Tuesday, July 31, 2007

For Love AND Money – Our first REAL paid gig...

I'm never keen on taking time off work. True, there are times I absolutely DESPISE that place, but as I'm paid hourly (and fairly well, considering the menial, yet specialized nature of my tasks) each minute takes a bit out of the ol' paycheck.

When I'm giving up my $15/hr in favor of earning $40+/hr to sing, however – hand me my car keys – I'm gone.

I love performing with a quartet. Even if I'm not getting paid, I love singing. The fact that we can – and have – charged as much as $260/hr to have this much fun almost seems obscene at times. At $65/hr per guy, if we could just find a way to book 20 hours worth of gigs a week, as opposed to the 2-3 a month (summer, mostly), we'd all be set for life.

But I digress… Back to the story….

Coda Honor has been performing at events for the Ruth Mott Foundation at Applewood Estates in Flint for the past 3 years. They usually call us about 2-3 times a year to sing for their Fall Festival, Holiday Walk, and some odd event in the summer. They were the first group to call on us after our first gig at the Corktown Homes Tour several years back and have been our most faithful and appreciative customers to date. We're always greeted with a warm smile and checks in hand. We love this group.

This year was no different. I was a bit nervous at first. We had been practicing with this gig in mind from the start. After FINALLY finding a bass, we had about a month – about 4 rehearsals - to learn as many songs as possible. I figured we might be able to get about 5 polecats ready, but for a 3 hour gig, I wasn't sure that'd be enough. The closer the gig came and the more we got together as a quartet, the less I worried.

We gathered at our bari's house about 4. I was the first to get there after stopping for some McD's (by the way, don't bother with their new iced coffee – it's crap). I was able to chat with Dave about music and his daughter's extremely cool job working for a Sci-Fi mag in Cali. We got the rest of the guys together and piled in Big Dave's van to head to Flint. On the way, we talked about contest songs, ran through some of the tunes, and came up with a list of what we knew. 8 songs that sounded good. Not bad for 4 rehearsals!

We get there and give a dry run for "Zippity Do Da", which we had just learned 2 days earlier in chorus rehearsal. Even with no practice, no music in front of us, and faking most of it, it sounded surprisingly good! 9 songs! Cool! I figured I'd bring my ukulele along just in case we needed some filler. I can plunk and croak out a fair repertoire, when the need arises.

We were met by a volunteer, checks in hand, and are given the rundown of the schedule. We have some time before the greeting ceremony, so we head to the rose garden and elicit some smiles and light applause in the rose garden.

For the greeting ceremony, I was contacted a week earlier and told we would be singing after the Chief Operating Officer's speech. The organizer, a lovely lady named Linda, asked what we would sing. I ran down our minimal repertoire. By sheer kismet, our set list fit perfectly. They have been doing construction to re-route the creek so the garden wouldn't be flooded anymore, so "If The Lord Be Willin' And The Creek Don't Rise" was perfect, and as their mascot is a frog, "Rainbow Connection" was another of her favorites she recommended. However, as the C.O.O.'s speech got a bit long-winded, she suggested we just wrap it up with the "Irish Blessing" so folks could get to their ice cream. We then sang for about 15 minutes for the folks in line, running through pretty much all of our repertoire. Then we hit the trails again to sing around the grounds.

Coda desktop

As we strolled back to the gardens, I started plunking out a tune, just to pass the time. As I sang, the other guys joined in, in harmony, woodshedding some great backup! You'd think we'd rehearsed it! I started to get goosebumps. This happened several times throughout the evening.

When we got to the garden, we were met by a couple young girls who started requesting songs we didn't know like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidotious". Only having 9 songs in our repertoire, they started to look a bit disappointed. Suddenly we all look at each other, shug a bit, and start singing it. Completely unrehearsed, faking the words a bit, but sounding astonishingly decent!

We then ask her to sing and she starts crooning "This Little Light of Mine". We then start backing her up, layering "Do Lord" and harmony over her melody. My head begins to spin. Had I actually managed to get a quartet together that had this kind of talent!?

After the gig, we stopped at Mexican restaurant for dinner. We talked about everything from computers, music theory and history, sci-fi, stocks, politics, to possible songs for contest and other topics for well over an hour. We had an absolute blast.

I have always enjoyed being part of a quartet and making music. I've been a part of about 6 or 7 different quartets or variations thereof in my life, but to finally be a part of a group of guys that click so well, appreciate and respect each other, have so many common interests, and above all have REAL talent just blows my mind. If I could bottle this feeling of sheer joy and amazement, getting more guys into barbershop wouldn't ever be a problem again.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Inauspicious Beginnings and Vocal Listerine…

Coda Honor has hit the ground running. This past week has been a whirlwind of a start for my quartet. We've been through humiliation, redemption, exhilaration, and remuneration all in the span of about 5 days.

We have been rehearsing for about a month, mostly focusing on getting a repertoire built for gigs. The idea was to get as many songs that we can sing relatively well together for our 3 hour strolling performance at Applewood Estates without repeating any song more than, say, 3 times.

Trick was, in that month, we could only get together about 3 times for maybe 2 hours each. Lou has a pretty big repertoire, which I know about half of. The new guy, "Big Dave" just needed to dust off the 15 year old cobwebs from his repertoire, and Dave B. can read down practically anything and get it cemented in his head with a few reps. We rattled off a bunch of standards and with the addition of my arrangement of Rainbow Connection, had found a repertoire of 8 songs we all knew sounding decent in pretty short order.

With a gig that had been booked months ago looming, we figured what better place to try us out than the annual Slamka Harmony Hideaway Picnic, an informal gathering of barbershoppers from all over that seems to grow every year. Barbershoppers are a friendly crowd. No one there is more than 1 degree removed from anyone else. While very knowledgeable and critical, they are also the most sympathetic – a perfect venue for honest criticism and a warm reception.

I arrived at the picnic first, wanting to let the kids partake of all the games and events that Mrs. Kitty Slamka sets up for the young 'uns throughout the event. I wander the crowd looking for familiar faces and combinations to sing tags and song with. Lou arrived a bit later with his girlfriend, Linda. Just as the food is being served, Dave B (our new baritone) arrived with "Big Dave" (our new bass) shortly behind him.

Floyd and Mike (our previous bass and baritone, respectively), roped Lou and I into a mini-reunion to do our predictable and tired standard of "Heart of My Heart". We've done that thing so many times at so many barbershop events, it's practically become a running gag and I LOATHE the song anymore, but Floyd had a "dame" he wanted to sing for, and that's the ONLY song he felt we did well together. Ugh.

In the evening, there is talent show for the kids before the quartets sing. Anyone under 13 or so can participate. Liam has, of course, eagerly gone on stage every year (wonder where he gets THAT from), usually deciding to tell a joke without a punchline or something, but being adorable in front of a bunch of grandparents is all you need for a venue like that. This year, I warned him the night before and suggested a song. Without hesitation, he says, "GHOST RIDERS!"

I brought the computer in case I needed to make a CD for him to sing along with, then recalled that I could play that one on my ukulele. I suggest that I just back him up on the uke, and he loves the idea.

Here's my brilliant ham of a son…

After the kid's talent show, the quartets perform. It's a parade of quartets of sorts, where any quartet there is welcome to go on stage and do a couple songs. We had planned on doing my arrangement of "Rainbow Connection" and "If The Lord Be Willin'". One non-standard that no one there would know the arrangement to and one rousing up-tune virtually everyone would know – good balance.

When we get to the stage, and we're told that as there are no stage lights this year and 27 quartets signed up, we would only have time for 1 song. After conferring and debating for about 5 minutes (and a few pleas to Mike Slamka for one more song, to no avail) we decide on "Rainbow Connection".

We chose…poorly.

It started out fine, with only a couple iffy notes, but after the key change, our bass hit a pedal note that was about ½ step high and we all freaked out. Had this happened in rehearsal, we likely would have recovered, but the nerves kicked in and it fell apart from there. We give some polite smiles and bows, then…ran the hell off stage.

I was absolutely pissed. Not at anyone in the quartet, but just in the situation. Our big debut for our peers – the guys who will be seeing us, and some even JUDGING us in contest – and we screwed the pooch. I was more pissed at myself for leaning toward doing my arrangement, in retrospect, mostly out of vanity I guess. It's not easy and we hadn't practiced it enough.

We got some polite compliments, and I vented to Toby (the bass from Party of 4 – 2005 district champs). He consoled me with tales of his quartets less than stellar performances and how they choked on that very stage a couple years back. I appreciated the gesture, but…well…they're district fucking champs! It's easy to forgive someone with a medal, but when you're trying to make a good first impression, it's harder. Maybe I'll appreciate it more if we win a medal someday.

After that, I had to get our performance out of my mind, so I asked the guys to retreat with me to the back of the grounds and record some of our songs for the web page (I sure as HELL wasn't going to put our stage performance up there). We recorded about 4 songs on my digital camera and enjoyed the rest of the show.

The following Monday we were schedule to go to Beaumont Hospital to sing for a fellow barbershopper from Minnesota who had gotten into an accident on his motorcycle. We usually charge $260/hr with a 1 hour minimum, but given the client and circumstances, $60 ($15 per guy) covered gas and McD's. We plan it in just before chorus rehearsal and figure we might be able to sing after the break at the rehearsal. We bring the guy to tears with good old songs he knew, chat with him a bit, and wish him well with the "Irish Blessing". After a couple quick stops on our way out at the behest of a neighboring patient or two who overheard us, we head to chorus rehearsal.

"Big Dave" isn't in our chorus and has no immediate plans to be. He's just too busy and Livonia isn't exactly next-door. However, since the hospital is a mile from our rehearsal facility, he agreed to come along. We arrive in our matching duds and rehearse for the first half. At the break we retreat to the library of the church to practice "Rainbow" one more time and pick an up-tune. "Darkness on the Delta", though a song the entire chorus knows from the show 2 years ago, is always a hit and we do it well.

We're introduced after a LOOONG meandering speech by our quartet development chair, and we take the stage. Lemme tell ya, after the bad taste our first performance left in our mouths, this was like a BIG ASS BOTTLE OF VOCAL LISTERINE! The cement ceiling makes every good chord ring and it's MUCH easier to hear. "Rainbow" had only one or 2 glitches, but "Darkness on the Delta" absolutely RANG!

Redemption. Especially since there were several there who had seen us at the picnic 2 days before. God willing, word will get around.

Okay, this is already long as hell, so I'll recount the next gig in my next blog.

Coming up next: For Love AND Money – Our first REAL paid gig...

By the way, check out our quartet's newly revised and updated web page with new pics, bios, and video clips!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I've Been Tagged...

Damn you, Chuck!

I usually don't participate in stuff like this much, but for Chuck, well....

tag--I'm it!

The rules are: Once you have been tagged you have to write a blog with 10 weird or random things, facts, or habits about yourself. At the end, you choose 5 people to be tagged, list their names, and why you chose them to be tagged. Don't forget to leave a comment that says, "You are tagged" on their profile and to read your latest blog. HAVE FUN!

  1. I'm a white tornado when I'm overly-stressed or frustrated (moreso that the usual). I blitz-clean everything in my path.
  2. I live in my car. I keep everything in there. As much as I hate to have a gas-guzzling SUV, my car is comfy and the storage space is a necessity. If I could afford it, I'd get another subaru station wagon. Until then, I try not to think of the gas prices and just enjoy my nice mid-sized SUV.
  3. I eat crap food - and love it. Fried, fattening food is a staple of my diet. Not necessarily just because I love it, but mostly because it's cheap and convenient. Once in a while, I'll go to Subway and get a healthier sandwich with apple slices just so I don't keel over with a coronary.
  4. I wear my red Chuck Taylor high-tops with everything, if possible. even got my quartet to wear then in their own colors.
  5. I need to get my "have-to"s done before I can relax. I can't chill without knowing there's stuff I'll have to get myself motivated to do later.
  6. I'm very possessive about my laptop. It's my new security blanket. I've let Sonya use it a lot lately, but she's the only one I trust with it.
  7. I can't let a photo just remain "as-shot". I have to PhotoShop it at least a little. And I'm a wiz at it. Check out my quartet's web page to see: www.codahonorquartet.com
  8. If I had the time, I'd probably blog all day long.
  9. Now that storage space on my computer is rarely a huge concern, I save alost every file - usually multiple versions - on my computer. I have stuff going back YEARS. Especially documents. But I always file them in an orderly fashion. Conversely, I clean up and defrag my hard drive about every 2 weeks of stuff I'm fairly sure I'll never use.
  10. I'm a sucker for peer pressure, apparently.

I herby tag the following:
Sonya - because she has SO much time for crap like this (smirk)!
Charlie - because he hasn't blogged in a while
Lou - I'm curious to see if he can come up with quirks I don't know about
KT - because she just eats this kinds stuff up.
Paulie B. - because he love self-defamation and introspection

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Missing old friends…

I've been meaning to get to this subject for a long time...

Every once in a while when I get a moment's peace, I find myself thinking about aspects of my youth that I dearly miss. I've often opined about them here. Topics like missing the concept of truly "free" time, bemoaning adult responsibilities, and the like are frequent fodder for my meandering blogs.

Recently, however, I find myself missing the one aspect of my youth that can't simply be blamed on growing up, and that is losing dear friends.

Now, I'm not talking about untimely death or anything so morbid. I refer to something even more unfortunate and sorrowful. I mean losing touch with or alienating people who mean the world to me, or at least in some way keep me connected to the happy memories of my past, through pride, selfishness, or worse - apathy.

It has often been said that one's life is like a play, with each player having their entrances and exits. I don't buy it. If life is like a play, then I'm the star and director, and I want every cast member to stay on the stage somewhere and end with a full cast finale.

Over the years, I have lost some very dear friends – some who I even consider family – to poor decisions or even LACK of decisions on my part. Through my own actions or inactions, important people in my life have fallen aside, and that's a thought that pains me like no other. Be it by a hasty word said in anger or a simple e-mail or phone call I neglected to return, these souls have drifted from my life like a balloon whose string I lost my grasp on.

The wonders of technology have enabled me to reconnect with many of these people. Family and friends I haven't heard from in weeks, months, and in many cases, years can now be reached by a few simple keystrokes. MySpace, E-mail, instant messaging have all made it easier than ever to regain my grip on many of those balloon strings and tie them to my wrists. Easy enough for the ones who just drifted away, but what of the ones I drove away and thus refuse to return?

There aren't many of them. I may be irritating from time to time, but I rarely anger people to the point of them not wanting anything to do with me. There are a few, though, who I have driven away or have driven themselves away – and their absence hurts most of all.

As time marches on, the reasons for it become irrelevant. Even the details of the situations leading up to our parting ways fade to a vague memory, but the emotional wounds do not as easily heal. I constantly reexamine the reasons why.

Was I wrong?

If so, did I apologize enough?

Sincerely enough? Should I contact them out of the blue and try again, and risk having the door shut in my face again?

In the end, I do what most do. I sit back and wait for the other party to come around. Hoping…praying that they will see what I see: that it hurts far more not to be there than to endure the memories of words that fade into nothing over time.

Friendships – TRUE friendships – are more precious than diamonds, more necessary than air, and more fulfilling than the greatest of selfish joys. I do not discard them willingly. They must be wrestled from me. Torn forcibly from my hands. But I will not force myself on someone. If they choose to discard my friendship, it will always be here for them to reclaim. Tattered and torn a bit around the edges, perhaps, but waiting to be rediscovered and rebuilt for them alone.

By now I'm sure you all surmise that I'm referring to a specific incident/person(s). Why else would someone write a melancholy blog like this. Yes, I've been thinking of a dear, lost friend lately, whom I truly miss.

I'm to cowardly to force myself on anyone, so I wait like a puppy looking out the window, hoping.

Someday, this grand prize of a friendship will be picked up, brushed off, and displayed proudly again.

Until then, one of my most treasured trophies lies in the dustbin

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

So Much to Blog, So Little Time – Part II: Recreational Frustration

Okay, lately I honestly don't have much to bitch about here. Sonya and the kids went to Pennsylvania just a couple weeks ago to visit her aunt and cousins, leaving me all by my lonesome to tear up the state in a fit of reckless abandon (well, relatively for me anyway). I was able to visit with an old friend, have a nice long rehearsal with my quartet without much time restriction, and even hit the karaoke bar with my best friend.

Usually when I complain about not getting to do the things I want to do, it's because I'm either too busy with work or other obligations or I need to spend every available moment at home with my family, as said "free time" is so sparse in my life these days. This time, however, my "poor me" tirade is primarily based on funding and minor events largely beyond control.

Two weekends ago was the Barbershop Harmony Society's International Convention, this year held in Denver, CO. I have never been to an international convention and I hear stories from friends and veteran barbershoppers alike about how great the performances are, how much fun the afterglows can be, and tales of singing in the hotel lobbies till the wee hours of the morning with barbershoppers from all over the country. Basically everything I enjoy about our Pioneer District conventions, but on an international scale at about 20 times the size.

The biggest barrier to my enjoying such a festival of geektidute, is the prohibitive expense and distance. My dad has been to several of these and has been encouraging me to get to one since I started in the Society several years ago, even going so far as to offer to pay my expenses (not sure he thought that one through very well). All of the usual expenses of my semi-annual trip to whatever in-state location is hosting the district convention are compounded exponentially. Food, hotel, travel costs, tickets, and various miscellany, not to mention the money lost from time off of work, can incinerate my wallet at the mere thought when you double the duration, distance, number of events and ticket costs of the trip.

Thus far, the closest international convention to he has been Indianapolis (which I honestly should have gone to), but aside from the cost and distance, there is the absolutely HORRIBLE timing of the event. They are always held the week of July 4th...every year.

While I suppose it makes sense to plan a convention of this magnitude during a week when most folks plan for a vacation anyway, those of us who work for a living (as opposed to the tidal wave of retirees that flood such a convention) and have sparse vacation time – if any at all – would like to try and spend some of that precious free time with our families.

If you've ever experienced an addiction like Barbershop or Drum Corps, you know that at these kind of events you want to fly from activity to activity and do every spontaneous thing that comes up. It's stimulation overload, like a kid at a crnival, and being tied to the family and attending to their wants and needs inevitably "cramps your style" in such situations. It usually becomes a choice of doing what you want and force-feeding them your mania, ditching them to do the stuff you love and leaving them feeling abandoned and neglected, or missing what you perceive to be all the cool stuff and feeling like you may as well have stayed home. Neither option is particularly appealing and even compromise can leave both sides disappointed.

Another side-effect of having the convention during Independence Day week is that local festivals get the shaft. Inevitably, I get a several calls a year for our quartet for that week from local events planners hoping to add a touch of old-style Americana to a 4th of July event. As our Lead is always at the international convention, competing with the Macomb Chapter's chorus, I'm forced to decline. When they ask for suggestions, I them to hit the quartet locator on the Society's web page, but tell them it's unlikely they'll find any quartet with a full compliment for the job.

Next year is in Nashville. I'm already planning my funding for it (read: I'm casing liquor stores and pricing ski masks). My dad is already planning to go. My aunt and uncle live a few hours from there, so I can coordinate a trip to see them (for the 2nd time in about 18 years). I may also have a good friend out that way by then, if he gets the job he's hoping for.

Other recreational frustration involves my journey to see His Royal Weirdness, "Weird Al" Yankovic this past Wednesday in Lansing at the Common Ground Music Festival. A great show, as always, and I enjoyed most of it. There were a million little things, however, that didn't go as I had set up in my mind and led to some disappointment.

I had this great scheme in my mind of leaving work at 4, heading home to help pack up the kids, hit the road at 4:30 (thus just missing rush hour), and getting to the festival at 6. Being 2 ½ hours early for the festival, we could lay claim to a good spot for the general admission, outdoor concert, and enjoy some other aspects of the festival. In that time, I figured I'd hook up with my friend Charlie and we could hang with his family, as he has kids about my kids' age. Plans I apparently should have relayed to Sonya in more detail and with more emphasis than I did.

As it was, I left work at 4 and got home to find the kids mostly ready and Sonya on the computer researching the festival a bit further. My best friend Lou decided to join our carload and arrived about 4:40, which added a bit of brief contention as a deviation from the blueprint Sonya had in her mind. We hit the road about 5:15, and despite having just eaten, the kids were "STARVING" as Liam put it, so we hit the Taco Bell drive-thru. I suggested quesadillas, but they whined about burrito kids meals. Sonya suggested giving them what they asked for so they would actually EAT IT (refference intended). About 5 miles down the freeway, Courtney proceeded to empty the contents of her burrito all over her shirt, pants, and carseat, necessitating a stop. We hit the road again, getting snagged in mild rush hour traffic. We got to Lansing about 7pm and park about 2 blocks from the festival. Lou, Liam and I hop out of the car, and I'm already frustrated and antsy. Sonya, gathering her stuff and spraying un bug spray, clues in on this and offers to get Courtney cleaned up while Liam and I go ahead to scout a spot.

What we didn't realize was that our parking spot, while close to the performance stage, was 5 blocks from the entrance, which was at the OPPOSITE end of the huge park from the stage. We walk about ¼ mile to the entrance, get my ticket and leave Sonya's at the box office in an envelope with her name on it. After a huge line and security check, we get into the park and call Charlie, hoping to find him and thus, the stage.

After a bit of phone tag, we get there and discover that while Charlie was in the 6th row or so, having arrived at 6-ish (as I had planned to), the only available spots were about 5 light years back, requiring the Hubbell Telescope to see the stage. It was also right next to the playground, which proved convenient at first, but a major challenge after the concert started and Liam kept wanting to run off and play.

Other than that, the only real annoyance was having to have Liam on my shoulders for the entire concert so he could see. He got a better view than I did, as I kept having to bob and weave between heads to see the stage at all.

One thing I hate about summer is that there are always events and concerts I want to go to that I just don't have the time or money for.

Que sera, sera. I better start planning the minute-by-minute detailed itinerary and saving up now for next summer's events...

Wow. For not having much to bitch about, this is a helluva long blog entry. Guess that'll happen when you take a week to write it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

So Much to Blog, So Little Time – Part I: Professional Frustration

This weekend has been so mind-numbingly busy, that I have chosen to take one of my morning constitutionals to the coffee shop to play MySpace catch-up. I woke up at 7am, took a quick shower, and got here ASAP to read up on all of the blogs I have missed over the past week or so. In doing so, I have been reminded of the thousand-and-one things I have wanted to blog about over the past week or two, an likely STILL won't have time to write about. After spending 2 hours reading blogs and writing a few comments, here it is, 9:15am. With 45 minutes to get to work, I'll probably barely scratch the surface of what I want to write about, so this will probably be a multi-part blog written over several days.

Okay, professional frustration. There are a bunch of levels on this subject that have been digging under my skin like rabid, mutant ticks lately. At the risk of another whiney blog, latent with complaints and "woe is me" stories, I shall vent thusly:

First and foremost, for the first time in about 14 years, I find myself WITHOUT a marching band job for the fall. The band I have worked with for the past 3 ½ years, like all too many others, hit the budgetary chopping block, and I was the appendage to be severed. Every other staff member has been retained, but I was let go. At first, I disappointedly let it roll off my back, citing facts to myself like, "I was the only staff member that WASN'T a caption head", "the other wind instructor is a T.A. paid by the district payroll and not the band budget", "this is happening all over, I'm not the only one", etc..

Then it started to get to me. I was the only one there capable of running an effective sectional or rehearsal with ANY of the sections without just saying, "play through this number…okay again…okay again…(ad nauseum)". Was there some other reason? I had heard there were some rumblings of dissatisfaction with something I had said or done last year. I got this third party from my advisor at Wayne State when she tried to place me at this school for my practicum and student teaching. I got nothing solid or ANY details (which is the frustrating standard for WSU – particularly the music department), but there was some reason I couldn't be placed there that was political. Beyond that, I was never contacted by the director this year, despite the fact that she had said she'd drop me a line with the season details and schedule in May. I had to contact her.

My biggest pet peeve is when someone has a problem with me, but won't confront me with it and just either lets it stew and fester, or worse, takes it out on me surreptitiously. I'm a reasonable guy and usually very open to constructive criticism. If you have a problem with me or something I did, tell me. I'll do my best (especially in an employment or educational situation) to repair the damage or change my behavior in the future. I'm there to get better at what I do, and adjusting to others' teaching or operating style is part of the job. As good as I think I am at reading people, I misjudge from time to time. All I need is a friendly hint of what to do different next time and, after blushing with a bit of embarrassment, I'll make the necessary adjustments. I'm not prone to blowing up at people (unless the aforementioned festering or surreptitious back-stabbing occurs). The same applies to friendships.

So here I am, the only bit of professional gratification I get for the year (in my chosen field) taken from me, no prospects for other bands, and pretty much every other band fully staffed or under-funded to the point of not being able to pay me what I am worth or would even financially justify the time and gas to do it.

Gives new meaning to "Trickle-down Economics".

If any of you know of a band that needs an instructor – winds, visual, or general purpose – PLEASE let me know! It leads to a crazy busy fall for me, but it's the only chance I get to remind me why I got into Music Education in the first place. The best part of being a lowly band tech is that I get all of the benefits (sans monetary) of the job with none of the hassles. I get to teach students, impart my wisdom, and utilize teaching and performance techniques I have gathered over the years to improve and guide young musicians, but never have to deal with budgets, lesson plans, administration, or (at least so I thought) the political bullshit entwined with the position of band director. The director tells me what needs to be accomplished, and I use my knowledge and experience to get results – and I DO get results.

Things are tough all over, but it never occurred to me that they would end up hitting my fall marching band gig. I suppose I should have gotten suspicious when, for the first year ever, I wasn't contacted about ANY other gigs or camps.

God, I hope this is just about budgets and not about my reputation as an instructor.

Further frustration involves my job at Custom Music. With the boss screaming for a pointless and often discarded inventory, he has decreed that I not bring my computer to work (hence my backlog of blog material and other computer related communication). This is to ensure that I am working on the inventory every possible minute. More likely, it's to quell the complaints from one of the salesmen who loves to hover over everyone's shoulder and check, double check, undo, and redo everyone's work. He then proceeds to complain that he doesn't have time to do his own various duties.

The thing I hate about this inventory bullshit, aside from the fact that it is never used for anything other than to give the owner a sense of gratification to see a nice fat stack of paper itemizing what he has acquired, is the time it takes. When we first did the full inventory 3 years ago, it took 3 of us a full 2 weeks of doing nothing but inventory. Now, it's just me doing it in between customer repairs, servicing horns for conventions, designing ads, making web page updates, shipping, receiving and whatever other pointless, redundant, or otherwise useless tasks they interrupt me with. The boss doesn't get that, no matter how many times I relay that information to him, and asks me at least 5 times a day if I'm done yet. I try to chalk it up to the fact that he's 90+ years old, sick, and feeble-minded, but it doesn't make it any less infuriating. Couple that with the brain-dead salesman who can barely tie his own shoes or wipe his own ass, interrupting me to help him with the simplest and most menial of tasks, and I'm ready to tear my hair out. This guy is a combination of Bill Lumberg from Office Space and a whiny, demanding 2-year-old in every irritating way.

Thankfully, Blockbuster is still Blockbuster, and my one (though ill-paying) professional island of adequacy. I'm appreciated and liked by my boss, coworkers, and customers alike, and usually look forward to my shifts. The district manager has yet to follow through with utilizing me for training purposed or reward me with anything but a grateful slap on the back (that and a buck fifty will get me a cup of coffee), but the day-to-day there is still pretty nice.

This ends my professional opining…for now

Coming up next: So Much to Blog, So Little Time – Part II: Recreational Frustration

Monday, July 2, 2007

Weekend at Paulie’s ...

Many of you likely saw my bulletin on Friday asking for volunteers to help me paint the town red (or whatever color was cheapest) this past weekend, as Sonya and the kids headed out to her cousin's graduation party. I received several invitations from friends relatively close by, and a handful of condolences from folks impractically far away. All were greatly appreciated, and a few of them turned into wonderful evenings of escapism for me. I had a great weekend!

Thursday night, I came home from work about 11pm and stayed up until 5am re-recording myself singing my arrangement of Rainbow Connection – all 4 parts – into my computer. As fatigue caught up with me and the empty beer cans piled around me (actually, only 4), my confidence in my new recoding grew. Funny thing about beer, fatigue and confidence… I woke up the next morning about ½ late for work and listened to the recording on my laptop when I got there. Not exactly how I remembered it. No, not a drunken tirade expounding on the merits of Jaleel White's deep and subtext laden portrayal of Urkel or anything, but just not quite as good as I remember. Oh well, I had fun doing it, even if it did end up as a waste of 5 hours.

The next day was my usual Friday schedule: work both jobs from 10am till 10:30pm. Nothing surprising there, though it was pleasantly calm and peaceful at Custom Music for a change. I checked my e-mail on a break at Blockbuster to find an invite from Nyma suggesting I join her and husband Todd to watch her brother's band perform at a bar nearby. I also got a message from Melanie asking for my cell number, to which I replied in kind. Woo-hoo! Stuff to do!

After work, I called Nyma's cell, only to get her voice mail, then headed towards the bar she mentioned by way of Meijer to return a cartful of deposits and grab some bottled water for the next day's quartet rehearsal. I got a quick call back saying they were just leaving, as her husband, Todd, had to be up early for work, and that her brother had just announced his engagement to his long-time girlfriend. I sent my congrats and suggested we do something some other time.

Almost immediately, I get a call from my old friend Melanie suggesting I head downtown to pick her up and we head out for a drink. We reconnected via MySpace about a year ago, but hadn't actually SEEN each other in about 10 years. This was a perfect chance to fill in the gaps of those 10 years, so I head downtown and pick her up. I suggest that we find a nice, comfy, hole-in-the-wall bar rather than a crowded trendy place to sit and chat, and I recall my favorite little bar in Corktown with just such an atmosphere. We headed out Michigan Ave. to Casey's Pub, in the shadows of Briggs Stadium and spent the next 2 hours catching op on our kids, jobs, old friends, high school memories, and life in general. We had a great time laughing, talking, and listening to the choice tunes played by 93.1 Doug FM at a loud, yet tasteful volume. We departed about 1:30am and hit the White Castle on the way to dropping her home. It was just what I needed.

I got up about 10am the next morning and immediately started cleaning. The guys in the quartet, I'm sure, wouldn't be shocked to find the house in a bit of disarray, as they know I have 2 kids home for the summer, but I wanted the living room to be at least usable and tidy so I wouldn't be distracted by the chores that lie ahead. I spent the next 2 hours putting away toys, rearranging piles of stuff to go through, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, and putting pop and water in the fridge to cool.

The guys show up and we start out on a few standards and polecats (songs most every barbershopper knows) just to make sure we have some kind of repertoire for our upcoming gig later this month. We take a break for a few and start to work on the trickier, less standard stuff we want to do for the Harmony Hideaway a few days earlier. We don't want to get on stage in front of hundreds of barbershoppers, sing songs they all know, and have them sit there thinking, "I could do that better". It's inevitable that they'll think that regardless, but we'd prefer they don't all know the arrangement, at least.

We decide what we need to work on for the next rehearsal after Lou gets back from Internationals, and hit the Oakland Mall to grab some outfits.

I love Steve & Barry's. Good quality, good style, DIRT F*CKING CHEAP. We grab 4 different colors of polo shirts, a nice dressy shirt for each of us, and thankfully, they've brought back the Hawaiian shirt the quartet had before the new guys, so they each get one. The line is long and moving a bit slowly, so of course, we had to sing. We did Down Our Way and Wild Irish Rose as we waited and paid. After that we head into the mall proper. There's a great, echoey chamber just in front of JCPenny. I drag the guys and say, "Okay guys – Darkness". We tanked up and did the Darkness on the Delta tag and rang it like nobody's business! It echoed for at least 15 seconds afterward throughout the mall.

From there we grabbed a bite at A&W, discussed barbershop harmony, the physics of sound, how to ring chords, and the function of overtones. My GOD! I would have NEVER been able to talk like this with the old versions of this quartet! We headed back to our cars, stopping in front of the Coney Island to sing…well, you know. And parted ways. On the way Back, Lou suggested I join him at Crash Landing after work for Karaoke. Perfect! Just want I needed! I dropped Lou at his car and headed to work at the video store.

After work, I head out to Crash Landing, a medium sized bar/restaurant in Madison Heights I was introduced to by a friend when she worked there. I sit down next to Lou and was introduced via shouts and gestures over the loud music to Lou's friends John, Connie, and someone else who's name escapes me. I dig through the catalogue and intentionally avoiding the Sintara section, which is my standard choice, decide on 2 tunes – Zoot Suit Riot (a favorite of mine) and Rainbow Connection.


I have a shitty solo voice. I'm great with a group and small ensembles, but alone, I sound like shit, so for Rainbow Connection, I figured I'd break up the flow of drunken tone-deaf hacks and showy divas by doing it entirely in my quite convincing Kermit the Frog voice. It was very well received.

There was one kid who did some song I'd never heard. Something like "The Day the squirrel went berserk in the First Self-Righteous Church" that had me rolling on the floor! Later my assumptions of a kindred spirit were confirmed when he did "White & Nerdy". How the HELL did I miss THAT in the catalogue!? Lou and I caught up with him on the way out and chatted with him in the parking lot for a while. We exchanged tests of geektitude and passed with flying colors. By the time I had stopped by Taco Bell and got home, I had an add request from him on my MySpace.

I had had a great weekend. When I awoke the next day about 10am, I started to realize how much I missed Sonya and the kids. I had a message from Sonya on MySpace that she had had a rough weekend with them, so I figured I needed to spend the day getting the house spic and span so she'd have less to worry about upon getting home. For the next 8 hours, I cleaned the cat box, swept and mopped the floors, changed the bed, did the laundry, weeded the garden, mowed the lawn, cleaned off the kitchen table, tidied up the rest of the house, and spent 3 hours eroding Mt. Dishmore.

They all got home about 10pm. We got the kids off to bed with little trouble, talked for about an hour, and went to bed watching Bowling for Columbine to prepare for seeing Sicko later this week.

Thanks to everyone who made this a great weekend for me! Now I have the next 3 nights in a row (which never happens anymore) to spend with my family and have just as good a time on the other end of the social spectrum with them!