Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fleeing the country...

Every year, on this country's two most patriotic holidays (Memorial Day & Independence Day) I do the most patriotic thing I can think of...I leave the country.

Ever since I started dating Sonya over a decade and a half ago, we, with her family have taken the summer holidays to leave the chaos, frenzy, and monotonous cacophony of angry voices to retreat to the peace and quiet of their cottage in Canada on Lake Erie. Her family has had this cottage for roughly 60 years, with little change to it in that time. Same books, same toys, same furniture - maybe a couple new appliances, but still no microwave.

I have never been a huge fan of it. Not the timing and "deserting" my homeland durring it's most important celebrations of its supposed virtues, mind you. As I've gotten older and more jaded as to this country's direction, making a hasty retreat to what is basically a Disneyvision utopia of what America tries to present itself as is a welcome chance to clear the ideological palette. The trouble is that I just get...well...BORED there!

Set-up of the cottage is a 2-day effort, minimum. This isn't exactly "Swiss Family Ferris" without a single lux-u-ry, but it's more rustic than my McD's-drive-thru-hittin', DVD-watchin', chattin'-on-the-internet-addcited, creature-comfort-lovin' self can handle for long stretches. There's the process of priming the pump for the well water, lifting the shudders, cleaning the place, searching fer critters, vacating of spiders, patching of screens, sweeping out of the dust and sand, and cleaning of - well - everything. And this is assuming the power, plumbing, and phone actually work and haven't somehow been damaged over the winter months. I get too few days off as it is, and most of those I often spend doing chores at home. I don't want to go and clean ANOTHER house in another counrty on my day off! To be fair, Sonya's brother and/or parents usually do most of the work, leaving just a few minor chores, if any, for us - most of the time. Such was the case this past Memorial Day.

I just spent the past 15 minutes writing about the details of the day at the cottage, but no one wants the minute-by-minute. That's not what I planned on writing about anyway. My point is to be the slight and subtle shift in my opinion of the cottage over the years.

I have never been a "outdoorsey" person. I sunburn easily, am a magnet for biting insects of all kinds, and MUST have a hot shower first thing in the morning or I'm a grouch all day. I relax by watching TV, playing video games, or playing on the internet. When we started going to the cottage, there were none of these amenities. The only things there were to do were swimming (Lake Erie ain't exactly the crystal blue waters of a chlorinated pool), play on the beach (sand getting into every single crevice - yay), and drink (which wasn't technically an option for the first 3 years I went). Hence, I went so Sonya could have fun with those things, hang with her family, and indulge in all of her childhood nostalgia.

As time has gone by, there has been a compromise between the cabin and myself. I have taken to reading for pleasure much more, and the cabin is a wonderful place to read. Sonya's parents have often brought along a small TV/VCR combo and a CD player, breaking the boredom for some Rocky & Bullwinkle, Woody Allen flick, or some classical music for Sonya's father and I to start analyzing and exchanging trivia about.

Now with the ability to bring my laptop, I can write, arrange music, play some video games, watch a DVD, all the stuff I enjoy relaxing with. Funny part is, I don't spend nearly as much time with those "creature comforts" as I though I would. I find myself on the shore of Lake Erie teaching my son to skip stones, walking with my daughter and inspecting the stones and shells at the water's edge, sitting on a picnic table on the beach chatting with the in-laws and neighbors about the kids, politics, and life, and reading a good book on the porch.

The cottage and I have reached an accord. I am allowed my creature comforts, as long as I take the time to appreciate my family and relax the old fashioned way at least a little while I am there. An amicable compromise, and it's leading me to an appreciation of the peace and solitude of the cottage.

If only it were as easy for world leaders to reach such a compromise...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My OWN damned survey!

I posted this in a MySpace bulletin, but didn't answer the questions myself, so, quid pro quo, I shall do so here. I dunno - seemed like a blogworthy thing to do. I've read worse... Paul
Okay, I'm tired of these canned surveys. I'm making one of my own...


1) If you were a soft drink, which would you be?
Mr. Pibb. A bit too sweet and bubbly to appeal to most, interesting and flavorful, but not as pretentious as Dr. Pepper...that smug bastard.

2) When was the first time you remember getting busted for telling a lie?
My mom asked me at age 4 if I had finished matching the socks. I lied and was busted.

3) You build the tallest free-standing structure in the world. What does it look like and what do you call it?
Pyramidal, for structural integrity and I would call it "Inferiority Complex Resolution Tower"

4) If you could switch places with your boss for a day, what would you do first?
Either fire our self-ascribed "General Manager", or sell this place immediately to our master repair tech and retire - IMMEDIATELY.

5) If you were a TV exec/producer, what kind of TV show would YOU make and what would it be called?
A sitcom, of course! A character roughly paralleling me (overweight, overconfident, under-intelligent dads seem to be all the rage nowadays) and expounding on familial and work related conflicts and hyjinx as he goes though his overworked and geek-hobby-filled days. The Title: The Adventures of UberGeek!

6) You are allowed to banish one form of music from the face of the Earth - what would it be (as broad as a genre or as narrow as a specific song)?
Oof. I gave myself a doozey here... Probably Gangsta Rap. Not ALL rap, just the overtly violent, profanity laced, hate spewing type that glorifies drugs, racism and crime while denigrating women and diversity.

7) You are at a Barenaked Ladies concert and they are subject to your every whim. What would you have them do?
Easy - let me up there and do "$1 Million" with them while I sing and strum away on my Ukulele.

8) You are at a porn convention and they are subject to your every wh-- Umm. Better skip this one.
Well then, why didn't you just delete it, dumbass?

9) You are given a cameo in any movie or TV show. Which one and as what character?
Well, probably a Kevin Smith film of the Jersey Anthology. I'd be Brody's loser friend referred to only as "Geekboy". It'd be a bit part at a comic/sci-fi con with some great self-defaming one liners confirming my dorkiness.
And yes, I'd be wearing my home made Greatest American Hero costume.

10) You are given the opportunity to collaborate on one project with your professional idol. What would you create?
I would do a cartoon movie voice-over with Mel Blanc (I didn't say my idol had to be ALIVE). All voices - him and me alone. I would pick his brain for hours for hints on how to improve my voices.

11) George W. Bush has shown up at your house for dinner. You may serve him anything you want, as everything is at your disposal, and he must FINISH anything you serve him. What do you serve?
You probably see this one coming but... I'd serve a big, steaming pile of bull shit, swimming in crude oil gravy. I would find his most feared childhood bully to serve it to him and force him to eat every last greasy smear of it. When he's done, I would have him PAY for the meal at 20 times the cost, give him a swift kick in the ass and say, "Though shit, asshole! You agreed to have me host this shindig and you'll take whatever I give you!"
Ya reap what ya sow.

12) You are approached by aliens to be a representative for the human race. You want to give a fair but honest impression of us. What do you tell them?
Most of us are very well-balnaced people in a very unbalanced society. Unfortunately, I don't think we're forward thinking enough to be ready for you. Come back in a millennium or so. We should be worth talking to by then... If we're still here, that is.

13) What is your dorkiest quality?
I'm sorry, there is just no way I can possibly find where to begin...

14) You are given a $10k gift card to the store of you choice. Which store and what do you spend it on?
Hmm, not enough for a whole new house from Home Depot... Probably Best Buy. I'd use it on computer upgrades, a new Macbook, DVDs and home and car audio stuff. Maybe a Wii for the kids, too.

15) All of society has broken down, the rules you were taught as a child are null and void, and it has become truly 'everyone for themselves'. What do you do? (Wait, this IS supposed to hypothetical, isn't it?)
Grab a bunch of seeds, solar panels, and whatever other supplies I can, take the family to the most remote (yet hospitable) part of Canada, build a cabin, and live off the land.

16) Every hope you had for your children has come true, and by their own desire, decisions, and effort - not your pressure or influence. What are their lives like?
Married with kids (for happiness and fulfillment as well as revenge), financially stable, socially just, active, and aware, professionally fulfilled, and with the ability to bail their parents out of whatever financial hole their father dug recently.
In short, happy, healthy, fulfilled...and able to support their parents would be nice ;)

17) If you could say one honest thing (please, not an overused, trite, or canned platitude) to the leaders of the world, what would it be?
For cryin' out loud! Just STOP IT! YOU - over there! YOU - over there! You ALL need a time-out! No trading, no talking, no fighting until you can all just CALM THE HELL DOWN!

18) Which kind and method of spam/phishing irritates you the most (porn, mortgage, UK lotteries, chain letters, surveys, email, bulletins, bogus friend request, etc.)?
For me, it's a tie between the emails from the lawyer/princess/widow in Africa or the UK who wants me to be his/her financial proxy or the friend requests from profiles with nothing on it but offers for free iPods, Nintendo Wiis, or iPhones.

19) What is the air-speed velocity of...scratch that, too easy. What is the Lone Ranger's NEPHEW'S horse's name?
"Victor, his name is Victor"
"How the hell'd you know that?"
"Everybody knows that."
(Go re-watch "A Christmas Story")

20) List the amenities of your perfect domicile.
2000-2500 sq. ft., 5 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, dining room, laundry room, kitchen with breakfast nook, fireplace, forced air/heat, full finished basement (with a small wet bar), patio or deck, big back yard, 2 car garage.

21) List the make, model and amenities of your perfect vehicle.
2006 BMW Z-4 Roadster 3.0si, Sport package, Monaco blue metallic with a fully automatic dark beige top, power & heated M Sport front seats with driver memory. Only runs about $49k.

22) List the make, model and amenities of your perfect mate.
No need to upgrade here, though the maintenance can be exhausting at times. ;)

23) "Life is like..." Complete the phrase without using 'a bowl of cherries', 'a box of chocolates', or other commonly used simile.
"Life is like a sewer: What you get out of it depends on what you put into it."
Okay, I stole this from Tom Lehrer, but it's not commonly used.

24) Give 2 of your most fervently held belief or philosophies on life.
"With true friends, you can NEVER hit rock bottom."
"It's never too late to reinvent yourself."

25) Aside from the looming specters of health care, the environment, and the war in Iraq, if you were president, what would be your first priority?
Tax equality - no question. Energy companies (Oil, Gas, AND Electric), fair warning - you're next. Prepare to be regulated to HELL.

26) (mandatory missing question - seems they all have at least one. Rant freely here.)
What is the deal with those Taquito things at 7-11?! What the HELL are they? Tacos? Burritos? southwestern corn dogs? They look like a canoli that's been left outside in the sun for a week.

27) What is your favorite color? (Okay, i had to have one bland, milqtoast question in here somewhere)

NOW - repost this in 10 seconds or mutant locusts will swarm your house and gnaw at your naughty bits, while flocks of pigeons dive bomb your car and porch, creating a white, smelly, slippery swamp that mere soap cannot remove!

Also your bologna will go bad and someone you love will stub their toe painfully on the leg of the dresser while getting up to use the bathroom tonight.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Coda Honor (version ?) first rehearsal

We had our first rehearsal yesterday. It went well, especially given the obstacles we were facing. I'm fighting a sinus infection, Brad had barely 2 hours rest, the kids were home so we had to rehearse outside in the cold most of the time to avoid distraction, and we got started about 2 ½ hours later than anticipated.

The drawback to this version of the quartet compared to the last is that as we have 2 guys who haven't been in the Society (at least not long), we don't all have several tunes we all already know. The benefit, however, is that as we all either have a lot of barbershopping background OR musical training, so we pick things up pretty quickly. We did a few runs through of my arrangement of Rainbow Connection, and it was recognizable. Most of the chords hit, if not locked, and it sounded quite good for the first time through. We even did a dry run of Baby On Board, which ought to get a chuckle out of the 30something Simpsons fans. Hopefully, we can get another rehearsal in within the next couple weeks and get a few of the tunes we tried out nailed down a bit. By then I should have the song I'm writing specifically for the quartet done and we may be able to try that.

We'll have some roadblocks to get around: Brad's schedule is tight, Dave's gonna need help breaking out of his shell a bit, Lou's gonna need some help with control and some notes, and I'm gonna need to keep my ego and need for control in check. It'll be tricky, but fun. We'll see what happens next rehearsal!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Coda Honor 1.5?" or "3rd Time’s a Charm"

My barbershop quartet, Coda Honor, has been in a state of flux for the past few months. We haven't gotten together to practice in about 2 months, we haven't had a gig since December…we've basically been floundering. Several factors have contributed to this deflation of an up-and-coming quartet. This is usually the point where a quartet begins to fizzle and die unless drastic steps are taken...

…and taken them, I have. But first some background to the impending metamorphosis…

One of our biggest liabilities (in my opinion) has been the fact that I'm the only member that can sight-sing. Our Lead (and my best friend) Lou can pick up a melody quickly and deliver it with warmth and feeling, but he has to hear it first. He's a quick study with a part tape and can read music just enough for the music to be a help, rather than a hindrance.

Our bass (Floyd) and baritone (Mike), however, cannot read music – at least not well enough for it to help. They need part tapes, and need to review them several times. Without someone nagging them constantly or a weekly rehearsal with someone singing their part in their ear, it doesn't get learned. If they're not extremely excited about the song, it's even worse. This makes adding new songs EXTREMELY difficult.

This has led to us going for about 2 years with the same repertoire of about 14 songs – mostly Polecats (standards every barbershopper knows). The new songs we have added are songs from the Macomb chapter repertoire that Mike and Floyd already know, which has left me rather frustrated.

That, coupled with differing views of where or how the quartet should progress, has made moving forward almost impossible. Floyd doesn't want to compete or perform unless we sound "Goooooood!", which leads to us doing the same 2 songs every time we perform for other barbershoppers ("Heart Of My Heart" and "Coney Island Baby"…ugh). He also wants to constantly work on vowel shapes and other (granted, important) minutia, while we're STILL having problems getting all of the notes right! I'm of the school of thought where you get the notes right, THEN work on technical refinement. All of this, plus the fact that they are in a different chorus and 40-50 minutes away, leads to difficult coordination of rehearsals, and worse, stagnant rehearsals where we simply go over the same songs ad nauseam with little to no progress or retention.

Floyd, likely seeing the writing on the wall, gracefully bowed out a few weeks ago citing a busy schedule. I appreciated that.

Mike was a whole other problem. I've never been good at "break-ups". Telling someone they're not good enough is not something I have ever been good at, thus I put off calling him. Mike called me to wish me a happy birthday and suggest we get together and sing soon. I thanked him profusely, and though I knew it was in poor taste after such a thoughtful gesture, I told him Lou and I were looking for 2 new guys in our chapter and area. He took it very well, and was grateful for the opportunity. He suggested we get together for a polecat or two at the next barbershop function we're all at and we ended on a good note. I felt crass and awful, but it was done. Now, to reform the quartet.

Dave Beamer had just joined our chorus. He seemed a bit quiet and withdrawn, but eager. After talking with our membership chairman, Jack Day, I found out while he works in IT at Compuware, he has a Master's in Vocal Pedagogy! I swooped down like a vulture and asked him to join us before anyone else got to him. Though he sings lead with the chorus, he would be willing to do bass with the quartet. I sang a song or two with him and he sight-sang it down with almost no mistakes. Bingo!

Now, a baritone. Another newbie to the chorus, Dave Kemp, had rejoined the society with our motley crew after being a member for 15 years. I approached him about joining. Another lead, he was reluctant to do bari, but being a trooper, he said he'd be happy to give it a try. After hours upon hours with part tapes and sitting at his keyboard, he just couldn't hear the part. A great lead, but not so much of a bari. He called me up to thank me for the chance, but it would just take him too long to be practical to learn the part.


Then, the light bulb turned on. Why not go back to the well?

Brad Miller had been the lead in Coda Honor's 1st incarnation. I recruited him on lead and Mike Nelson on bari after they came to a chorus show. We formed a quartet for the Corktown Historic Homes Tour along with my old friend Paul Bastian on bass. We sounded great, he sight-sang well, and our gig went beautifully. Being mostly young 20-somethings and downriver guys, after the gig, they got busy and we never got together again.

Now he sings with the Greenfield Village quartet – on BARI! I e-mailed him and said that I wanted to compete and gig. His reply, "I'd love to compete, seeing as I, like any real musician, look for reasons to feed my ego any time I can." You can't get a better fit for this quartet than that.

Now we have 3 guys that can sight-sing, 1 who learns quickly, and all 4 with great ears, complimentary attitudes, and similar goals. Our first rehearsal is this Sunday.

Here's the confusing part: 2 of us are from Coda Honor's 1st configuration, 2 of us from the 2nd, and one totally new guy. So which version are we? Coda Honor 3.0? 1.5? 2 ½? 33 1/3?

Aww, who cares!? This is the kind of quartet since I first started singing 4-part harmony. This is a quartet that can go out, wow some audiences, make some money, and do some damage at contests.

This is a quartet that can be GOOD!

Let the games BEGIN!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Birthday Presents…

I don't usually expect much by way of presents on my birthday. I try not to be greedy. If I get a DVD or two I've wanted for a long time and a 6-pack of some really good beer, I'm pretty happy. I'm more about the though and effort. I appreciate clever gifts that show how well a person knows me or shows how much trouble they went through to make/get it for me, rather than how much they spent (though cost can be a sign of sacrifice, so I appreciate pricey stuff on that level).

From my parents and grandfather, I usually get cash. I appreciate it a lot. It usually bails me out of some hole I dug for myself or helps me to whittle down ye olde tuition bill a bit. They usually can't afford the big stuff I want and they wish they could get me, and don't get the chance to talk with me enough to know the little things I may want. So it's usually a nice check to either get something I've been wanting or get some minor monetary monkey off my back.

This year, however, my darling, loving, considerate and wonderful parents hit the nail square on the head with two presents that synergize to become complete creative AWESOMENESS for me!

From my dad, a new laptop.

From my mom, the newest upgrade to Finale music composition software.

For those of you non-musicians or have not tried composing or arranging, the best way to articulate the compulsion to do so it this: It's like puzzle-solving, but you're making the puzzle yourself as you go, creating your own challenges to overcome, and setting your own difficulty level. In the end you not only have the satisfaction of a completed puzzle and obstacles overcome, you have MUSIC! A work of art. Same with marching drill design.

I have wanted to do some arranging of music (mostly for my barbershop quartet) for ages, but have lacked the time to do so. I'm either at work or there's stuff to do at home and tying myself to the computer in the crowded bedroom makes concentration impractical, if not impossible. Not to mention, since I lost the install disc for my old version of Finale, installing it at work for use on lunch breaks or other calm moments couldn't happen.

These gifts solve everything. The laptop and software give me the freedom to pop open my music anytime I have a spare moment or inspiration, and the ability to compose and arrange wherever I can find the peace and time to think.

I got started the day the Finale disc arrived by starting an arrangement of "Rainbow Connection", a long-time favorite of mine, which a few of you have heard by now (if you'd like an MP3 of it, I'd be more than happy to e-mail it to you for your opinions). I was so excited about these gifts that the ideas started pouring out faster than I could enter them! In the end, I have an absolutely SWEET arrangement that I'm hoping to get my quartet to do in the next month or so. (The quartet situation will be my next blog)

I'm grateful for everything I get, from a simple MySpace comment, to a card, to $1 million! In the end, especially this year, I'm grateful for the gift of loving friends and family…

…but damn, having a laptop is sweet!!

Next: More life updates, and "Coda Honor 1.5?!"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Birthday Ponderings...

I just read a blog from a MySpace friend who is doing pretty much exactly what I want to be doing, professionally, and making a living on it. Usually, especially this time of year, this would get me jealous, angry, and depressed. Oddly enough, not so this year.

Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm turning 29 for the 5th time. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would not be over 30 without a degree. As 33 looms on the temporal horizon, I find myself sorely behind schedule.

Birthdays always come with a touch of depression for me. Inevitably, as I get closer to the date, I begin analyzing where I am versus where I wanted to be at this point in my life, and worse, where my contemporaries are, compared to myself. I was supposed to have graduated by 22, gotten my first band directing job by 24, married at 27, had kids at 29, built a state champion marching band by 30, and have settled down in a nice, comfortable and (relatively) secure career with tenure by 34 with a medium-big house, new car, and nice things. Not expensive or numerous thing - but nice things.

Yea, it got a bit fucked up.

Oddly enough though, this year I'm not looking at all of this and beating myself up for the paths not taken. Sure, there are several things I wish were different at this point and my current professional life is less than fulfilling, but I have a wonderful wife, 2 great kids, a roof over our heads, food on the table, and a ton of supportive and encouraging friends, whom I love dearly.

I often get stuck in that "high school reunion" mentality, thinking that everyone is more successful than I. Professionally, I may be right, but I'm realizing (on occasion, anyway) that that is not the sole measure of a man.

Success isn't measured in dollars and cents, or the certificates on the wall. It's measured by who you are and what you do to help the world around you. I consider myself a success when I snuggle with my daughter watching a movie, and she smiles at me and snuggles closer. I'm a success when I give my son a great big hug for reading a book several years beyond his grade level, and he beams with pride. I'm a success when I kiss and console my wife when she's distraught about her career progress, and she sighs with a modicum of relief. I'm a success when I empty the last of my cash and change in my pockets to put in a donation bucket for the needy. I'm a success when I can offer a friend a helping hand. I consider myself a success with every smile I can offer to a stranger.

I can't donate millions to build hospitals in Darfur. I can't cure cancer or Aids. I can't solve the problems in the Middle East or give Bush a brain transplant. I can, however, strum a perky tune on the ukulele and make someone smile. I can bust a chord with my quartet and make someone for get their troubles for a moment. I can offer a smile to someone in a bad mood and brighten their day. I can be a bright light in the darkness of someone else's life and make the world a better place, one brief moment at a time.

At 33, I'm not where I was hoping to be professionally or financially by a long shot…

…but I am a greater success than I ever thought I could be.

Next: Life updates, 2 birthday gifts combine to form complete awesomeness, and lighter topics...