Thursday, April 26, 2007

New paths?

It has always been my opinion that it's never too late to start down a new path. The ability to reinvent ourselves and our lives is one of the wonderful traits that make us human. We are not ants born into a caste and doomed to a life of the same monotony until we are used up and discarded. With the ability to examine our own experiences, we have the ability to re-evaluate our position, goals, dreams, and paths to better enrich our own lives.

I may be at one of those points.

Since my junior year of high school, I have had the goal of becoming a music teacher. That's half of my life now. I took a year off between high school and college, and then enrolled at Wayne State University in the music department. Since then, I have been met with every road block, paperwork snafu, and egomaniacal faculty member intent on slowing or stopping my progress (see my blog of 9/15/06, "My Fight With Beaurocracy and The Man"). It has made the attainment of my degree and teaching certification daunting and frustrating, yet I persevere, know that it is what I want to do.

Lately, however, I have begun to wonder if I want all the bullshit involved in such a career anymore. Between the horror stories I hear from my friends on the field, the mounting restrictions placed on curriculum so that "no child is left behind", the overly-litigious atmosphere pervading society, over-sensitive parents who will demand a teacher's resignation based solely on 3rd hand accounts, administrations petrified of said parents and unwilling to ever stand in their teachers' corner, I'm wondering if I would ever even get to TEACH in today's school environment.

All of that, combined with the fact that with Michigan's educational system perpetually drowning in red ink, FURTHER budget cuts looming eminent, and the arts ALWAYS being the first thing to be cut, will there even be a job out there? The job market sucks in this state already and it's about to get a LOT worse in the educational field.

This has given me pause as of late, and the opportunity to examine other, possibly more practical options. At Blockbuster Video as 'Entertainment Specialist', the district manager, seeing how well I relate with customers and outgoing I am, made me a guinea pig a few months back. He gave me a clip-on microphone and told me to make announcements over the PA throughout the night, pushing the latest and greatest promotions, asking trivia, and the like. I took to it like a duck to water.

I'd go through the night, wandering the floor, making the occasional self-defaming joke about my geektitude, asking clever trivia, and such. Since I have started, I have had several customer come up to me suggesting that with my voice and wit, I would do well in radio. Now, I have often been told I have a face for radio, but a voice as well?

At first I dismissed the notion with a polite 'thank you', but the more comments I received and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense.

My dad has always been in broadcasting. He has always been a ham radio operator and got a bunch of technical training in the air force. He even ran a station with my mom in the early 70's in Clair, MI just before I was born. We had an enormous record collection, filled with everything from barbershop, jazz and classical, to old comedy records, pop, and yes, even some early disco. Most were promotional copies. While the radio days happened mostly before was born, my dad remained in broadcasting in one form or another until he retired this past January from a New Jersey PBS station.

A memory that had escaped me until just a few minutes ago involved a brief passion for it myself. When I was about 10, I got a tape recorder. I actually made a tape of myself, about 20 minutes long, of me as a radio host, doing the weather, news bites, and even including a few songs. Wish I knew what happened to that thing. This was mostly inspired by my radio hero at the time on WOBM, Captain Jack, who did a wonderful show during the graveyard shift, replete with comedy records, mock interviews, and fake commercials. George Carlin's bit on WINO (Wonderful Wino) had a lot to do with it as well.

So this curiosity isn't COMLETELY out of left field, it seems. The timing must be somewhat Karmic, as yesterday, a friend of mine posted a blog about her experiences at Specs Howard School of Broadcasting. After reading it I immediately e-mailed her to pick her brain about the subject. She gave me the contact info for one of her former professors, who is now a VP at Specs Howard, Dick Kernen. The guy is apparently a broadcast legend, but not knowing the biz myself, I hadn't heard of him. I dropped him an e-mail and am currently waiting to hear what his advice is as to my next step.

I'm not sure where this will go yet, if anywhere. I'm a bit nervous about getting excited about a new career path, especially after spending 14 fucking years in the pursuit of my current one. However, with a minimum of 2 years left thanks to my private lessons situation (again, see my blog of 9/15/06), I've had about all I can take. I can still teach marching bands in the fall and write drill, but it may be time for me to blaze a new career path.

I'm not ready to completely give up on the music ed. degree, but I need to start looking at something I can make progress at.

At this point, I'm curious. Optimistic, but just curious…

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Spring Barbershop Convention '07: the FUN stuff!

After the quartet contest was over, I get a call from Ian. He was supposed to leave the convention to go sing Beethoven's 9th with the college choir and Midland Symphony after his chorus was done. Of course, I played the little devil on his shoulder and attempted to convince him otherwise over lunch. Being the eloquent and persuasive bad influence I am, he obviously acquiesced. Since he had planned on leaving, his spot in his shared room had already been promised, so we got a roll-away bed in our room and let him crash with us for the night. We help him gather his stuff, drop it in our room, I grab the ol' Uke, and we hit the chapters' hospitality rooms.

Lou Coviak, Steve Charleston (Tenor - Full Throttle), and Ian Kellogg
Spring Convention 07 - Lou, Stephen, & Ian

In a stroke of absolute brilliance, this year they printed each chapter's hospitality room number on the back of the registration name tags. No more having to search for separate flyers posted throughout the lobby and elevators! Two of the hospitality rooms were right on our floor, so we got our drink on right away. We were the first ones not from their chapter to show up, so it was a bit quiet. But about 4 barbecue meatballs and 3 Triscuits later, quartets started showing up and performing. We meandered around to several different rooms, watching competing and non-competing quartets struttin' their stuff. Some good, some great, but not a one I would consider bad.

Wildcard absolutely floored me.

Lou, Ian and I stopped into the Detroit-Oakland chapter's (my chapter) hospitality room about 11. We sat and watched a fantastic Sweet Adeline quartet sing a song about the merits of bald headed men, to an obviously enthusiastic reception. I was hoping to get together with the chapter's two newest members, Dave & Dave to see if they wanted to form a quartet for the next chapter show. After trying to get them in the same place all weekend, I found them both in our hospitality room. Dave 1 didn't want to leave until he saw Fermata Nowhere perform, so I gave him my cell number and told him to give me a call when he was ready. As it happened Fermata Nowhere didn't arrive till very late, so we'd have to reschedule that.

We were about to move on, when one of the wives mentioned my ukulele and asked me to play a song. I replied with, "Only if someone else sings! Anyone know Ghost Rider In The Sky?" Jack Day, our membership chairman and outgoing an outgoing bass, volunteered (with some help on the lyrics from yours truly). Next thing ya know, the whole room of about 30 people is chiming in on the chorus in full harmony! I had figured I'd play a tune or two through the hallways, but hadn't anticipated leading a full fledged sing-along! I was applauded and we head to the next chapter's room.

On our way down, we found a group that had gathered in a small alcove in the hallway. We joined them for the tag to Darkness on the Delta, a big, belty tag with a great series of swipes and chords. With about 6 of us, it was fun, but when 2 quartets joined in on their way out of hospitality rooms, it sounded HUGE in that tiny hallway!

Ringing Chords in the Hallway
Spring Convention 07 - Afterglow quartetting

Probably the best part of this convention was the presence of so many younger faces. Let's face it, barbershop has pretty much always been an old man's genre. This convention, however, I was amazed to see many college age kids and even younger children of competing members joining in the fun! There was a group of about 10 of them in the lobby, all between 12 and 20 years old, learning tags and busting out tunes! There was one kid from the Lansing Chapter, Kaleb – 12 years old, that just wowed everyone. He'll be wearing a gold medal before he's 20 – I guarantee it. His dad, Kevin, was just beaming. Hopefully, I can share this kind of experience with Liam in a couple years – just hanging out late and singing tags.

Kaleb and his proud papa, Kevin, from the Lansing Chapter
Spring Convention 07 - Kaleb & Kevin

Another great group of youngsters was the Sweet Adeline's group, Chromatix, ¾ of whom are daughters of the Slamka family. The Slamkas (father, 2 sons, and a cousin) form Power Play, the 2003 International Champion quartet, and they direct the Macomb Chapter's chorus. Chromatix did the tag from Ambiance's version of Rhapsody in Blue, and just NAILED it to the wall! They're gonna go far. Doesn't hurt to have free coaching from a renowned quartet and chorus directors!

Chromatix, busting a great tag!
Spring Convention 07 - Chromatix

When singing tags in a lobby, especially if there are several groups, you generally have an unspoken rule of waiting till the other group finishes before starting yours. It just makes it easier to concentrate. It's kinda like bowling; you don't necessarily acknowledge them, you just wait till they've thrown before you step up. There were about 3 groups in the lobby by about 1am. One group sang a tag, the next sang another, just having fun. Then one group, led by Mike, the bass from Moxxy, sang a tag. The next group, egged on by Wally & Mark, the bass and bari from Party of 4, decided to do the same tag.

The gauntlet had been thrown… Thus began the Great Tag War of 2007.

Mike wasn't going to let that stand, so his group did it again – only louder.

Wally and Mark started their group again, louder and ½ step higher.

Being (to my knowledge) the only tenor, I played double agent, bouncing between groups. This proceeded for the better part of 20 minutes. The goal: to see who cracks, quits, or passes out first!

I have never seem someone turn the shade of a ripe eggplant before, but damned if Mark's head didn't nearly explode by the end, singing lead! Wally just fell to the floor in defeat and exhaustion!

Wally Krause - A Man Defeated
Spring Convention 07 - Wally After tag Wars

By 3am, I was at the end of my energy and the beer had amplified my exhaustion, so I retreated to our room and greet the guys, who are just settling in. I chat online with Sonya for a few minutes, grab a final beer and hit the hay with chords still ringing in my head – or is that tinnitus setting in?

He next day, we wake up at 10am, pack up and hit the road. Since Ian had completely changed his plans, he needed a ride home to CMU. Luckily, it was on our way (though a completely different route than we took up there), so we obliged. We grabbed some Mickey D's on the way out of town and got him to CMU just in time to catch the bus to his 2nd performance with the Midland Symphony. Just before we got there, I realized, "Hey, I was BORN here!"

After dropping Ian off, I took the wheel and played host and guest for a little "This Is Your Life". We drove past my old friends' houses, I commented on what's changed and what hasn't over the past 27 years, and we stopped in front of my old house. Memories and images came flooding back, including the pivotal moment I got hooked on barbershop. It was about 1977, and my dad was cleaning the living room mirror, and singing along with the 1955 quartet champion record on the Hi-Fi. The image and songs just stuck in my brain.

Paul D. Keiser: the Early Years. My Home till 1981.
My Old House3

Lou took a couple pictures for me, we drove past my old elementary school and the hospital where I was born, and got back on the highway. I made note of how far Uncle John's Cider Mill was from home and half-napped the rest of the way home as Lou drove.

Once again, thanks to all the guys who made this another fantastic weekend!

My best friend Lou Coviak, Ian Kellogg, The Detroit-Oakland Chapter, the Traverse City Chapter, Moxxy (Dave Ebersole, Brandon Mattson, Jeff Woodruff, Mike Foner), Party of 4 (Kevin Morey, Toby Shaver [even though he was sick all weekend], Mark Spear, Wally Krause), Kevin & Kaleb from the Lansing Chapter (Congrats on the win, guys), and everyone else at the convention. God, time, and finances willing, I'll see you guys in Kalamazoo this October!

If you'd like to see a few more pics from the convention, they're on my Flickr page here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spring Barbershop Convention ’07: Highs (trebles) & Lows (basses)

The following is a somewhat dry account of the first half of this weekend's Pioneer District Spring Barbershop Convention. Mostly for my own recollection, it's repleat with details of where I went and what I did, much of it rather uninteresting to non-barbershoppers. The next installment will go over the fun part of the convention: the afterglow. That will have a few pictures and some fun anecdotes including my furthering the moniker of "The Ukulele Guy", "Tag Wars", and the barbershop idiom croaking out the phrase "I'm Not Dead! I'm getting better!"

Read on and comment freely.

Well, once again, I indulged myself with a weekend submerged in a sea of dominant 7th chords. The Pioneer District of the Barbershop Harmony Society held its annual Spring Convention and contest this past weekend at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, MI (just outside of Traverse City), and by some combination of small miracles, I was able to go.

I had been looking forward to this for months, but with our finances as low as they have ever been and the bills piled as high as the Great Wall of China, it was not looking likely. As I detailed in my blog about the Fall convention last October (5 blogs worth – a good read, if you're curious how they work), these things are not cheap in the overall smack to the wallet. Between registration fees, hotel costs, gas, and food, lost wages from time off, it can easily run into the $300 range in the blink of an eye. Thanks again to my best friend and Lead extraordinaire, Lou, I was able to keep the costs way down by delaying our departure till after some hours at work and deferring several of the costs, like the room, a few meals, and my share of the gas, until my tax refund comes in.

Welcome to Seventh Heaven! Pun ABSOLUTELY intended.
Spring Convention 07 - UberGeek & Welcome Sign

I'll leave out the lengthy explanations for the non-barbershoppers. You'll just have to read my blogs from last October entitled "Pioneer District Barbershop Convention".

This year, with the convention in Traverse City, it actually entailed me taking off time from work. I packed up the night before and left work about 2:30 to go home, spend a little time with the family, and wait for Lou to pick me up. Figured I'd let him drive this time, since until I get my brakes and EGR valve replaced, I don't trust my car more than an hour from home. He finally came by about 3:30. I was expecting to be sharing the Chapter's hotel room with our chapter treasurer, since Lou was planning on having a guest. But that fell through, so it looked like it'd be Lou and I sharing the room again. I was perfectly happy with that. "Hmm. Who would be more fun, my best friend or the chapter's debt collector?" Tom's a great guy, but hanging with Lou is much more fun.

We drove up, making a stop in Flint for a burger and trying to find decent music on the radio as the stations faded in and out over the 6 hour journey. They have a great variety of music up north. They have both kinds – Country AND Western! We stop at a party store and grab a 12 pack of Labatt, and follow the winding roads and hills to the resort.

We pull in about 10pm, gape in awe at the starts for a moment, load ourselves up with all of our stuff, and trudge into the lobby. As always, as the door opens, we're washed with a wave of ringing chords echoing forever throughout the lobby. I'll say it again: GOD, I love conventions!

After a brief argument and resolution with the desk clerk regarding a mix-up with Lou's reservation, we head to our room and unload. I crack open a beer, unpack my computer and set up the wireless connection. I check the ol' e-mail for a minute or two, then grab my ukulele and hit the lobby to ring some tags. I'm called by my friend from the Mountaintown Chorus, Ian, a music student from CMU and fellow uber-geek. We meet in the lobby and hang out for a while as Lou hits the bar for a bowl of soup.

Ian brought his computer as well. I'm feeling real cool, mentioning I have mine – then he shows me his. A top-of-the-line MacBook. Ugh. Here it comes. The old "Mac is SOOOO much better than PC" speech. I'll hear that in one form or another all weekend. I know it's better! When I can afford it, I'll get one! For now, I'm VERY happy with my Compaq, Okay! AARGH!

But I digress….

We meander, sing, and have a beer or 3. Ian introduces me to the Mt. Pleasant Chapter's director, who he's rooming with, and we have a great time talking and hanging out. My ukulele is noticed, appreciated, and borrowed on occasion as we wander. I figured if any group would appreciate it, barbershoppers would. About 2am, we hit the hay in order to be ready for our 9am call to warm-up for tomorrow's competition. We gotta be ready to defend our title!

We wake up the next morning, shower, put on our tuxes and stage makeup, and head to the main floor looking for something to eat that doesn't cost $10 or more. I grab a diet Pepsi and raspberry bar from the deli and register for the convention, then head to the warm-up room. Our warm-up and rehearsal went VERY well! We sounded great and the acoustics of the room were close to what we're used to in the church basement. We're feeling good as we head to get our picture taken.

Gathering for Warm-Ups
Spring Convention 07 - Warm-up

Lou resting up before warm-up
Spring Convention 07 - Lou Chillin' at warm-up

This guy took FOREVER! 15 minutes of, "You! The bald guy with the glasses!" (which could be any of about half our chorus) "Move 2 inches to the right! More…more….No! Too far!" Ugh. It's like he was shooting the flag raising at Iwo Gima, intent on a Pulitzer prize.

We get to the contest stage ready for action. Our opening number, "On A Wonderful Day Like Today", is usually our strongest one. We hit the first chord and it was a bit sour. The acoustics of the room were not what we were used to – always bad for us. From there, everyone got nervous, the tempo rushed, pitch centers couldn't be agreed upon and consonants didn't line up. Not BAD, per cest, but not up to our usual standards. We regrouped for the balad and it went very well. A few timing glitches and the pitch sagged a bit at times, but good interpretation and feeling. Overall, I was a bit disappointed and nervous about whether we'd perform later that night to accept the trophy and bring our title back home.

Lou and I stayed for Mt. Pleasant's show (scores and evaluations only, as they were ineligible to compete having won last year). Greats stuff! Physical interp wasn't quite as energetic or well designed as the Fall, but they sang well and the Disney tunes they chose were arranged WONDERFULLY and very creative!

We headed back to our room, got out of the monkey suits, lounged around a bit, then met Ian and some friends in the lobby to hit a local diner for lunch. On the way out, we met our vocal coach, Matt, and he said, "Well, looks like you've got the night off." Lansing wowed 'em. That news bummed me out for the afternoon.

Yea, we're dorks. Well, okay, *I'M* a dork.
Spring Convention 07 - Paul & Lou

We had a great lunch at Mabel's Diner, stopped by Hooter's for a drink, at Lou's welcomed insistence, and waited for the quartet contest to start. We mostly wanted to see Keynotes, a quartet with our friends Andy Wickstrom and Ed Bax. They were fantastic – no 2 ways about it. They came in 5th place with a VERY impressive score of 1674 on 2 ballads.

Keynotes at the bar
Spring Convention 07 - Keynotes1

After that, I headed back to the room to crack a beer, check the e-mail, and wait for the fun to begin – the afterglow…

Next up: When the work is done, the fun begins!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

On of my greatest joys...

As I puruse my blogs I realize I tend to blog primarily about pithy things that are important to me at the moment and a few broader topics about life and philosophy. However, I have a tendency to neglect one of my greatest joys in my life in my random musings - my wife, Sonya.

Most of you that have known me for years know that Sonya and I have had a rollercoaster of a relationship for the past 16 1/2 years. We have highs and lows (often extreme ones) and butt heads of several varrying topics. Such is the nature of marriage. We have had times where we couldn't have gone on without each other, and other times where we thought we couldn't go on with each other. Through it all, though, she has always been there when I needed her. She has been the love of my life from the first moment I saw her on the marching band field that fateful day in early September 1989.

There are a few of you out there in MySpaceland that have never met Sonya, and thus (through my neglect) don't know much about her. Here's a bit about my wonderful wife, as I see her.

I first saw her when she joined the Dondero High School marching band in the color guard the first day of school in 1989. I was a fat, insecure band geek who used humor to disarm would-be assailants (not much has changed there). I saw this new face on the field and the first thing that captivated me were her eyes - her big beautiful brown eyes. Her soft curly brown hair glistening with hints of red in the sun, revealing hints of her Irish heritage absolutely mesmerized me. I immediately quoted Wayne Campbell, saying, "She will be mine. Oh, yes - she WILL be mine." Little did I know at the time how WOEFULLY inappropriate that particular phrase was, not having met her yet or understanding the depths of her hippie-feminist ways.

Sonya and I immediately shared chemistry. No, litterally - we were in the same chemistry class. We began talking, she'd help me with my homework (I'm a scientific and mathematical dunce), and I eventually worked up the nerve to ask her on a date. Exactly 16 years, 6 months, 3 weeks, 1 day, 1 hour, and 22 minutes ago.

I'll spare you the play-by-play of the rest of our courtship, though I'm sure I could turn it into something with the length and sappyness of a Danielle Steele novel. Suffice it to say, it was full of frustration, exhilleration, contemplation, confrontaion, rectification, excommunication, reconcilliation, desperation, rejuvination, condemnation, and redemption.

Sonya is a strong-willed, stubborn vegetarian hippie with a propencity for self-righteous platitudes. She is also a warm, loving, considerate, intelligent, caring woman who will fiercly defend those she loves. She is incredibly creative and clever, feverishly dedicated to any task, job, or cause she attaches herself to, and unquestionably loyal to those she loves. She is a wonderful mother, a spectacular woman, and as beautiful today as when I first layed eyes on her.

She is a wonderful wife, and more importantly, my best friend.

We have been through hell together and returned intact. We have consolled each other through all levels of grief, rejoiced in each others' triumphs, and shared some life-altering and spiritual moments.

She's not perfect. Neither am I. Maybe that's why we need each other. Maybe that's why we love each other. Maybe that's why I feel the need to say all of this in the first place.

Sonya, I love you with every fiber of my being. Until the last petal falls from the last flower on Earth...

...and forever after.

Monday, April 2, 2007

When the hell did I grow up?

When, exactly, did I grow up? I don't recall deciding to forgo the joys and frivolity of youth in favor of responsibility. I don't remember ever saying to myself, "Ya know, it's about time I stopped heading out to parties, concerts, and the bar with my friends so I can work 60+ hours a week, do chores at home all the time, and pay bills."

I have never been a particularly thoughtful, considerate, or responsible person. I get sucked into impulse purchases, make hasty and rash decisions, and loose my temper with the best of them. Ask Sonya. But somehow, somewhere, I stopped being fun and started being more concerned with what I'm supposed to do as opposed to what I want to do. It's gotten to the point where occasionally Sonya has to FORCE me to relax.

There was a time that Sonya and I would be able to pick up and go as we pleased. One morning we said, "Hey, let's drive to Chicago and surprise Ken & Marilee!" We hopped in the car, drove the 5 hours to find the weren't home, had lunch at Ed Debevic's, drove the 5 hours home and went to a party at Paulie B's while his parents were out of town. No planning involved. Just pick up and go. It wasn't a wasted trip. It was one of the best, most fun days of my life.

I recall hanging out with an old, dear friend of mine about 6 years ago. Heading to his house, I saw this friend – someone I used to drink with, cruise with, and even stand atop playground fixtures attempting to command the wind with – mowing the lawn in his calf-length black socks and sandals. Later we sat on his porch drinking a beer while our wives chatted inside, and discussing things like landscaping, car repairs, and home renovation. I remember the enormity of this moment hitting me like a Mack truck between the eyes.

I wasn't a kid anymore.

I didn't feel any different. I still enjoyed the same things: drinking, loud music, hanging at my old fraternity's house for parties, taking off on a moment's notice to see some band because a friend got free tickets, etc..

Then came kids, more and larger bills to pay, and the crushing weight of adulthood. It happened slowly. Over the course of about 10-15 years or so, I figure. One by one, more responsibility shifted from my parents' shoulders to mine. I started paying more of my own expenses – first gas for the car, then insurance, then food, some utilities, rent. One by one suffocating my ability to do what I want, when I want. Phrases like, "The Greatful Dead's at the Palace tonight! We got a spare $30 a piece! Let's go!" were suddenly replaced with, "I should pick up an extra few hours at work to pay the phone bill on time, for once."

This isn't just the result of having kids – though it certainly magnifies and accelerates the process. This metamorphosis started long before I held my baby boy and felt the future, and my responsibility thereto, in my very hands. Somewhere down the line, my future became MY job, and mine alone. Yes, I am surrounded by a wonderful circle of friends and family willing and even eager to help, but in the end, my future, and the fruits or failure thereof, are all up to me.

So now, here I sit: 32, working roughly 60 hours a week, spending most of my time "free time" at home doing dishes, picking up the kids' toys, cleaning out the cat box, folding laundry, making beds, vacuuming, mowing the lawn, preparing meals, and the like.

However, I also get to spend this time, reading to my kids, sharing classic family movies I was raised with, giving piggyback rides, playing "Tickle Monster", and watching my two beautiful and brilliant children grow up all too quickly.

I don't go out to the bar, save maybe 3 times a year. No time and too expensive. Going to concerts or events takes weeks of planning and coordinating childcare. Heading out to do the things I want, when I want – especially last minute – is virtually impossible. Spontaneity has all but disappeared from my vocabulary. I miss my friends.

Aside from being able to see my friends and family more frequently, for some bizarre reason I haven't figured out yet – I wouldn't have it any other way.