Wednesday, August 29, 2007

For the drum corps geeks out there (from George Hester)...

My friend George just posted this. I'm going to try not and have this affect how I treat my students (or even my own kids) by way of expectations...

A TV addict in relapse...

I SWORE I wouldn't get sucked in!

I am insanely busy most of the time. You all know that. I don't have much time to waste in front of the TV. I barely have time to keep my own thoughts straight and fit in all of my obligations, let alone set aside an hour every week to catch a favorite show. The only time I usually have is whatever time I'm willing to sacrifice from sleep late at night. I have no magic genie like Tivo and the clock on my VCR still blinks 12:00, so prime time shows are usually out.

I try to stick with non-serial shows like Family Guy, Simpsons, MadTV, the occasional Boston Legal (hey, 4 Star Trek alums in regular roles) and other largely episode-by-episode shows that don't require continuity to understand. I watch stuff I can catch in re-runs and enjoy without disrupting the Cathode Time Continuum. Thus, I make it a point not to get sucked into serial shows like Lost, Desperate Housewives (though I did for a brief time – I'm recovering from that addiction), Gray's Anatomy and the like. I haven't had cable for well over a year, so Sopranos, Entourage, etc. are thankfully a moot point.

Then came Heroes…dammit.

A sci-fi show. Perfect. I saw the first episode and figured that is was going to be a great, but short-lived show. Sci-fi shows tend not to last (unless you have a huge franchise name like Star Trek) due to either poor writing or bad time slots. I knew I'd never have time to watch it, so I let further episodes slip by without a second thought and cut off my supply before I got addicted.

Then last week it arrived at Blockbuster. I had been slightly curious about how it was doing, so I rented a couple discs, figuring, like so many of the videos I bring home, Sonya may get a chance to see it, but I wouldn't have time.

We have been up until 4am for the past 3 days watching it now, with 2 more discs to go.

Super powers, well developed characters, Star Trek references, intrigue, morality in varying shades of gray, time paradoxes, developed back stories. It's everything I want in a show. This show has all the best aspects of my favorite shows from days past: M*A*S*H, X-Files, Twin Peaks, X-Men, Star Trek. Hell, it even has a prominent role for George Takei!

The best part of the show is the attention to detail. Sci-fi fans are no dummies. We're obsessive, nit-picky motherfuckers. We'll catch inconsistencies and cheer out loud for subtle salutes to other genres and mediums (if done well). Heroes's character interrelationships are well planned, timelines are meticulously mapped, and cameos are tasteful and don't hit you upside the head like a bag of rocks. I about fell off my chair when George Takei's character stepped into a limo with the license plate "NCC1701"discreetly shown. That's the kind of shit that hooks the masses of sci-fi geeks.

I have been a TV addict most of my life. For the past decade or so, I have been able to avoid temptation and not feel the compulsion to be on the couch, remote glued to my hand, at specific times of the week for a show that will send me into DTs if I miss. This show has destroyed my resolve. I am officially in relapse.

All I can say is, thank God for fairly speedy DVD releases, webcasts, and peer-to-peer downloads. Hopefully with these aids, I can keep my new addiction from impacting my life too much.

Hello, my name's Paul, and I'm a Tvaholic. It's been 9 hours since my last episode.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Blogging: A Personal Analysis...

I have a lot of friends that blog simply for the sake of blogging. Some will post one a day – sometimes several – giving trivial updates, comments on their mood, or recounting how the foam on their double latte this morning looked like a kangaroo, with little or no relevance to their lives, what's really happening with them, or any deeper philosophical meaning whatsoever.

I read it anyway. I can't help it. I'm a lurker and a blog whore. I readily devour any blog postings from anyone I know or find remotely interesting. If you're on my friends list and have more than, say, 3 entries in your blog, I've likely subscribed to it and read (damn near) every word. I comment frequently when I have the time, and enjoy feeling somewhat connected to those I don't get much of a chance to talk to regularly. I have no life of my own to speak of outside my family, work, and the couple geek hobbies I indulge in, so I live vicariously through the lives of others.

There are people that get annoyed with 2-line blogs that say pithy things like, "this is a rough day and I'm pissed. That is all…" like it was a huge waste of their time to click 2 links and read 11 words. As if they were distracted from negotiating peace in the Middle East to say, "Excuse me Prime Mister, 'cutiebear369' just posted a blog and it MUST be Earth shattering news!"

Pfft. I love it. I know a few bloggers that write so well that they can convey volumes in just a few short words (whereas I get so verbose as to turn, "I have a cold - it sucks," into an epic length tome rivaling War & Peace)

Blogs mean different things to different people. To some, they are an online diary, recounting the minutes of the day, personal triumphs and woes, milestones, and a way to keep track of their own thoughts. To others, blogs are a way to spark discussion on topics dear to them. Some write just as an exercise to hone their prose – usually professional writers wishing for (and some with) a column of their own needing an outlet without the editorial limitations of a genuine publication. Some just use it as a way to vent their personal frustrations (which, by the way, can be a bit dangerous if not carefully worded). Still others use it as a communication tool; a passive way to keep friends and family updated with goings on in their lives without the intrusion into their e-mail inbox.

Blogs are written for the benefit of the writer. Depending on the topic, I blog for any or all of the aforementioned reasons. I usually write my blogs first to get my own thoughts down for my own edification and posterity, THEN for anyone that for some odd reason or morbid curiosity may want to creep into my brain for a few (usually too many) paragraphs. Yes, I try to write blogs that are coherent, well worded, and if possible, thought provoking, in the hope that I might get a couple of 'kudos', inspire someone, and maybe get a comment or two. However, given that I usually write about such personal or geek-related topics that only a select few of my friends and I could possibly find interesting, I rarely expect such recognition.

I try to avoid blogs of a sensitive nature or ones I should set to "private". That's what personal journals are for, and a wise mentor of mine once said, "don't put anything on the internet you don't want someone to find someday". However, if I think it's just going to be boring or irrelevant for others to read, I post it anyway and the reader can decide whether to bother with it or not.

"Hey, I ain't selling it or making money off it. Don't like it? Skip it."

This blog is a perfect example, as I sat down with no particular agenda or purpose.

  1. I'm writing this blog for several reasons:
  2. I'm bored, woke up too early and couldn't get back to sleep
  3. As an exercise to keep up my literary 'chops
  4. It's been 10 days and I'm suffering 'blog withdrawal'.
  5. To spark discussion

Why do or don't you blog?
What'd your pet blog peeve?
Who's blogs do you read and/or find most interesting and why?

Drop some comments…

Coming Up Next: Likely something more personal and specific…

Friday, August 17, 2007

Seasonal unemployment and missed opportunities...

I awoke this morning to a familiar feeling, like a voice from my past or old friend that returns every fall. There was a slight chill in the air, the glint of morning dew on the ground, and the scent of fresh cut grass and campfire smoke from the night prior. Out of instinct I thought, "This is gonna a be PERFECT rehearsal weather at band camp today!"

Then I remembered… I have no band camp to go to.

As I mentioned a blog or two ago, for the first time in roughly 14 years, I have no marching band job this fall. Not even a camp. Granted, I didn't do much hustling for gigs this year, but I thought I didn't need to, as I was under the impression that I was retained for Lakeview's marching season. Now, I find myself at loose ends for the season.

No staff pass, no free admission to shows, no hanging with other staffers at fast food joints on meal breaks, and worst of all – no professional gratification in seeing my students improve and achieve goals they didn't think they could meet.

Over the past 14 years I have worked with about 9 different bands and a drum corps. Every fall is a flurry of activity and adjusting my schedule almost minute-by-minute to try and fit in my job, band rehearsals, sectionals, shows, my quartet and chorus, family life and such. I'm used to it. It's exhausting and the pay from the band gigs is usually just enough to justify my time off of other jobs, but I get all of the benefits of being a music teacher without the bureaucratic and (most of) the political bullshit.

I was informed about a month ago that I was not going to be asked back for this season to Lakeview due to budget cutbacks. A bit late, unfortunately, for me to hunt for another gig and I figured it was just as well…at first.

No early mornings for camps, sunburn, sore muscles, high school teenage drama, constant shuffling of my Saturdays for the next two months, and missing barbershop chorus rehearsals in favor of band rehearsals. A year off would be good for me.

As I went to the DCI Quarterfinals Cinecast and played some choice selections from DCI Finals of 1992, the bug rekindled – damnit. I got to the theater and began to see faces I would usually see every week for the next couple months – staff from other bands I had either worked or marched with over the past two decades, all talking about their band's show, who wrote the drill, working around instrumentation, etc..

Suddenly I hear someone call my name. I didn't recognize her at first, but given her apparent age, I figured it was someone I taught at one of my previous band gigs from years past. Sure enough, it was Nikki, a girl I had taught at West Bloomfield when she was a freshmen in the sax section in 1999.

After the show and a bit of chatting and catching up, I mentioned that this was my first year NOT instructing. She mentioned this was her first year on a band staff and she was VERY excited about it. After asking for some details, she divulged that she is working for Lamphere's band, a solid competitive band 4 miles from my house. I marched with the trumpet instructor there in Northern Aurora Drum & Bugle Corps 15 years earlier and he is still on staff there. The new director, whom I had in most of my music ed classes at Wayne was just getting things together.

Figuring he had his staff all set, as band camp was 4 days away, I offhandedly remarked, "if he ever needs low brass staff, have him drop me a line," figuring little would come of it. She says that he had actually asked her for suggestions for people to fill that position days earlier!

Um…Ex-squeeze me? Bakin' powder?

I eagerly hand her my card and she says she'll get it to him.

Could this be true? A competitive band, staffed by one guy I marched with and one girl I taught, directed by a classmate, 4 miles from my house and a band camp AT the school?! God is either very pleased with me or planning a very cruel joke!

(Cue pie in the face) wah-wah-waaaah! (mug to the camera)

I drop Nikki an IM a few days later when I see her online to see about any progress, as it was the weekend and band camp started in 2 days. I get a hurried response as she's running out the door to work that the director had found someone else before she could get my contact info to him.

I had made a point not to count my chickens before they had hatched and didn't mention it to many people at the risk of jinxing it. I guess I told one too many people for Karma's taste.

I dropped by the rehearsal on Tuesday to say hi to my friends there and wish my colleagues good luck with their season and the director all the best for his new job. I found another familiar face at the staff lunch table – another former classmate of mine…a tuba player. I now knew who got the gig.

I can't fault Nikki, as this guy was hired apparently just before I gave her my card. I can't fault the lucky bastard that got the job as he has a degree, by all rights should have his own band, and is a fine teacher, player, and a great guy. I can't fault the director because he needed someone and this guy certainly fit the bill to a tee. All I can blame is myself for not keeping in touch with my former classmates better.

So once again, I find myself professionally unfulfilled, antsy, and itching to get out there and demonstrate a proper toe-lift, embouchure, and articulation. I want to get up in front of a section – ANY section – and work them on a piece and hear them make great progress. I want to have a director come up and say, "What did you DO with those kids!? They sound a million percent better on the opener!" I want to have a student come up and say, "That trick you taught me for hitting that high note is working great! Thanks!". I want a parent to come up and say, "Ya know, Jimmy really admires you. You've done wonders with his self-confidence this season. Thank you SO much."

These are the reasons I do this every year. Not the money, not to keep busy, not to get free admission to shows, but to feel professionally valuable and that I am making a difference in these students lives and am a part of the success of a great group.

Guess I need to start sending out flyers and business cards for next year now…

Coming up next: Simpler joys with the family…

Thursday, August 16, 2007

DCI: Apocalypse or Resurrection? A rant…

I went to see the Cinecast of the Drum Corps International Quarterfinals show last Thursday night. Rather than give my impressions of the corps, I must cover the discussion being held by every drum corps fan throughout the country relating to the most controversial part of the evening: George Hopkins's whiney tirade.

George Hopkins is the Devil incarnate.

There. I said it.

How the HELL they fit his head into that stadium, I'll never know. For those of you that missed it, the Cadets were about to take the field. "Hoppy" stops them as they're setting up and DEMANDS that the field be re-lined. He then proceeds to march them OFF the field. They had just relined it at the intermission about 4 corps prior, but he, being the know-it-all egomaniacal ass that he is, decided to stop the evening and put everyone on hold for them to re-line the field for HIS corps. The boos reverberated from Pasadena to every theater showing the Cinecast throughout the country.

George Hopkins has been systematically undermining the drum corps activity for the last 15 years or so. He has been the one leading the charge for "innovations" like moving to Bb bugles, allowing electronic amplification of the pit percussion and voice, and has even been pushing to allow woodwinds and other band instruments on the field. Through his domination of Youth Education in the Arts (YEA, who operates both the Crossmen and Cadets drum corps), he has managed to strong-arm many of his proposals into the DCI rulebook, all in the name of "progress".

Beginning in 1993 with Star of Indiana's infamous Medea show, it began to look like Hoppy's dream would come true: to turn drum corps into an "artform". Pop, jazz and showtunes gave way to esoteric minimalism, bizarre props, and obscure classical pieces and contemporary original composition that bore NO resemblance to the goose bump-raising electricity the corps of days past would generate. Rather than fans exiting the stadiums humming tunes from corps performances, they would leave with '?' hovering over their heads.

Most corps for the past 10 years or so seemed to try this route at least once (with a few blessed exceptions like Bluecoats). Thankfully, there seems to be a backlash now and many corps seem to be going back to toe-tapping, hummable melodies and accessible music the majority of the audience can enjoy. A balance is being struck in the battle of art vs. entertainment and "old school drum corps" vs. "progressive drum corps", no thanks to George Hopkins.

A few of my thoughts on Hoppy's "progressive" ideas.

Drum corps is entertainment, pageantry, not art. Art makes you think. I don't want to think when I'm watching drum corps. I want to be struck with raw emotion and amazement. I don't go to fireworks to contemplate the dichotomy of good and evil, either.

Drum corps shows should not need a libretto or narration. The human voice is neither a drum, nor a bugle. A neat effect when the full corps sings something – on occasion – not a pivotal focal point of your damned show. If I want thought provoking themes, I'll go to the opera.

If you need a generator, power chord, or batteries to perform your show, grab the famous brass ensemble of your choice and go perform it on stage.

'G' bugles vs. 'Bb' bugles. I've softened on this issue – mostly because the fight is lost anyway. Bb horns have a completely different sound, and yes, a better sound. I don't care. It's not a "drum corps" sound. I wouldn't be so bitter if it wasn't rammed through under such bullshit pretenses. It was supposed to help smaller corps by making it possible for kids to bring their own horns and make purchasing instruments cheaper. Yet, they weren't even ALLOWED in div II/III the first 2 years! The only corps that were allowed Bb horns were the ones who got whole lines sponsored by Yamaha and other manufacturers. Meanwhile, smaller corps had to completely replace their horn lines, at great expense, in order to keep up and be taken seriously. Follow the money. Political bullshit.

Bravo for exposing your kids to different music, but you're performing for the audience, not the fucking judges and your overeducated, pretentious music colleagues. We outnumber them and pay for the damned ticket. Teach your kids performance technique, theory, and maybe even a little music history, but leave the broadening of their musical horizons to the school music programs. I didn't pay $20 and drive 100 miles to hear music I would turn off if I heard it on the radio.


I'm a purist. I have no problem with progress, but redefining a genre is different. That's not progress, that's replacement. George Hopkins, if you want a new idiom, start your own damned circuit. Drum Corps International is for DRUM CORPS.

Okay, this rant isn't as eloquent and certainly not as in-depth as I'd like it to be, but I could go on for days.

Coming up next: Seasonal unemployment and missed opportunities