he had to be a household pet, he would be a turtle, and I have to wonder if that’s because of the resilience of turtles, because of their ability to move forward with great weight on them, or because they are able to pull themselves inside when they need to hide from the world, all fine reasons to pick a turtle. Or maybe he just thinks they’re cute.
Those family singing times seems to have shaped Hiram’s preferences for live music, too. Nickel Creek and Allison Krause – that’s who he’d tour with if he could because he says he “likes music that takes shape in live set. I like to see people react to each other. That way, no two shows are the same.” I watched that happen with Hiram and his band as they threw in jazz improvisations, as they changed up rhythms, as they spoke to each other with the rhythms and tones of music. It was kind of like watching people work out relationships in front of an audience – all the unspoken nuance, all the screaming, all the light touches on the arm that make human interaction so beautiful – and hard.
Much of Hiram’s music talks about the journey – “the pilgrimage” – of life, the way we are all moving toward our eternal destiny, an destination that Hiram paints often in his songs as an ocean. Maybe this is why he tells me his favorite book/s is The Lord of the Rings, a tale of a massive journey taken on by such a little man who sometimes must be carried by his friends and by his God. I think Hiram knows this – we carry ourselves along as best we can, dragging ourself by our fingernails when we must, but hoping all along that someone will come along beside us, lift us up, and get us a few steps further on. Hiram’s music does that for me.
If you’re lucky when (and I do mean when) you go to a show, Hiram’s parents will be there. (I’m pretty sure I saw his dad sneaking a conversation heart – I followed suit.) They’ll serve you great cookies and Turkey Hill lemonade; they’ll smile; they’ll stand quietly; they’ll remind you what good parents are – there and always loving. You’ll feel for a minute like you’re part of the Ring family, like you’ve suddenly gotten not just nine siblings but a hundred, a brother or sister out of every person in the room.
While I put Hiram’s CD on repeat today, I”ll be plowing through a great book that I just started last night after the show. I laid down in bed, and I grabbed a book I hadn’t really looked out much – The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of by John Eldridge. I opened it up and read this:
Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we must pick up the trail and follow the map that we have at hand. Desire, both the whispers and the shouts, is the map we have been given to find the only life worth living.
After hearing Hiram sing about his longing, after listening to my own heart cry out with hopes and dreams, I almost cried when I read these words. How wonderful to be reminded that my heart’s desires are given to me as guidelines (ones to be studied and weighed against my largest Desire – to love God and the people God brings by my path) and that I should be seeking ways to follow those desires. Wow! Talk about a liberating few sentences.
I see my desire for my farm where people rest, play music, create art, exist in community. I see my desire to find friends – and particularly that one special friend. I see my sincere desire to see people follow their own passion and to help them in any way I can. I see all of these as things given to me as gifts and guidelines, ways of becoming more fully who I am meant to be. Now that, my friends, is something.
So I’ll be working through that book today – I”ll let you know how it is. And I hope, today, you can follow some of your heart’s true desire and “Breathe Deep.” Happy Sunday, All.