Embracing Beauty • The First Week & Some New

embracing-beautyToday marks the end of the first week of my month of embracing beauty, my experiment to attempt to offer counter-programming to all of the ugliness that the world throws at us every time we turn on our laptops or devices. The week has been refreshing for me, and for my blog’s readers as well, I hope.

Rather than simply charging forward, I decided to take a day to catch my breath and review the beauty we focused upon this past week, highlighting my favorite bits, and adding a few new things for good measure.

By the way, I’ve noticed that not many people are sharing these examples of beauty with their friends. If you are at all inspired by what I’m doing, make sure to share, so that we can pass on the beauty! It’s amazing how people will share an ugly tweet by Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but not a bit of beauty.

And again, I want to reemphasize that I make nothing from this blog, and so this is not a plea to gain me hits for financial gain. It’s simply a plea to help me spread beauty. So what are you waiting for? Share these stories right now!

Day 1 • Hyeonseo Lee’s Escape from North Korea

ar-ak101_nkstor_jv_20150624092709It might seem strange that I began this month of beauty with the story of a North Korean defector, but if you took the time to watch Hyeonseo Lee tell her story, it should be pretty obvious why I made that decision.

Lee’s dedication to her family, her bravery to speak in public about North Korea, her optimism, and her indomitable spirit all add up to one of the most refreshing and beautiful personal stories that I’ve seen in a long time.

Especially in this time of the daily histrionics of the U.S. presidential election.

If you haven’t watched Lee’s Ted Talk, then go to Day 1 and give her fifteen minutes of your time. You won’t regret it.

Also, I do want to also point out that Lee has told her story in the New York Times bestseller, The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story.”  Click on the book cover image to go to Amazon and see more details.

Day 2 • A Teacher’s Story

14466880_10100829653395510_1911851069_oOn the second day, we switched gears and I posted the story of a resilient educator working with a child who faces huge challenges in his learning. It was a beautiful story, and should inspire anyone who faces challenges in any kind of work.

I do want to point out that this story, told by a friend, is the sort of story that is repeated in classrooms of dedicated teachers all over the world every day. But you don’t hear those stories, because positive stories don’t get the clicks. No, unfortunately, it is the nature of the world that our focus will always be more on the classroom failures or setbacks than on the classroom successes. It’s a pity, isn’t it?

So, make sure to take the time to thank your children’s teacher, especially if they are doing a good job.

Day 3 • The Photography of Samuel Zeller

photo-1469274423782-912bd4d2dccbA week before I started this 31 Days of Embracing Beauty, I put the word out that anyone should feel free to share examples of beauty, and I would include them. This call is what brought me the teacher’s story from Day 2, and it also brought me the photography of Samuel Zeller on Day 3.

I appreciate that Zeller focuses his lens on atypical beauty – streets and metal fences and lines of architecture. As the quote of Day 3 said, and I paraphrase, beauty is everywhere, but not everyone can see it.

Zeller sees it.

If you haven’t take the time to explore Zeller’s work beyond the small gallery I posted, make sure you do so. You can see some amazing photography on his unsplash page.

Also, don’t forget to send me your own examples of beauty to share with the readers of the Thimblerig’s Ark blog! Email me at info@thimblerigsark.com with your examples.

Day 4 • The Top 100 Most Beautiful Songs According to Reddit

If you haven’t already, make sure you run over to Day 4, and let that Spotify list play in the background as you go about your day. The music selected by the users of Reddit have the potential to make even the worst day seem a little bit better.

But before you do that, make sure to listen to a song that should have been on that list, but because the average Reddit user is between 18 and 24, it was probably just too far out of their wheelhouse.

Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. One of the most beautiful songs of my lifetime.

Day 5 • The Animation of Glen Keane

If you watched Duet on Day 5, then you’ll agree that Glen Keane has an eye for beauty. Another place you can see Keane’s fingerprints is in the 2012 Academy Award winning short, Paperman. Keane helped with the character design on the character of Meg in this magical and beautiful short.

And the amazing hand-drawn/CGI animation is lifted up by the wonderful score by one of my favorite film composers, Christophe Beck. Look for more about Beck in the coming days of 31 Days of Embracing Beauty.


Day 6 • The Art of the Musée d’Orsay

And this brings us to Day 6, the amazing artwork found in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Make sure to go and give it a gander, and be floored that such examples of artistic beauty and genius are found under one stunning roof.

By Daniel Vorndran / DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31953569

By Daniel Vorndran / DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0

Did you know that the museum, which was originally a train station, was nearly demolished in the 1970’s to make way for a hotel complex? The station had become obsolete for trains in the 1930’s because the trains had become too long, was used as a mailing center during World War 2 for sending packages to troops, was the set for an Orson Welles movie, was the home of a theater company, and served as a massive storage unit for years.

In 1970, permission was given for the station to be demolished to make way for a hotel, but those efforts were fortunately stopped by Jacques Duhamel, Minister for Cultural Affairs, who put the space on a supplementary list of historical monuments. Not long after, the idea of turning the station into a museum was pitched, and by the mid 1980’s, the Musée d’Orsay was officially opened.

Stay tuned for more examples of embracing beauty, and please share this post with your friends! Let’s help spread beauty all over the internet.

Also, if you have an example of beauty that you want to share, drop me a line at info@thimblerigsark.com and I’ll be happy to include it!



Remembering Scottish Musician Martyn Bennett

Martyn Bennett.

Do you know the name?

If you know Scottish music, it’s a name you might know.  If you know Scottish music, it’s name you should know.

His could have been a name that most all would have known, regardless of our fondness for music from Scotland.  There are some names that deserve to be known.  But life has a way of writing our scripts in surprising and sometimes cruel and tragic ways.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I tell you more about Martyn Bennett (the bloke in the picture in the header, picture credit to B.J. Stewart) and why I’m writing about him, you need to hear him.   I think we’ll start with the first track from his second album, Bothy Culture.  The song is called Tongues of Kali.

Oh, and make sure you turn up the volume.

How I heard about Martyn Bennett is a bit of a story.

My wife and I were married in 1998 on New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, the day of Hogmanay (the last day of year in Scottish).  It’s also the day of one of the biggest New Year’s Eve parties in the world, as Edinburgh is transformed for one night into a citywide mix of free concerts, dancing, celebratory kissing, and the kind of joyful revelry that should always happen on New Year’s Eve.


The crowds at Hogmanay.

Considering we had a small wedding that included only five, we made the decision that Edinburgh’s festivities were actually our wedding reception, with thousands of guests and music and fireworks.   As night fell, I put on my rented kilt, and my new bride and I headed out to see what the city had arranged to celebrate our new marriage.

Weaving our way through the festive crowds, we came upon a stage on a fairly empty city square being prepared for a concert.  We had no idea who would be performing, but since few people had yet stopped at the spot, and since I saw different kinds of Scottish musical instruments being handled on the stage, we decided to park ourselves and enjoy watching people until the concert began.

A man with baggy camouflage pants and long hair in dreadlocks came out on stage and started tuning instruments, creating an immediate disconnect for me.  He didn’t fit my image of a traditional Scottish musician.  With the dreads, he looked more like a reggae artist.  Were we really about to ring in the new year in Scotland with reggae music?

But since he was tuning pipes and the other Scottish instruments, it had to be Scottish music, right?

The crowd had started to build, effectively trapping us at the front of the stage, and so we had no choice but to wait and see.

When the performance started, I was transfixed by what I heard coming from the musicians onstage.  It was most definitely Scottish music, but it was infused with club beats and samples and sitars and syncopated rhythms and sounds like I had never heard before.

This was music.

Music full of passion.

Music full of life and energy.

It wasn’t safe music, like some other attempts at blending traditional Celtic music with modern sounds.  It was raw.  It was risky.

muso-rest-in-peace_martyn-bennettIt was, I discovered, a musician named Martyn Bennett.

And things just got better.

My wife, who is a native of Kazakhstan, started squealing (yes, she squealed) and hopping up and down as she realized she’d seen the dreadlocked musician perform at the state opera house in her home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan just a few weeks earlier, when he and a small group of musicians had travelled there as guests of the British Consul.

It was like a special gift, to have the band at our wedding reception be so fantastic and unique, and to have them playing a return engagement especially for my wife.  Well, at least to us it was especially for my wife.

Photo credit Sadie Dayton

Photo credit Sadie Dayton

The concert that night was unforgettable, especially when midnight came, and the city erupted in a massive fireworks display.  Bennett led the now overcrowded square in a traditional singalong of Auld Lang Syne that segued into an audience-pleasing high energy song that would be well-met in any rave.  We danced and celebrated well into the night, one of the best nights of my life, and an amazing way to start our married life.

In Edinburgh, in the days that followed, I managed to find a copy of Bennett’s Bothy Culture, which we would listen to frequently, fondly.

Soon after, my wife and I moved to Kazakhstan, where we lived for fourteen years.  One day in 2005, I decided to hunt down information about the dreadlocked musician that we had enjoyed so much that New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh.  I loved the CD, and wanted more.  We would be returning to the U.S. for the summer, so I went searching, knowing I would stand a pretty good chance of tracking down any new music in the states.

To my heartbreak, I found that Martyn Bennett had died on January 30 of that year at the ridiculously young age of 34.  He’d died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which he’d been fighting since being diagnosed in November of 2000.

I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t imagine it.  That energetic, creative, driving force, who I’d watched blow across Hogmanay like a hurricane – was gone?

grit-albumFrom what I’ve read, as Martyn’s illness weakened him, he became unable to tour, and eventually had to stop playing his instruments.  But this didn’t stop him from recording his final album, entitled Grit.  Bennett described the idea of Grit this way:

Split between the songs of travelling people (Roma) and the Gaelteachd traditions of the Hebrides (Grit) brings together by far the strongest links to the ‘real’ folk culture in Scotland. Virtually all the songs and narrative were sampled from vinyl records or from original quarter-inch tape recordings, the sources of which were mostly recorded from 1950 onwards…

Rhythmically and sonically I have gone to great effort in this recording. In recent years so many representations of Scotland have been misty-lensed and fanciful to the point that the word ‘Celtic’ has really become a cloudy pigeon-hole. This album was a chance for me to present a truthful picture, yet face my own reflection in the great mirror of all cultures.

When I found out that Martyn Bennett had died, it’s hard to describe how devastated I felt, considering I had never met the man.  I really didn’t even know much about him.  And I hadn’t even taken the time to drop him a note thanking him for the important part he played in the start of my marriage.

His music had travelled the globe with my family several times, and I’d never tried to let him know.

That’s the kind of thing we think about doing, but rarely ever do.  And we almost always wind up wishing that we had.

So, Martyn, this is my note.  We’re coming up on ten years since you were liberated from your suffering, and this blog post is my attempt to honor you, and thank you for all the joy and pleasure you brought to so many people in the too-short time you were given to share your gift.  Especially the joy and pleasure you brought to us.

And it’s also my attempt to help more people to know your name, and your music.

Because yours is a name that deserves to be remembered.

Martyn Bennett lived a full life, pursuing his dreams of preserving the musical heritage of Scotland’s past while embracing the progressive nature of Scotland’s musical future.  He was a classically trained musician, a meticulous musical perfectionist with a love of sampling and house beats.  He was – and continues to be – an inspiration to countless young musicians across Scotland, and beyond.


Please read more about Martyn’s life in his own words, by reading the bio he wrote on his blog.

Also, read more in depth about Bennett’s life from Herald Scotland journalist, Rob Adams.

Finally, enjoy some of the music of Martyn Bennett, then share it with others.

Extreme biker Danny Macaskill’s The Ridge, with soundtrack Martyn Bennett’s Blackbird from Grit

Hallaig, from Bothy Culture, and the award winning short film by Neil Kempsell

Swallowtail, a more traditional song by Martyn Bennett, with scenes from Man of Aran

Sky Blue by Peter Gabriel, the Martyn Bennett mix.  The last recording Bennett made before his death.

And if you have the chance, try to see GRIT: The Martyn Bennett Story.