Monday, December 11, 2006

A remarkable example of greed and avarice...

I've had several of my family members ask me for a wish list for Christmas. I have kept an ongoing wish list I edit about twice a year (birthday & Christmas). I sent it along to them, and I figured it would make a decent blog entry so either you could gain further insight into my greedy and materialistic side or if any of you manage to sue someone wealthy, inherit a large sum from a distant relative, or win the lottery, I might get a thing or two.

Here's what i sent out:

Okay, you're all family (or ones I consider family), so no doubt you've been curious or have downright asked me for a Christmas list. Boy, you people are masochists. Okay, but remember (some of) YOU ASKED FOR IT!

Disclaimer: The things itemized in this list are the heartfelt desires, outrageous whims, and just plain daydreams of a greedy mind. They in no way express items I EXPECT to get in any way, as most are expensive, irresponsible, silly, or just plain wrong. With the exception of tuition funds and car repairs (my top priorities, by the way), most are pretty frivolous. This is an ongoing list that I revise from time to time, so other than simply crazy stuff (i.e. my own island, $1 million, and a fleet of Austin Minis), pretty much every thing that pops into my head drops on here eventually.

Here we go!


1. Archos Media Player – 30 gig minimum in any of the following series: AV300, AV 400, AV500, AV700, 504, 604, 402E
2. Book – Congress-The Drum Corps Science-Fiction: The Coming of Congress by Larry & Phyllis Kirk
3. Book – History of Drum & Bugle Corps: Volume 2 (
4. Book – Janet Chiefari – Introducing the Drum & Bugle Corps
5. Book – Jodeen E. Popp - Competitive Drum Corps (Olympic Printing Inc., call 847-296-3015)
6. Book – Judy Garty – Marching Band Competition
7. Book – Kim Holston – Marching Band Handbook
8. Book – Silent Bob Speaks: The Collected Writings of Kevin Smith by Kevin Smith
9. Book – Star Trek: Best Destiny (hardcover) by Diane Carey
10. Book – Star Trek: Captain's Glory by William Shatner
11. Book – Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars Volume 3 (hardcover) by Greg Cox
12. Book – Star Trek: The Return (hardcover) by William Shatner
13. Book – The Complete Marching Band Resource Manual by Wayne Bailey
14. Buddy Christ Dashboard Statue (
15. Car Repair – New Brakes
16. Car Repair – New EGR Valve
17. Car Repair – Tune-up
18. CD – William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy - Spaced Out!
19. CD – 'Weird Al' Yankovic - Straight Outa Lynwood
20. Cologne – Eddie Bauer EB21
21. Cologne – Ralph Lauren Polo
22. DCI Calendar ( )
23. DVD – An Evening with Kevin Smith II: Evening Harder
24. DVD – Animaniacs
25. DVD – Clerks II
26. DVD – Clerks: 10th Anniversary Edition (any video store)
27. DVD – Clue
28. DVD – DCI Legacy Collection – full boxed set or any individual DVDs except 1992 (
29. DVD – Dodgeball
30. DVD – Family Guy, Volume 4 (get the special edition at Target – it has extras)
31. DVD – Ferris Bueler's Day Off
32. DVD – Greatest American Hero (Full Series Deluxe Box Set)
33. DVD – Hong Kong Phooey
34. DVD – Indiana Jones Trilogy Box Set (any video store)
35. DVD – Kids in the Hall, Seasons 2-5
36. DVD – Little Shop of Horrors (1998 with Rick Moranis and Ellen Green)
37. DVD – Monty Python & the Holy Grail
38. DVD – Monty Python's the Life of Brian
39. DVD – Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
40. DVD – Muppet Treasure Island (any video store)
41. DVD – Scrubs: Seasons 1-3
42. DVD – Spiderman II
43. DVD – Star Trek: Insurrection – Collector's Edition (wide screen – any video store)
44. DVD – Star Trek: Nemesis – Collector's Edition (wide screen – any video store)
45. DVD – Strange Brew
46. DVD – Superman Returns
47. DVD – The Big Lebowski
48. DVD – The Complete Monty Python (series box set)
49. DVD – The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
50. DVD – The Great Muppet Caper (any video store)
51. DVD – The Muppet Movie (any video store)
52. DVD – The Muppets Take Manhattan (any video store)
53. DVD – The Simpsons, Seasons 2-8
54. DVD – The Weird Al Show
55. Costume – Silent Bob Trenchcoat (Have Val make it)
56. Costume – Star Trek Burgundy Uniform Jacket (Have Val make it)
57. Folding Keyboard Stand
58. Gameboy Advance games - Super Mario Advance 2, 3 & 4 (any video games store)
59. Keyboard Sustain Pedal
60. Laptop computer with 1.6 gig (or better) processor, DVD/CD-RW, & as much RAM as possible
61. Royal Crown Revue Bowling Shirt (XXL,
62. Star Trek Comm Badge -
63. Star Trek Hockey Jersey, Starfleet or Klingon (XXL)
64. Star Trek Rank Pips (4) -
65. Star Trek Uniform Jacket (XL) -
66. Trombone - Bach Stradivarius 42BO w/'F' attachment or Conn 88H w/'F' attachment
67. Tuition Funds (I currently have a $1,400 bill) made out to Wayne State University – Highest Priority!
68. Yamano Hand Roll Piano (

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Just a Quick Question...

I usually write tomes of epic length here, but this time I have just one simple question...

Am i the last fat, goatee-clad, low-brass playin', Weird Al listenin', music geek that's NOT in Phi Mu Alpha!? Please! TELL me there's someone else out there!

It truely pisses me off that I missed my chance to join. Pledging a fraternity at 32, even if there was a chapter local enough to do it, just seems...well..wrong...

...But I WANT IN SINFONIA, Damn it! All the (in my perception) cool guys are!

...just askin'.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Today, I lost a Mentor...

It's funny how little you may recognize or appreciate how important someone can be to the greater plan of your life – even when it's perfectly obvious to everyone else.

Dick Perkins was not a warm & fuzzy kind of man. As my high school band director, he was very proper, professional, and extremely dedicated to his work. Our relationship never went beyond teacher-student to become respected colleagues, as I had hoped. Even as I became a music educator myself, he was just one of those teachers, no matter how adult you get, you could never call by his first name to his face. He would always be Mr. Perkins.

I would see him at marching band and drum corps shows fairly regularly after I had graduated and gone on to instruct, myself. We would make eye contact, walk up and say hi, we would banter briefly about this band's woodwinds, that corps' guard or what some classmate of mine/former student of his is doing what nowadays. Our conversations were always brief, good-natured, but awkward and uncomfortable. I always felt like such an amateur talking music to him, like a 3rd grader talking to a physics professor about how well he knows his multiplication tables. Eventually, I tended to avoid going out of my way to say hi when I would see him at shows to avoid the awkwardness.

I'm bitterly regretful of that now…

Today I received a call from Ralph Biggs. I hardly ever hear from Ralph anymore. I could almost sense what was coming.

Richard H. Perkins died this morning in a hospice of a rare brain disease, as I understand. He went peacefully in his sleep. He had suffered what was originally thought a stroke several weeks ago, and his health had been failing since.

I had just seen him at the DCI Quarterfinals broadcast last August, looking fit as the proverbial fiddle, and exchanged a few awkward sentences.

Of course, it was a great disappointment to me when I heard the news, but to be honest, I didn't feel particularly sad. I was at work, distracted with a million different tasks, thoughts of the coming holiday, and basically shrugged it off with the feeling of, "that's a darned shame."

Later, after grabbing some pizza and inviting our friend, Leigh, whom we were in the band with, I dragged out some old cassettes of our band concerts. We listened through pieces like Holst's "First Suite", some show tune medleys, and such, and toasted him with Jolt Cola (the favorite drink for 7am marching band rehearsal in 1990). Then a lush, gorgeous arrangement of "Danny Boy", played with depth and dynamics rarely heard in a high school group, wafted through the living room. I imagined Mr. Perkins waving his baton in front of me on the podium as I played…and I cried. I finally realized what I had lost. I had lost one of my greatest mentors.

I have always attributed my interest in music and my desire to pursue music education as a career to several teachers in my life, often giving more credit to the ones that used the style of teaching I wanted to emulate: the slightly off-the-wall, exuberance and energy that is magnetic and inspires the same energy in others. Richard Perkins was not one of those teachers.

Richard Perkins was the kind of teacher that didn't need any of that. He inspired great performance and learning by an exceeding love and knowledge of music. Most importantly, however, he never underestimated the talent of his students. He would pull out class AA music for a band of 50 high school kids and have them playing it every bit as well as a university level symphony band. He taught theory, history, multiculturalism, and balanced it all with an unrivaled diversity of repertoire that expanded every student's musical horizons.

I suppose I never appreciated it much, even recently, because it was a standard I felt I could never live up to. Cracking jokes, getting excited, and being a cheerleader to get kids to work – that I can do. But having the kind of depth of knowledge of music and skill and/or knowledge of every instrument, music history and theory, let alone the work ethic to be able to fit it into virtually every lesson plan – that, I feared, I could NEVER do.

And so I distanced myself from him. Not intentionally, but I let his legacy and the greater lessons of his example slip lower in priority in my professional memory. I focused my attention to the teachers that fit more into my teaching style: the fun ones, the ones that cracked the occasional bad (or usually dreadful) jokes, the ones that made the work not seem so much like…work. Many equally good teachers, mind you, but completely different from Mr. Perkins.

After reflecting today on 4 years (plus one season instructing) with Mr. Perkins and the Dondero bands, I came to an epiphany. I realized that my professional development, as with all things, must be about balance. Being a cheerleader and full of energy and enthusiasm for the subject I teach is useful and important, but just because it's what I'm comfortable with doesn't mean I should rest on my laurels by relying on it exclusively.

If there is one major life lesson I learned from Dick Perkins, it was this: The work may be hard, it may be boring or even excruciating at times, but the rewards are far richer when you do it right, learn something from it, and know that you succeeded through your own perseverance.

Thank you, Mr. Perkins. You will forever be a part of me, and your legacy will live on through every student I teach and ever note of music that emanates from me for the rest of my life. I will work for that.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thus far my blogs have either been whimsical, philosophical, prophetic, or introspective. This one promises none of that. I've been so busy and stressed lately, that I haven't had time to think much, let alone blog about my ponderings. I've gotten to the point that I almost feel OBLIGATED to blog when I have downtime at work (which has been extremely rare nowadays). Everyone else seems to have so much going on in their lives right now, and while I do as well, none of it seems to be of the kind I can either blog about due to my own sense of privacy or that anyone would find the LEAST bit interesting (not that barbershop conventions or my old Halloween costumes are prize material, I suppose). So, for the sake of blogging for the hell of it, here's what's been up with me lately…

First off, I'll get it outa the way – Bravo America! It's about damned time, too! No point expounding on it. It's all been said. Just wish that Prop 2 thing had knocked down. Oh well, the fight ain't over yet, I'm sure. The courts will weigh in, in time.

The past week has been filled with stress at work (the boss is still obnoxious, absent-minded and rude), stress at home (Liam is having a few problems at school), financial stress (damned bank charged me bounce fees on my ATM), and scholastic stress (still haven't resolved the situation at Wayne yet). However, it's been pretty well balanced with a few nice diversions. I was able to go to a GREAT barbershop show on Saturday (probably to be blogged on later) and have a rare evening out with Sonya in Ann Arbor, in an attempt to run into Patrick Stewart as he wound up a stint with the Royal Shakespeare Society. No luck bumpin' into the ol' Captain, but we had a few nice drinks, some nachos, and a fun game of pool. Also, thanks to Sonya, got addicted to Desperate Housewives this week. Great – another damned show to get addicted to. My schedule is so nuts, I hardly ever get to see the shows I actually already want to watch, let alone finding time for new ones. Thankfully, working at Blockbuster, I can just rent them when they come out on DVD.

I'm pretty strung-out, physically, emotionally, and mentally right now, so if you were looking for some new piece of intellectual insight – you're S.O.L.. I'll pop a few vitamin C and some Zicam over the next few days and hopefully regain my eloquent, bubbly nature soon. For now, though, just a few closing thoughts to some friends…

Alan – Gonna miss the hell out of ya, bud. Best of luck in NY. Save lives, write music, be you, and drop a line every now and again.

Lou – Stop whining and stop worrying! You're like a fox in the henhouse right now! No point on pining about the chicken that flew the coup when you got the pick of Colonel Sander's best flapping around ya!

Jim – I'll get that questionnaire entry form done, don't you worry! Any chance to sit in a Palace suite with free food & booze! By the way, does Taco Bell compare with Red Lobster?

Meghan – The pursuit of the almighty dollar will always be there for all of us. It's usually a matter of treading water sometimes until the tide is in our favor. Just make time for your dreams when you can, don't forget about them, and be patient. They will come to fruition. Sometimes in a form you'd least expect.

Jennifer – Great hangin' with ya on Saturday! Kelly's a DOLL! We have to find time to get all of us together more. I mean ALL of us, including Kirk! Damned Oakland Mall and their stupid new Santa placement anyway.

Ryan – All 4 of you guys are amazingly talented – together or apart. Groups come and go like the tides. It's al a matter of riding high on the wave. I'm kicking myself for not making the downriver gig, but took some solace in playing some choice Eyestings and RCP tracks on my MP3 player that night.

Josh – When you're done rolling your eyes about the uselessness and socially worthless nature of this blog, drop me a line. We should do some re-connecting before you come back for the holidays. I hate awkward reunions.

Paulie B. & Jay – Get your sorry asses to a barbershop rehearsal! We need an excuse to hang once in a while (even if I'll have to head home shortly after rehearsal).

Sonya – I love you with all my heart. I had a GREAT weekend with you! Curse you and bless you at the same time for hooking me on Desperate Housewives! It's so much fun to watch with you! (Bare in mind, I'll deny to any male of the species that I ever enjoyed a minute of the show. As far as guys are concerned, I watched it solely for your benefit).

Everyone else – Peace and prosperity be with you all. The holidays are comin', so expect that Sonya and I will be looking for an excuse to either have a shindig at our place or organize an outing or Christmas caroling in the coming weeks! We'll keep you posted!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween is a Geek's Christmas!

Ah, an opportunity to delve into the deepest depths of my quirky knowledge of pop-culture, as well as express my creativity and ingenuity!

I have never been a fan of store-bought costumes. The last one I remember having is a $6 million man costume (cellophane topped box, cheap plastic rubber sting, polyurethane pajamas, suffocating mask and all) in 1st grade. After suffering through the sweat, peripheral blindness, and near asphyxiation of that, I decided to make my own costumes from then on. I always used primarily materials lying in scrap piles in the house. Old clothes, beat-up cardboard boxes, tin cans, near dried-up paint - whatever I could find. I almost never bought materials that cost me more than $20, and usually kept the cash outlay to less than $5. That made my white-trash level income parents happy.

However, as I had no athletic talent, low popularity, and was quite fat, I knew I'd have to make a mark through other means. The best option was to come up with costumes not offered in stores and made impressively out of few materials, creative thinking, and little or no cost. My first idea in 4th grade was to by a pair of red long-johns and make a Greatest American Hero costume. That would require buying them, painting a reasonable insignia for the chest, and regardless, would look cheap and hokey, if it was even recognized. Besides which, since the show was canceled by then and I had no good pictures of the costume, it wouldn't be accurate. Okay, idea tabled pending future research.

In my early days, I did the low-budget standards, using clothes either in or on their way out of mine or my parents' wardrobes - Hobo, B-level Vampire, etc.. By 6th grade or so, I decided to make a real project out of it. After making my own costumes and props to perform comedy routines in grade school talent shows, I found I was really good at turning garbage into gold. I lip-synched "Like a Surgeon" and recruited a couple friends to play my assistant and patient. I made reasonable facsimiles of stethoscopes, surgical gowns and masks, handsaws, hammers, and other implements of destruction to open my 'patient', and withdrew from him every odd-looking thing I found in the house (that wasn't in my parents nightstand, anyway). I received quite a few compliments on my performance AND props.

I decided to extend this foray to Halloween. In 6th grade (or thereabouts), after spelunking the nether regions of our basement, I found a remnant of aging carpet padding. Being the chubby, couch-potato, junk food junkie I was, inspiration came quickly. French Fries! I embarked upon a journey that led to cries of frustration, cuts, scrapes, tears, late night trips to the store, and several adjustments to my ultimate plan. I fashioned the frame from 1"x1" strips of wood, the exterior of cardboard covered in tacky print contact paper, and wrote "French Fries" in permanent marker on the front to dissuade the inevitable question (no mater how obvious the costume), "And what are YOU suppose to be?" In the end, I had made a replica of a typical fast-food fry box with strips of carpet padding for fries.

I was elated, despite how hokey the costume was, at the compliments I got for ingenuity and creativity. I won 2nd prize at the church costume contest, being beaten by a parent assisted (or more likely store-bought) pizza slice costume worn by the girl I had a major crush on. Romantically emasculated and creatively crushed, I walked the 2 miles home with my "major award", determined not to be outdone again.

In 8th grade I undertook a similar project with a Heinz Ketchup bottle costume. Using my standard materials of small strips of wood, cardboard, duct tape, and paint, I made an impressive costume. There were problems, however. I could only take tiny steps as the wood frame went past my knees. It also weighed in excess of 30 lbs and measured an unyielding 5'x3', making it incredibly difficult to transport. This awkward transport of the costume led to me being late for school and the judging for the contest. I was disappointed, but reveled in the continued compliments, and took solace in the fact that I had 2 pics of it in the yearbook. Trick-or-treating was a mess, however. Given my constricted strides, I averaged about 2 blocks ever 30 minutes. I finally gave up and took of the costume, plopping the bottle cap on my head and loot-filled pillowcase over my shoulder. Trudging for the last hour in my red flannel shirt, red-painted face and odd-looking cap, I was mistaken for a sailor on leave and only occasionally took the time to explain my true costume. After all, I had a lot of ground to make up!

From there, I went more mainstream. I went as Freddy Krueger a time or 2, using my near trademark fedora, a cheap sweater from Kmart, and spending most of my time fashioning a jointed, working slasher glove from paper rivets, a worn-out band uniform glove, cardboard and tin foil. It looked great!

Since then, I have only occasionally gotten costume pieces from a store. When I worked at Gags 'N Gifts for a brief period, I grabbed a few things with my generous store discount after the Halloween rush: an ill-fitting peasant shirt, cheap moccasin style boots, theater-quality custom fit fangs, a 2-piece, glue-on, paint-it-yourself skull mask, and a helmet-like cap suitable for a wizard. I still have and use those on occasion for quickly thrown-together costumes. I also made a fantastic black crushed-velvet cloak from a store-bought pattern, all tolled, costing me about $25. I finished it at 12:30am on November 1st '97. Determined not to let it go to waste that year, I headed to my fraternity's Halloween party, letting the sorority girls admire it and making sure to let them know how domestic I was by saying I made it myself. That cloak has gotten a LOT of use as a wizard (with the helmet and staff fashioned our of a tree limb and quartz crystals), Grim Reaper (with the skull mask), Vampire (with the fangs), and I drag it out for the Renaissance festival (with the peasant shirt), marveling at how much heavier and better it is than the $200+ cloaks offered there.

With my kids taking a priority now, I have often resorted to those standard costumes. I have also, however, learned to use my (currently decreasing) girth to my advantage, pairing up with my friend Leigh as Mimi Bobeck to go as Drew Carey (using only a suit and black glasses frames) and Silent Bob (using only my trench coat, standard clothing, dark makeup for my beard and long hair brunette wig).

As you can guess by my profile pic, the original idea for the Greatest American Hero costume was finally, after 20+ years, resurrected. Last year, after hearing about the release of the series on DVD and with the help of the previously non-existent internet, I was able to get some good pics of the costume. With the added assets of my own means of transportation, materials acquisition (i.e. budget), inkjet iron-on t-shirt transfers, a decent sewing machine (thanks Val!), and a bit more experience, I was able to fashion a very convincing (if increasingly obscure) costume I had waited almost a quarter century to make!

Now, unfortunately, I have discovered that the costume is available online for about $40. It's nowhere near as nice as mine and certainly not as ingenious, but somehow detracts a bit from the novelty of my costume, being available to the general public. Plus, the new deluxe edition of the series comes with a replica cape and iron-on transfer. Oh well, I DID IT FIRST! I'll likely break down and buy the new set sometime, however, as it comes with (get this) a full, working replica of the instruction book, complete with working lights!

I've re-made the costume almost entirely this year, giving it a bit of a better fit, a few more minor details, and replacing the over-worn shirt I continued to use after last Halloween.

Red Long-sleeve t-shirt - $5
pack of iron-on Inkjet transfers - $10
roll of duct tape (trim) - $.99
Red workout pants - $10 (clearance)
black satin fabric & red ribbon - $8
2" strip of gray pleather (belt) - $.89
Jelly Jar Lid (buckle) - $0

fulfilling a lifelong Halloween dream - priceless

How about some of your Halloween memories!?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pioneer District Barbershop Convention (the Bows)

I would like to thank several people and groups for my experience this weekend, first and foremost, my wife, Sonya. She has never liked the idea of me taking off a whole weekend and leaving her with the kids for something 'optional'. Especially when there are chores to do, work time to request off, money to be saved, and such. Thank you for your understanding, Sonya. I can't say it will ever end, but I will always try and make it as painless as I can for you!

Second, my Dad. Thank you for exposing me to barbershop at such a young age. I know it took a long time for me to get involved in the Society, but I've always had the 'bug' thanks to you. The barbershop records played on Saturdays, stopping by chorus performances whenever they'd appear at fairs and such, teaching me 'Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie' when I was knee-high to nothin' – it all cemented a love for this style and those songs that can never be shaken. Thank you for the ongoing birthday present of paying my Society dues, and always cheering me on, allowing me to be a part of this great fraternity of music.

Third, my Mom. Mom, you gave me the initial drive to make music my life by exposing me to all kinds of music, especially good, tight a cappella stuff. You gave me the ear to make this stuff sound good and appreciate it on a whole new level. And most of all, you've always encouraged me to keep at it, enduring my home-made recordings, force-fed listening to my quartet, etc. Thank you.

Third, the Detroit Oakland Chapter, Gentleman Songsters Chorus. You guys are top-notch. You are always supportive (even when I suck – bad), and a solid bunch of great singers and gentlemen. Thank you for allowing me to share in the fun. I love each and every one of you. Special thanks to those who have allowed me to be in quartets with them: Wally, Jeff, Pete, Zaven, and Jim (Godspeed, Jim), and our fantastic and fun director, Steve Sutherland.

Next, my current quartet, Coda Honor. Lou, Mike, and Floyd, you have given me a chance to do something I never thought I could do – make barbershopping not only a TON of fun, but financially justifiable! I love singing with you guys and always will. Maybe someday we can go knock one out of the park on the contest stage!

Lou Coviak. You're my best friend, confidant, and partner in musical crime. I can't and won't go into what you've meant to me over the years. You'll always have a Tenor - and a friend – in me. I could go on for pages, but you know it all anyway.

And a BIG thank you to my mentor, Rick Hartsoe – the man who first gave me the chance to sing a cappella music and barbershop in front of REAL PEOPLE! Enjoy your retirement, old man. You've earned it more than you can possibly imagine. You've given me a love of singing and the tools to do it well that I will carry with me the rest of my days, and hopefully pass on to more generations as your legacy. Thank you for the music.

Finally, thank you to everyone I met and sang with at the convention: Ian (Mt. Pleasant Chapter), Keynotes (Macomb Chapter), Jeff (Moxxy), Party of Four (from all over), Fermata Nowhere (District Champs and Pioneer District International reps), and everyone else. Thank you for making barbershopping and every event and convention more fun than I could have imagined any activity could be.

Thank you all…

Pioneer District Barbershop Convention (the Tag)


Sunday mornings at barbershop conventions almost always start off with a fairly non-denominational church service, usually more focused on singing hymns and spirituals than sermons and bible verses. Unfortunately, being up until almost 3am the night prior at ever convention, I almost NEVER can get my sorry, heathen ass out of bed in time for it.

So I had planned on getting checked out by 10am, but as always, that just didn't seem to happen. We slept till 10, realized the time, and jumped out of bed and began showering and gathering. The Concierge Lounge closed at 10, but thankfully, the attendant was kind enough to open the doors long enough for us to grab some coffee and whatever was leftover from the free continental breakfast. Big Mistake! Soon, she had more or less completely re-opened the darned thing as most of the other barbershoppers who were up till 3am or later had the same idea. Hope she made some good tips!

I drag my stuff to the car and pull it up to the entrance to get Lou, who had managed a ride up with a fellow chorus member. Odd thing about the morning after is, though the lobby is again filled with barbershoppers, no one's much interested in singing. We're all pretty worn out, hoarse, hung-over, or otherwise incapable of croaking anything out without hurting ourselves somehow. Besides which, we had our fun, got our respective Jonzes satisfied, and just wanna get the heck home.

So Lou checks us out of the room, we pile into the car, and head down I-94, blasting Weird Al's newest album the whole way. God, we're such dorks.

By Ann Arbor, we're feeling a bit hungry and grab a bite at a Big Boy in Ann Arbor. While Lou's finishing his 3rd plate from the breakfast Buffet, I give a call to Sonya to let her know what's up, try calling my Dad (not home), and we're off to home. I drop Lou, then get home. Exhausted, sick, drained, but immensely satisfied in a great convention.

Next, Pioneer District Barbershop Convention (the Bows)...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pioneer District Barbershop Convention (the Verse & Chorus)


Up at 7am, we discover the rehearsal isn't until 9, so we sleep another hour. From 8-8:45, were running around the room frantically showering, shaving, getting our tuxes on, stage make-up on, fumbling with cuff links and registration badges, and grabbing a quick coffee and a bite at the Concierge Lounge before running down to rehearse. I'm dragging, feeling the effects of a long day, a freezing band rehearsal, little sleep, and an oncoming cold. I run back to the room for my sinus meds and vitamin C. Next thing I know, I'm rerrin' ta go!

We take the chorus picture and head up to perform. Aside from a few glitches in my own timing, and a few tuning problems adjusting to the acoustics, the performance went well. Not stellar, but well. We had a pretty reasonable expectation of coming in 3rd, given what we had heard of the new, young 'upstarts' in the district, the Mt. Pleasant "Mountain Top Singers" chorus. We knew we weren't going to beat Macomb and be the new district representatives to the International competition, but as long as we improved, that's all we cared about, really. That, and having fun singing.

After changing into my jeans and quartet shirt, I headed back down to the contest seating to watch the other 2 top choruses, the Mt. Pleasant and Macomb chapters. Lou made it quite clear that I would meet a slow, painful death if I missed Macomb. Mt. Pleasant went on before intermission. Their problem has never been singing, it's been stage presence and entertainment value. Well, they fixed that pretty damned well! Moves were well planned, coordinated and timed, facial expressions were consistent and sincere – not forced, and their sound, WOW! Precise cut-offs, phrases pushed to the end, words enunciated beautifully. I was TRULY impressed! I knew they would give Macomb a REAL run for their money!

Lou had been dropping hints about what Macomb was going to do, swearing me to secrecy about even the tiniest, vaguest hint he would give. I knew it was going to be a real crowd-pleaser. Trouble is with that kind of show, no matter the genre, the musical technique almost always takes a bit of a hit. Well the show WAS AMAZING! A Christmas theme, complete with Christmas trees, gifts, skating pond, ice fishing, snowball fights, pratfalls, Frosty, Santa, and all the reindeer! Absolute fun to watch! It sounded great, too, but I wasn't sure if it was going to be enough to beat Mt. Pleasant. I truly couldn't tell, as I was so enthralled by the production if it all, I wasn't doing my usual overly-analytical breakdown of the technique. Those of you than know me, know it takes a LOT to get me out of "music educator mode" and back into "fan mode"!

After Lou got changed, we headed to the hotel pub to grab a bite. We were set to have dinner with the chapter at 4, but since Lou got a $15 meal voucher for waiting 2 hours to check in, he figured it was the best time to use it. While we were eating, he told me he was reminded that he won the raffle at the last convention for a free room to this one! We finish our snack and head to the gift shop so Lou can find a new Kalamazoo shot glass. While he was shopping, I headed out to try and find a score sheet from the chorus competition. I grab a blue sheet and start strolling back to the gift shop while reading it. "Shit. He's gonna be impossible to live with after this."

Macomb won.

It's about this time I figure the guy could step in a pile of shit and come out with gold-plated loafers! He gets a free meal, a free upgrade, free drinks and snacks, a free room, and now he's going to International Convention in Denver in July! Meanwhile, I see that, indeed, the Detroit-Oakland Chapter, the chorus we're both in, came in 3rd – as expected.

Oh well. Being no worse off than I had expected, I decide to ride the coattails of his exuberance, and enjoy myself! We head to the chapter dinner, eat, and Lou heads off to get ready for Macomb's opening of the quartet finals show. I spend the remaining time between watching Star Trek in the hotel room, checking e-mail & MySpace in the Concierge Lounge, popping in for Macomb's 2nd performance, and watching a few quartets on the TV outside the auditorium. Lou joins me after his performance, I grab my ukulele, and we meander the lobby occasionally watching quartets on the tube.

After the quartet finals is when the fun begins…

Each chapter generally reserves a room as their "hospitality room" for after the quartet finals contest. Here they offer munchies and drinks to entice quartets and general members alike to socialize and celebrate a job well done for all.

As a registered and organized (well, sorta) quartet, Coda Honor planned to do the tour of the rooms. After Macomb's props, snowballs, trees and such had been loaded, Floyd, Mike, Lou and I got together and decided that we didn't want to diminish the other quartets by stepping on their toes or being too presumptuous, so we opted to simply perform for our own chorus's hospitality rooms. We started at Detroit-Oakland.

We did well, selling our best renditions of "I Been Workin' on the Railroad", "Where Is Love", and the ever overdone "Coney Island Baby". We sold it well and sounded good, despite the fact that my voice was on a downward spiral with the cold's steady encroachment on my entire being. I started to feel a bit lethargic, so grabbed some snacks, popped another vitamin C capsule, and bade the quartet to press on! Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead! I begin strumming my ukulele and croaking out a few tunes as we wander. We eventually pick up with a guy from Mt. Pleasant's chorus named Ian, a 1st year 'shopper, and hung with him on and off for most of the rest of the night.

We went to Macomb's room. Again, a decent performance. These guys had heard us more than Detroit-Oakland, but enjoyed it nonetheless. We need some new material, though. 13 songs – mostly polecats (standards every barbershopper knows) – is not a good repertoire for a quartet together a year-and-a-half.

From there we kinda split up a bit. Mike and Floyd were getting tired and were staying at another hotel, so they took off. Lou and I hung together pretty much the rest of the night. We stopped by Mt. Pleasant's room, which was small, sparsely populated…but they had beer. Domestic, but beer none the less. ;) We listened to a few members running through some of the chorus repertoire. They do some REAL stuff! I was very impressed – and they weren't even an organized quartet! Then Border Crossing came in and gave a great performance for the small group of about 7 or 8 of us. Then, it was off to the lobby.

As Lou and I moved around the hallways, I played a few tunes on the ol' uke, and we met up with Ian again. We sang songs and tags for hours on end. Ian, Lou and I talked for about a half hour about Weird Al, marching band, and other things that exemplify all things completely dorky.

From my spot on the main lobby floor, I noticed Andy Wickstrom and the bass and bari from Keynotes leaning over the 2nd floor railing surveying the scene and chatting. Barely having ANY voice left at that point and being on my 5th beer, I recalled that their tenor was in Las Vegas with his wife at the Sweet Adelines International Convention. I pointed at them, shouting, "You need a tenor!" I then darted up the escalator and began singing songs I knew and woodshedding ones I didn't. Oddly enough, I probably sounded the best of the night when my voice was at its worst.

After that, it was about 2:30. I had had a ridiculously full 2 days, the cold was finally catching up with me, and my voice was just plain done. As much as I would have loved to stay up all night singing, my voice, not to mention the rest of me, simply wouldn't handle it, so I headed to the room. Lou was just settling in, so I grabbed us each a final beer from the few I brought with me.

I drank half the beer, turned off the TV and drifted off to sleep on my adjustable Sleep Number bed in my Concierge Level room, thoroughly contented in a wonderful weekend of music, fraternity, fun, and immersing myself entirely in the 10th level of total and complete Geektitude.

Next – Pioneer District Barbershop Convention (the Tag)…

Pioneer District Barbershop Convention (introduction)

Before I begin, I'd like so send a hearty congratulations to all of the Sweet Adelines who competed last weekend in Las Vegas for the Sweet Adelines International Convention. Way to go gals! If any of you won big at the casinos, I want a cut!

The following is a recap of my weekend in Kalamazoo at the Pioneer District Fall Convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society.


It's Monday – 2 days after the festivities ended – and I'm still hoarse.

Barbershop conventions exemplify the reason most men get into barbershopping for one reason or another.

For those competitively driven, it's a chance to get out there with your chorus or quartet (or simply cheer on your favorite chorus or quartet) in contest.

For those driven to improve as barbershoppers and vocalists, it's a chance to have your performance evaluated and critiqued by top (though some would question that, I'm sure) professionals in their field and genre.

For those in it to simply ring chords and nail some tunes, there are a plethora of opportunities to do so with other barbershoppers from all locations, professions and walks of life.

For those just looking to have a great time with the guys, meet people from all over, drink lots of beer, tell bad jokes, and talk about 'guy' things – there's a ton of that, too.


Getting started to any of these conventions is always the toughest part. There are inevitably a million and one things I have to accomplish before leaving. If it's not work obligation, it's chores at home I promised to complete before leaving or a financial obligation I have to meet first (like coming up with the money to afford the trip in the first place). This convention was no different.

The day started at 7am with having to wake up and get Liam off to school. From there, I had to head to the bank and check my balance to be sure I wouldn't go into the red paying for stuff. Luckily, the lead of my quartet and best friend, Lou, had offered to absorb the cost on my share of the room (which became, thankfully, irrelevant…read on), so I only had to worry about gas and food.

I went to the bank and called a client I have been grooming for a fund-raiser with Morley-Red Apple, who I have just started to work with. We needed to get the contract signed, so after heading home to organize and fill out the necessary paperwork as Sonya and Courtney slept, it was off to Monroe (about a 45 minute drive) to get it signed. After not quite having everything I needed, I left with no contract yet, and headed home to hopefully see a movie with my wife before having to head to a band rehearsal at 3.

Unfortunately, there were no showings of Man of the Year in the timeframe we could fit, so Sonya decided to pay a visit to our good friend, who was recovering from a (thankfully VERY successful) surgery. I hadn't gotten the impression that she was expecting me to come along, and since I had to gather my quartet clothes, tux, black dress shoes, pitch pipe, toiletries, etc., I told her to go ahead and I'd gather while watching Courtney.

At 2:30, I load up my car and drive over to drop Courtney and head to marching band practice. I feel a cold coming on, but stand there in the cold and damp, toughing it out. At 5, I head to work at Blockbuster. I call Sonya just to check in, and apparently she wasn't expecting to just not see me till Sunday, so I agree to stop by after work for a bit before heading to Kalamazoo.

Work was dead, what with the Tigers playing the 'A's. Aside from a smattering of baseball widows, and some kids, there wasn't much point to my presence. I get a call about an hour in from Lou, bragging that due to a mix-up with the reservation, we were bumped up to the 'Concierge Level', and he was enjoying a few free drinks at the lounge. A simple mention of having things to do tonight and I was let go at 8:30. I headed home to talk with Sonya. After sitting for about an hour and a half, I started to get antsy. She picked up on this and slowly, but grudgingly, let me go.

2 ½ hours and seemingly interminable miles of I-94 construction later, I pull into Kalamazoo. I grab my accoutrements and truck through the overpass to the hotel lobby. As soon as I open the door, I hear the faint sounds of ringing chords. "Yup, this must be the place!" I rush down the escalator to the lobby piano surrounded with barbershoppers. Before I even get my tux thrown over the arm of a nearby chair, I'm ringing tags with people from all over Michigan! God, I LOVE conventions!

I check in and give Lou a call, waking him up from his "nap" and head up the room. I plopped my stuff down and practically itching with excitement, TOLD Lou we were heading to the lobby for more tags and songs. We stayed up till about 2, bouncing between a drink at the hotel pub and singing in the lobby. About 2am, we decide to hit the hay, so we can be of some use at the 8am rehearsal.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pioneer District Barbershop Convention (prologue)

Coordinating a trip to a barbershop convention is always a hassle for me. Between getting the time off work, coming up with the funds for the gas, food, registration, hotel, and other odds and ends, and of course clearing it with my dear, understanding (actually in this case, grudgingly complacent) wife, getting there can be a huge headache.

Sonya used to roll her eyes and tolerate my drum corps addiction with a forced smirk and pitying, yet loving shake of her head. She did so largely, I think, because at least she could relate to it, appreciate it, and even enjoy it a bit, having been in one. She could go to shows, watch the guard, critique the drill, appreciate the difficulty in the brass book, etc. She just didn't have the kind of mania I developed.

As the years went on past my aging out at 21, my involvement and immersion in drum corps faded in a bit. I'd go to fewer and fewer shows as time progressed and I became further removed from the activity – both in performance, judging, and instruction. Then at 27, I discovered my newest addiction and finally joined the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (now simply the Barbershop Harmony Society).

"Great," I can hear her aggravatingly sigh. "Another hobby/addiction to sap his time and money!"

Sonya has no real affinity for barbershop. She, as a musician, can appreciate it for its difficulty, performance demands, and emotion. She can even, after observing my drum corps mania for so many years, understand the appeal it has to me, having many similar characteristics (i.e. competition, music, camaraderie, and a chance for me to shine). But being an inherently patriarchal scene (when not incorporating the Sweet Adelines) and not relating well with the primarily 60-plus- year-old housewives of my fellow chorus members, she never really got into it. She has a beautiful voice, but unfortunately rarely sings in public. All of this combined with the fact that when I'm in one of my maniacal frenzies, totally immersed in one of my favorite things, I have a bad habit of ignoring all else and wandering off, making it hard for her to really enjoy joining me at events.

Thankfully, she tolerates it for my sake - in short bursts, anyway. She'll listen occasionally to my quartet when we rehearse in our home, even offering very helpful suggestions with our performance (and telling us which jokes just plain suck). She'll even put up with my playing barbershop music on rides in my car (that's more the rule of 'my car, my tunes' we both generally respect). Hopefully someday soon I'll join a chorus with a younger crowd with younger wives and families my family can better relate to.

I love you, Sonya. Thank you for enduring my hobbies, idiosyncrasies, quirks and bad habits!