A child’s play

Dear Artist, Last night three Canadian filmmakers got together for a shared activity they call “jam band.” My twin brother, James, is one of them and, when we’re all in the same town, I tag along for the fun. James recently finished a project and came home to Crescent Beach for a break before he returns to Toronto for editing. He’s now spent but won’t lose focus. “Don’t want to slump over the oars,” he says.

The Genn Family Ensemble between sets, 1975

When we were little, our parents would invite friends over for dinner parties and have us play music. Our family band, “The Genn Family Ensemble,” performed selections including guitar-solo heavy renditions of “Get Back” and “Day Tripper.” Older brother Dave, aged 9, was already peeling eyeballs with his rock-n-roll skills. James played drums and banged out a signature vocal of “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” and I covered keys and bass on the behemoth Yamaha D80 console organ, one of those foot-pedal models. As a band, we were what you would call “serious beginners.”

David Genn, Sara Genn, and James Genn in London, 1978

Last night’s rendezvous took place at a downtown Vancouver rehearsal space. James, his colleagues and I ducked in from the West Coast drizzle, plugged in, and let’r rip with what’s called “Three chords and the truth.” Having been in similar spaces in New York and abroad for professional purposes, there was something endearing about sitting in on this carefree lark. For hours, they improvised in sound and play, switching creative gears from the details, mastery, and production pressures of the film set. “Drumming is like directing,” said James. “You build a framework for everyone to create something together.” As the band gelled that night, each face revealed the beaming light of its inner child. Science fiction author Ursula Le Guin wrote, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Wise artists practice daily with their inner youngster, and the task doesn’t lighten with success. Your child may slip into the shadows when more pressing professional concerns take hold. Alternate modes of play can be just the antidote. You can have fun chasing the tingles reserved for a novice. Making strides in areas unencumbered by hard-won expectation feels effervescent. By switching into child-mode, shuffling the cortex, we remember our innocence, when we knew less. These are the essentials of continued aesthetic discovery.

David Genn was the first in our family to master the Yamaha D80.

Sincerely, Sara P.S. “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Esoterica: Learning a new thing is a shortcut to joy and informs your area of mastery. Last summer, I took a sailing lesson. Gathered on the dock of New York’s 79th Street Boat Basin were a UN peacekeeping ambassador, an advertising director, a Columbia University Fellow, and me. We all found tying a bowline to be a real stumper. Eyes twinkled, mouths curled in amusement. You could almost hear the bigger brains chugging with new rhythms. Out on the Hudson, catching gusts and inner sensations, we tacked into the wind, closed our eyes, and let the children take turns at the tiller.   All the way to the moon by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK  

Geoff Duke

The childhood comments by Ursula Le Guin stirred me to recall my childhood thoughts, dream and fantasies. When as kids, our minds were unfettered by the impossibles and the practicalities, we believed in fairies and witches and magic. We could ride our bikes and be Geoff Duke, motorcycling at 100 mph through our local woods. They often say that youngsters play with the cardboard boxes more than the toys that came in them. Hey, I turned such a large box into a moon rocket. I turned the nose up to the full moon that hung low down over the Cheshire plain in England where I lived at the age of seven. Then like Dr Doolittle in his moon adventure, I was soon wallowing in the depths of deep space. For real. My wife and partner of 38 years says I have never grown up. Keep imagining, keep thinking the impossible and keep smiling is the only way to try to keep creativity alive. Be a child for yourself. (RG note) Thanks, Russ. For those who might not know, Geoff Duke was a famous motorcycle racer in Isle of Man in the ’50s. There is 1 comment for All the way to the moon by Russ Henshall
From: Sir Gabriel sos Limbe — Dec 20, 2013

Yes Is always nice to feel like a Child- but sometimes we pretend we are old and wise..to make sure things go!!- sometime the feeling like a kid makes you fail infront of those who hate that feelings!!because you own an old Body!!-‘you got a heart,brain and smile of a baby -Really smart and creative Adult is a good creative model for children!!

  So bad and so good by Patty Cucman, Calgary, AB, Canada  

Patty Cucman painting Aquila Mountain

Family ensembles of merit are rare but any family endeavour is more than worthwhile. In my family there were many joy-filled events but only two notable musical ensemble events. The first was the Christmas my mother put a kazoo in each of our stockings. Around the table the music was loud and boisterous. We ‘zooed and sang in and out of harmony. My baby sister said it was the singular event that taught her how to party. The second event involved the same baby sister, my mother and me; Baby Sister on the accordion, my mother on vocals and me on the violin, transposing from alto to the treble clef on the fly. Someone had the sense to tape it. Oh, it was so bad and so good.   Giving up childish ways by Marek L. Czarnecki, Warsaw, Poland  

“Tczew, Poland”

It is unfortunate but in growing up we lose the ability to act as a child. In the Bible 1 Corinthians 13/11 tells us, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Bad advice for those who would be creators, inventors, scientists, travelers and generous purveyors of fun and joy.   The creative spirit by Debbie Sierchio, Trinity, FL, USA  

“Siesta Key 13”

Sara, I felt compelled to write wanting to thank you and your dad for his Twice-Weekly Letters of inspiration and advice that have brought so much joy to my heart. I will admit I have not read every word on every letter. However, what I have gleaned from these pages has over the years given me hope and inspired me to write my story as well as become a better artist. It saddens me that your dad has health issues, but what is life without struggle. The artist struggles every day with creative juices that are imagined and/or enhanced on canvas and on paper. And the purpose of each creative spirit is perhaps the ability to share thoughts and visions either written or painted. As I was writing this note to say thanks I heard a song on WMNF.org, our local community radio station in the Tampa Bay Area, that sums up my morning… Wondering Where The Lions Are by Bruce Cockburn. (Sara G note) Thanks, Debbie. We’ve received so many warm wishes from the Letters community, and are also learning that our new challenges are part of life, and can be a part of the creative and human process.  Wondering Where The Lions Are is one of my all-time favourite Cockburn songs, and I have painted to it many, many times. Thanks for the reminder: Wondering Where The Lions Are (Bruce Cockburn) Sun’s up, uh huh, looks okay The world survives into another day And I’m thinking about eternity Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me I had another dream about lions at the door They weren’t half as frightening as they were before But I’m thinking about eternity Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me Walls windows trees, waves coming through You be in me and I’ll be in you Together in eternity Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me Up among the firs where it smells so sweet Or down in the valley where the river used to be I got my mind on eternity Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me And I’m wondering where the lions are… I’m wondering where the lions are… Huge orange flying boat rises off a lake Thousand-year-old petroglyphs doing a double take Pointing a finger at eternity I’m sitting in the middle of this ecstasy Young men marching, helmets shining in the sun, Polished as precise like the brain behind the gun (Should be!) they got me thinking about eternity Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me And I’m wondering where the lions are… I’m wondering where the lions are… Freighters on the nod on the surface of the bay One of these days we’re going to sail away, going to sail into eternity some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me And I’m wondering where the lions are… I’m wondering where the lions are… There are 3 comments for The creative spirit by Debbie Sierchio
From: Carol Edan — Dec 19, 2013
From: Janice mosery — Dec 20, 2013

Thankyou,for reminding me……..

From: Phil the forecaster — Dec 20, 2013

Exactly… One of my favourites…

  ‘Yell therapy’ by Rodney Mackay, Lunenburg, NS, Canada  

“Atlantic Coast Fog”
by Rodney Mackay

I have lived several lives but remain childish in outlook. This has been another wild weather day here on the Atlantic Oceanand that’s what all of us older kids like! Have a great Yule or “Yell.” When things get tough, “yell” from the middle of the night. It has opened new worlds for me.       The art of swimming under water by Angela Sheard, France  


My very modest family (I mean no conservatoire trained folk) abounded with music. Dad’s Dad had been Choirmaster in a local church and though I never met him, sadly, we all inherited the crotchet and loved to sing lustily, my eldest sister now 81, played piano, I played violin, my Dad played Swanee whistle! everyone else including the cat played whatever they could lay hands on if only the table to batter in time. Such fun, those Christmases, all giving it our all. Then the other part of the letter about new experiences. A few weeks ago, I attended a swimming course for seniors. Of course, I’m not really a senior, not old or anything like that, certainly not inside, only it does happen to be 67 years since I landed on this precious earth so I qualified. I told them I wanted to learn to breathe better in the water, make a bit more headway but no way NOWAY, would I ever, have I ever put my head under water. So Day 1 was a disaster, the first thing they said to do was put their faces underwater. I say they because I got out and sat disconsolate on the side (have to mention here that I was born by the sea so it’s not unfamiliarity with water or anything like that). To make things worse, there was a large-tummied guy with hangdog moustaches prowling up and down the edge giving out orders but didn’t ever get wet. I went home determined to give up and be felt sorry for (if anyone noticed). But next morning the clock rang anyway and my kit was still in the bag and I ‘d bought a silly new swimming hat (has anyone ever looked good in one of those?) and I thought I might just go and prove they weren’t ever going to succeed with me! Surprised but pleased to see me, everyone (they all seemed so old I mean senior and grey the day before, but today, a jolly bunch of enthusiasts all shapes sizes and conditions willing to look silly in hat and goggles and TRY) welcomed me back warmly, hoped I was happier today, urged me to change and slip into the water. How could I not? And what is more, the old guy with walrus moustaches turned out to be the group president who had taught people, scared people like me, to swim for 50 years including the beaming, newly swum 70 year old lady in the water beside me. I hadn’t thought he cared. But no, he was ready to take me in hand personally. Long story short — Day two, I dived through an underwater ring like a seal (well not very, no self-respecting seal would recognise the simile but…), Day Three, I hugged that man with the quiet voice but the authority of long experience and went home with a smile to melt the world. I had done it HE had done it, I can swim under water for the first time in my life and come out still alive and floundering, spluttering but laughing, skipping, blazing with joy, and cheered on by all the other “willing to try-ers” who had each done things in those three days that they had never done before, the ones with unwilling joints, the ones with creaky hearts, the ones well, you know what I mean. PEOPLE, with their inner child fighting to keep their heads above water both literally and figuratively. I hope you have a wonderful day, week, Christmas no matter what and despite everything. There are 5 comments for The art of swimming under water by Angela Sheard
From: wendy head — Dec 19, 2013

A wonderful letter.

From: Anonymous — Dec 20, 2013

Yay you!

From: Anonymous — Dec 20, 2013

I felt your joy in reading your words. That is the essence of being a child at heart. Bravo!

From: Sylvia — Dec 20, 2013

Beautiful letter! I was right there with you, every bubble and splash!

From: Peter Eedy — Dec 22, 2013

Nice story, Angela


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A child’s play

From: Patty Cucman — Dec 16, 2013

Family ensembles of merit are rare but any family endeavour is more than worthwhile.

In my family there many joy filled events but only two notable musical ensemble events. The first was the Christmas my mother put a kazoo in each of our stockings. Around the table the music was loud and boisterous. We ‘zooed and sang in and out of harmony. My baby sister said it was the singular event that taught her how to party. The second event involved the same baby sister, my mother and me; Baby Sister on the accordion, my mother on vocals and me on the violin, transposing from alto to the treble clef on the fly. Someone had the sense to tape it. Oh, it was so bad and so good.
From: Susan Warner — Dec 17, 2013


I hear your Father’s voice through you. What a wonderful look at your family dynamic, and a reason why you are all close today. As a senior member of a large noisy family I can understand how wonderful the connection can be. AND you share music, nothing could be better.
From: Joan Ambrosini — Dec 17, 2013

Timely and uplifting.

From: Jennifer Kane — Dec 17, 2013

You are doing a fantastic job with the newsletter. Thank you for continuing your father’s work!

From: Betty Lou — Dec 17, 2013

You are waging a terrible battle and I am so sorry. You have shared your life, art and wisdom though your twice-weekly news letters. And than there are all your students, all the beautiful and inspiring places you brought them to. You not only taught them to paint but how to see and live.

It was with sadness we felt when you had that great barn fire and you placed your paintings into it. I know it had to be done, still sad, but than now all the good ones are still here. We as artists understand this. By the time you read this I will be 80 and have painted all of my life, taught for 50 years. We have been blessed in our lives with art and sharing. And so Robert, I am your friend in art.
From: Ellie Boyd — Dec 17, 2013

Good one Sara. Always wanted that sort of family play, but alas, we were not all musical. Growing up the three sisters had a “band” ukelele, banjo, who knows what–my Mother would trot us out for gatherings. OK, it was pre-YouTube, already!

From: Willa Dee Maltby — Dec 17, 2013

Robert, and Saraphina,

As a struggling artist in a family of artists – in many fields – I want to tell you how much I appreciate this twice-weekly letter. I am so sad that Robert is struggling with a horrid disease. Saraphina, I can only hope that you will continue the good work of adding to the joy and knowledge of artists everywhere by sending past Robert Genn gems. I hope you will have the courage to branch out and send some of your own artistic wisdom. We artists need that input.
From: mfrances stilwell — Dec 17, 2013

That’s good !… Keep agoing Sara. Thanks. REason for trying new media.

From: Dave Skrypnyk — Dec 17, 2013


It is so nice that you are stepping in and carrying on with family traditions. It’s a certainty Robert must be extremely proud of you.
From: Renee Glenn Agarwal — Dec 17, 2013

What a coincidence. I have a twin brother, and all four of us Glenn children played various instruments in the “Glenn Family Band.”

From: Barry — Dec 17, 2013

The older we get and more established in our “area of mastery”, as you call it, the easier it becomes to stop trying new things. Some people just don’t want to look like they don’t know what they’re doing. I’m all for it. You only live once.

From: Ben Lum — Dec 18, 2013

By the time most of us reach adulthood we have the child knocked out of us. “Grow up!” is the permanent admonition heard by most children. Work, a job, domesticity, child-rearing take the place of the playful youngster, and once again, another generation is cooked.

From: Debbie S. Florida USA — Dec 18, 2013


I have enjoyed your fathers letters very much– I am going to enjoy yours also–Thank you Robert and Sara Debbie S. Florida USA
From: Lawrence Heath UK — Dec 19, 2013

In art, work is play, and play is work.

From: Joelle James — Dec 19, 2013

Deep gratitude for your & Sara’s continued inspiration. Sending a warm hug from San Diego…with the hope that you are finding a way to savor each day.

From: Elihu Edelson — Dec 19, 2013

You are an awesome family. Keep up the good work with the Letter. Happy holidays.

From: Jan Lee — Dec 19, 2013

What a pleasure to have you not only follow in your father’s footsteps as a painter but, also, as a writer. I hope you will keep up the tradition of the twice-weekly letters. Best wishes to your father.

From: Pam Askew — Dec 19, 2013

I often go weeks not reading your letters, just saving them for when I will have time to enjoy them as I delete amazing amounts of junk mail. So you can imagine my horror to read “the bomb” now in December nearly two months later. I still haven’t read later posts but wanted to send you a hug and tell you to keep painting–it’s the best medicine. My thoughts and prayers will be with you in this battle.

From: Liz Reday — Dec 19, 2013

As usual, you read my mind! My family & I are leaving for Chiang Mai in a few days, then we’ll meander by riverboat over to Luang Prabang in Laos before attempting Ankor Wat, Cambodia. Wish I could bring paints, but it will be pen/pencil on sketchbook & camera as we’ll be doing some scrambling. Maybe try the I-Pad app for paint. Why not?

From: Norton Casals — Dec 19, 2013
From: Daryl Briggs — Dec 19, 2013
From: Gayle Hookerman …Dec. 20, 1013 — Dec 20, 2013

I thoroughly enjoy all your thoughts and wonderful wisdom. So much of your shares apply to all of us whether we are involved in artists endeavors or not. Continue doing all your good work, Sara and give your father Robert a big hug. Enjoy the holiday season. Our prayers are with the entire family.

From: Terrie Christian — Dec 20, 2013


Great letter! Thanks for pairing survival with creativity!
From: Penny Duncklee — Dec 21, 2013

I have written two poems in my life: 1: Time is Now. Now is Forever….. and Never. 2: The more years that are given to me, the more like a kid I dare to be.

Today is the only day that exists. Enjoy it. Love, Penny
From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — Dec 22, 2013

The slothful says “There is a lion outside”; and He who “regards the snow will beg at harvest” both from Proverbs, the Bible. Adulthood for me eliminates excuses and brings on perserverence and focus I certainly lacked in childhood. My dad used to play the organ and I used to sing along “Do You Know the Way to San Jose'” and other Rogers and Hammerstein and Pop songs. We were lucky to be a family that loved music, a good story and good food, such as the Pffernusse that Mom and us girls made each year. There were seven of us altogether, 2 boys, 3 girls, and an occasional aunt or grandparent who came to live with for a while. Christmas was magical. The smell of Pffernusse still takes me back and makes me very happy.

  Featured Workshop: Enrique Flores-Galbis 122013_workshop Enrique Flores-Galbis Workshops Held in Havana, Cuba   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa

Wales Mud Flats

watercolour painting by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Carol Taylor of Tucson, AZ, USA, who wrote, “I am so happy to read about the music. I too have awakened my inner child. I bought a piano (again) and have been playing! I never have forgotten my music. I fantasize about being the pianist in a jazz band!”

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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