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!