Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fall Barbershop Convention, Part I: Friday…

What a weekend!! Full of excitement, surprises, and a minor, semi-disappointment or two. As usual, my blog of the weekend will be a few entries as I recall the details day-by-day. If you get bored with it and don't want to read the whole damned saga, no worries. These recounts of my barbershopping escapades are generally for my own edification and posterity anyway...

Having blogged about barbershop conventions several times so far, I'll spare you the explanations of the terminology and practices I've covered before. If you need some explanation, check my blogs from previous Octobers & Aprils.

Here we go…

Friday is always a busy day getting packed and gathered: making sure I have all of my costume pieces, stage makeup, toiletries, etc. This year was a bit different, though, as I was planning on getting there extra early because my quartet was competing for the first time. Usually I arrive late Friday night, just after the quartet prelims are finishing up, so I can be ready for my chorus's performance in the morning.

My sister Valerie and wife Sonya were making vests for my quartet to wear on stage and they took it down to the wire. Valerie, being the go-to gal all of her friends call on when they need costumes and dresses, was kind of bogged down with obligations to a laundry list of friends. Sonya, meanwhile, was trying to get the kids' costumes assembled while trying to make time to get her own elaborate costume together. I dropped Liam at school and went to Valerie's house to put the buttons on the other guys' vests – a mundane, yet important detail she didn't have time to get to. She set up her machine so I could do it fairly quickly and easily…once I figured the damned gizmo-laden thing out, that is.

After finishing those, I went home to find Sonya finishing up my vest and the bow ties. I run to JoAnne's Fabrics for the last couple sundries and Sonya finishes the final touches. They all looked fabulous. Now I just had to pray they'd fit, as we didn't have time for a proper fitting for the guys. The pattern only went up to XL and 3 of us are somewhat beyond that (to say the least), so Valerie used her expertise to guestimate the sizes when cutting the fabric, based solely on my vague descriptions.

I gather the last of my things and pile them into the car to head to my bass's house, only about ½ hour later than planned. Sonya bid me an unusually friendly farewell as I got behind the wheel. It's often a bit of a chore to get out for convention, involving justified grumbling and eventual grudging complacency from Sonya as I desert her and the kids for the weekend. Not so this time, and I was a bit suspicious. I later found out why (don't worry, it was a good thing).

I hop in the car and head to Big Dave's house in Livonia to carpool with him to the convention in Kalamazoo. I get there and find he's tied up on hold on the phone with some bureaucratic mess he had to straighten out. He gets things settled (sorta) and we hit the road in his comfy minivan, with me behind the wheel.

We made remarkable time and check in at the K-zoo Raddison. After checking in and unloading our stuff in our room, I head to the registration desk and peruse the "Barbershop Shop", selling things like music ties, Society ware, pitch pipes and such. My voice is worrying me a bit, so I grab a bottle of voice spray for my cough-worn throat. We then all head to the lobby to meet up with the rest of the quartet for an early dinner before getting suited up and ready for the contest. As the Daves and I wait for Lou, our lead, to get settled in, I glance across the lobby and see someone who remarkably resembles my dad. My first thought dismisses the resemblance, but as I looked closer, I couldn't believe my eyes – my dad had driven clear from KANSAS to see me compete in my first quartet contest! I shout across the lobby and run and give him a HUGE hug! He was hoping to surprise me after the contest, but got the reaction he was hoping for, nonetheless. Sonya had apparently been aware of this planed trip for 3 weekd and managed to keep it a secret. She has, by far, a stronger wil than I.

We all head out to find a place to eat - my quartet, one wife, one girlfriend, and my dad. After a wonderful meal and a drink or two at a (slightly overpriced) British pub & grille, we head to our rooms to get the stage makeup, tuxes, new vests (which fit perfectly) and our signature Hi-top Chucks (each in matching color to our vests). We get to the warm-up room a bit early, put on the bow ties and sing a couple of tunes to warm up. My dad is standing in the corner listening to us critique ourselves and beaming with pride. Meanwhile, I'm squirting that voice spray like it was crack in hopes my voice would hold out through the contest.

After a bit of confusion about where we were supposed to be and when, we hit the contest stage. Lou's voice showed signs of nerves, forcing his tone a bit, but projecting well. Mine held out well enough, but lacked my usual power and sparkle. But hey, I was just grateful I was able to get the notes out at all! Dave Beamer rang his bari part with his usual admirable precision. Dave "Big Dave" Conrad went a tad sharp a time or two and could have used a bit more volume at times, but was nonetheless, spectacular.

We placed 12 out of 17 overall and 10th of the district competition quartets of 14. Not a bad place for first-time quartet. Once we got the score sheets, we found that we just missed making the finals show as mic testers by a mere 13 points (or 1.1 points for those of you used to a 1-100 point scale). Regardless, we made a good impression and got a lot of great compliments from friends and strangers alike. It helped that we were easily identifiable by out bright colored shoes.

From there we went to judging evaluations ('critique' for you band/drum corps geeks out there). We got 45 minutes of some GREAT advice and coaching from some very knowledgeable people in the activity, and have some good ideas for boosting our score the next time we compete.

I grab the DVD of our performance, reconnect with my quartet, and we go to our evaluation & assessment sessions for some advice from the judges. Beamer's wife comes along and takes some notes as we get some great coaching. The first comment out of EVERY judge's mouth as we enter their hotel rooms is, "LOVE the shoes!" I get a bit of a smile out of that, as the coodinating colored Hi-top Chucks were my idea. The only critique about the shoes we received was that it sets up a comedic air and we really didn't do much comedy. We planned to, but didn't have time to rehearse it. Oh well, noted for next contest.

After that, we head to my room to debrief. We watch the DVD of our performance, cringing every once in a while at a chord or two, becoming our own worst critics. Given what I heard, I was beginning to be a bit surprised we placed as well as we did. Not BAD, but not our best - every minor flub festering in my mind like a splinter. Beamer's wife runs down her notes from the judges and we discuss them as a quartet. She's a helluva quartet secretary, and got almost every word every judge said!

After that Lou and I hit the hotel bar with Ian (a buddy from the Mt. Pleasant Mountaintown Chorus). We had a beer and a bite before calling it a day. We had a LONG day ahead, between chorus contest, quartet finals (as spectators, unfortunately), and the highlight of the evening, the afterglow and hospitality rooms!

My quartet met our goals: we went out there, didn't suck, and didn't come in last.

Coming up next:
Fall Barbershop Convention, Part II: Saturday - the FUN part…

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Barbershop Convention - Drunken Blog...

Okay, my first drunken blog, so it's likely to be repleat with typos, profanity and poor grammar. Forgive me.

It's 3:20 am and I'm just now getting to bed from a LONG weekend barbershoping at the pioneer district convention. I'll expound on this later with more details, but for a quick recap (in bullet form)...

* Quartet just missed making "Mic Testers" on the night show by 13 points (1.1%) - a very narrow margin easily overcome by a few minor adherences to things we already knew. Shit - but oh well. Not bad for a first time out.

* Chorus place 5th - worst in the entire time I've been with them. We didn't do worse, the rest of the choruses got better. Shit. No addendums.

* hitting the hospitality rooms is fun as hell. They loved my arrangement and our singing.

* the absolute best part is singing tags in the lobby till 3:15am. Moxxy and Party of 4 are da shizzle.

* free beer and food is the 2nd best part of the weekend.

* Paula - you made the weekend the absolute BEST convention I have ever been too! Thank you! It was great to know I had family there to support me in my first quartet contest!

Details, photos, and video later.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Penultimate honors…

One of the many blogs I peruse had a topic of "10 things to do before I die". I figured this was a great topic, but as I started to think about it, one of the items on my list got me stuck, contemplative, and irritated.

I have always wanted to be a champion at something or part of a championship group; a personal or collective effort to be the best at any given talent, task, or genre. I have always been considered or become involved in groups that are considered good – even very good – but as of yet, every competitive endeavor I have undertaken has fallen just shy of being the "best" by whatever powers that be are making the decisions.

I'm very competitive. Not fiercely or unhealthily so, but I thrive on the motivation competition inspires in myself and others. Being pitted with and against one's peers toward achievement of a goal is by far the best way to get one of one's ass. Of course the rules of good sportsmanship and proper perspective apply, but competition is a fantastic motivator.

All through high school, I was 2nd chair trombonist in the band. Even when I tied the first chair at auditions, the director chose not to upset the status quo. Second fiddle (trombone) became my standard. I did manage the lead in my high school musical my senior year, but that was largely due to my already knowing "The Music Man" backwards and forwards and 3 years of some serious brown-nosing of the director.

My high school marching band came in 3rd place at state finals my senior year. Better than we had placed in about a decade, as I understand, and MUCH better than any of us had expected, thanks largely to an unexpected stand-still prelims competition due to weather. It was a thrill to make it to finals at all, and was recognition of the musical talent in our group and progress we had made, but not first place.

My drum corps, the year I joined, came in 2nd at Drum Corps International finals in Division II. We lost by one tenth of a point out of a possible 100 – the smallest increment one could lose by, at the time. The kicker there was that we lost in field percussion to a corps that didn't even march a drumline – only pit percussion. Yes, you're going to have a cleaner sound when you have ONE person playing snare, but c'mon! In '92 we did manage to take the Drum Corps Midwest Championship, but faltered a bit by International. Minor gratification, but still no medal or championship ring. The patch on my jacket was nice, though.

My barbershop chorus has placed 2nd at every district representative contest I have participated in with them (except the last one where we took 3rd), usually losing to the Macomb chorus by a slim, yet significant, margin. My chorus has won the district championship a time or two when eligible, but that was only when Macomb wasn't eligible to compete (a chorus can only win once every 3 years).

Granted, being the international representatives for the Pioneer District is rather like being the valedictorian of the "special class", as our district is looked on as the red-headed step-child of the Barbershop Harmony Society these days. Aside from the Vagabonds, Center Stage, and Power Play quartets, we haven't turned out a champion anything in decades. Even our district rep chorus has consistently placed in the mid 20's in international competition. We have never made it to international, and our prospects aren't good this year, either. Still, it would be nice to go.

Even when I'm not performing with a group, they do well, but not excellent. The marching bands and drum corps I have worked with always come up shy of a first place. All of the groups I have worked with improve from their previous years in whatever capacity I am assisting, improving their scores above what they have done before. I haven't joined up with any groups that have a history of winning in recent years and it's gratifying to watch them improve and gain momentum, but they never manage to go "all the way" while I'm there.

I've taken a little selfish solace in the fact that the band that cut me from the staff this year for "budgetary reasons" has fallen to dead last in the rankings this year. I feel horrible for the kids – especially the seniors – but (perhaps unrealistically) feel I had something to do with their previous success, moderate though it may have been. A circumstantial fact I hope isn't lost on the director when compiling the staff for next year.

I appreciate the moderate respect I get from being "good" at whatever it is I try to do. The sincere compliments and thanks I get from spectators, band parents, what-have-you do not go unnoticed or unacknowledged. Still, it would be nice to be considered more than just "very competent" or "quite good" at SOMETHING once in a while. To be considered "the best" or "top notch" at something would not only be boost to my self-esteem, it might get me a bit more work in areas like teaching, coaching, performing, etc.

No matter how good you are at something, there will always be someone better. That's a simple fact, and I understand it. Still, it'd be nice to have someone call me that or refer to me as such to others once in a while.

It's not something I dwell on, but it creeps into my head now and again. I don't apply this to my quartet's upcoming contest, as I don't expect much by way of placement, anyway.

Maybe I'm just being a self-centered egomaniac

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Great Outdoors (Part II)…

Last weekend was another Cub Scout Campout for Liam. We made a deal that if he could behave for the month between campouts, he could go, and his behavior was absolutely exemplary. The week before the campout he didn't have a single instance of impropriety. No talking out of turn, homework done every day, no arguing with the teacher – nothing. For those of you that know Liam – or ANY precocious 7-year-old boy – you know that that's a helluva feat! I'm immensely proud of his behavior, both at school and at home lately, and was more than happy to pack up the gas-guzzler to head up to D-BAR-A Scout Ranch again with him.

We drove up about 7ish in the evening on Friday after packing some food, tent, clothes, etc., and arrived to the pitch-black campsite about 8pm. Given the rainy, cold weather that evening, I was a bit surprised to see so many hardy souls willing to brave the elements for the rather uneventful first evening. There were no real events planned, just setting up tents and hanging by the campfire, but it was nonetheless well-attended and a lot of fun.

After setting up the tent Sonya bought off a neighbor (with a little help from one of the other dads – again, it was pitch black and what the hell do I know from tents?!), we all gathered around the campfire and chatted while the kids played in the darkness. I strummed a few tunes on the ol' ukulele, and eventually, the kids started telling ghost stories. Most were tales along a similar vein, involving campers one-by-one investigating a suspicious noise and being taken out in gruesome fashion by what turned out to be a vampire, monster, or other such ghoul. The stories got more and more absurd as the body count rose and the monsters gained more ridiculous powers and hideous features, to the point where each new detail drew giggles of delight from their over-the-top nature.

I decided to regale them with the tale of the Jersey Devil that so scarred me back when I first went to a campout (see my previous blog, "The Great Outdoors…"). I stared out matter-of-factly enough, improvising a bit, then took the tone real low so they were hanging on my every word. When I got to the tension-riddled climax of the story, I shouted out "BOO!" and made them all jump about 2 feet off their seats. Mission accomplished. They laughed, I smiled. No therapy bills will ensue from the story, I'm sure.

From there, I told the old campfire story my dad used to drive me nuts with:

"It was a dark and story night. Three men were sitting by a campfire. One of the men said, 'George, tell us a story,' so George began… 'It was a dark and stormy night…'" Repeat ad nauseum. Took about 4 repetitions before the groans began.

Round about 10:30, the kids started heading to bed. Sleeping was a bit trickier. GETTING to sleep wasn't so hard, but it was a bit chillier than I had anticipated, being out in the boonies. I had planned on my sleeping bag being my mattress and using blankets for warmth, as I didn't want to bother with an air mattress. It got so cold, however, I had to climb inside it and lose half my cushion. My hips were rather sore the next morning.

The next morning before breakfast the kids explored now illuminated grounds while the dads made quick friends with the only guy who brought a coffee pot. Once the clouds parted a bit, the spectacular glory of Fall in Michigan was revealed and the forest came alive with color. I went nuts snapping pics that can be seen on my Flickr page, here: Paul's Flickr Page

From there, the rest of the day is best relayed by means of the video compilation I made and YouTubed (2 parts, as it was a bit over the 10 minute YouTube limit). Comprised of pictures and video of the weekend to the point where I left for work and Sonya took over my duties, it's a work in progress, but gives a good impression of the day. I'll flesh it out a bit more once I get some pics from the other parents.

I had a ton of fun, and once again, I can't wait to go camping with my boy.

God, who'd have thought I'D enjoy something as cliché and macho as camping with my son? What's next? Tossing the ol' pigskin around the yard?


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Saying goodbye…

I suck at goodbyes. I'm great at cheerful "see ya later"s, or even the occasional "catch ya on da flip". Goodbye – when I know it's forever – I just can't do.

I'm a pathetic sap. I'm not even 5 sentences into this damned blog and my eyes are tearing up already.

The decision has been made to stop my friend Jason Bradley's life support and let him pass on. Every test has shown that he has no higher brain function left – just heartbeat and breathing. Our Jason is gone.

I went to the hospital last night to say goodbye. I'm still fighting this damnable cold, so I coated my hands in germicide and put on the paper mask. Just as well. I didn't want anyone to see the look on my face. A couple of his good friends from Florida were there keeping vigil. I still have this glimmer of hope. Miracles do happen. I said something akin to, "I'm not giving up on you, but if you decide this is goodbye, so be it."

The mask didn't cover my eyes, though. It was soaked by the time I left.

After heading home, watching a movie with my kids and getting them to bed, I went in the backyard and Sonya and I started a fire in the fire bowl. I spent the better part of the next 4 hours there sharing a last beer with my friend, pouring a small amount into the fire between sips.

I had been trying to remember exactly when Jason and I had first met, assuming it was something involving my sister and Dondero's choir. Sonya reminded me last night that I had met him a year prior, during the highlight of my high school career, the Spring musical, The Music Man.

I was playing the lead, Harold Hill. The director had recruited several 7th and 8th graders to play the part of the boy's band. They would come in from time to time for run-throughs and some rehearsals. For the big finale, all of the kids needed instruments. Having met and talked with Jason a bit, I saw a lot of myself in him. He was a chubby extrovert with a chipper persona and goofy sense of humor. We just clicked, so I chose to sort of take him under my wing. I lent him my personal trombone for the final scene and made a big point of letting him know that he was the only one I trusted with it.

I don't know how I could have forgotten that, but somehow, it makes this loss all the harder for me. Jason was with me for one of my biggest triumphs at that point in my life, and helped make it that way by making me feel important and looked up to. That was Jay: always lifting people up, even when he's not really trying to. It was reflexive for him to make people smile.

Sonya and I talked about him for a while, remembering how he would light up a room. He wouldn't make a big entrance or draw attention to himself. You'd be at a party, surveying the scene, and notice him in a corner talking with some folks and smiling that shit-eatin' grin he'd usually have on his face. Suddenly you think, "Yea, NOW it's a party," and go join in the fun.

Talked with my good friend and designated "inner child" Paulie B. last night after he got home from hanging with some of Jason's family. He helped me put some things in perspective. An interesting switch, as lately that seems to have been my role for him. He and Sonya have been a rock for me through this. They may not know it, since I play my stronger emotions pretty close to the vest, but they've been keeping me pretty grounded.

This is hitting me on a lot of levels. Not just losing Jason, but contemplating the bigger issues of mortality, God, and eternity as well. I haven't been questioning my faith, exactly, but it's helped me to put it into better, more focused perspective.

In closing, there's a song that has been creeping into my head a lot lately. It's from The Muppets Take Manhattan and was used at Jim Henson's funeral. It pretty much sums everything up: sorrow, grief, and hope. Have tissues at the ready.

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye's such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It's time for saying goodbye

Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we've had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It's time for saying goodbye

Dont want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it's better to go
Somehow I know we'll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I dont know just when
You're in my heart, so until then

Wanna smile, wanna cry
Saying goodbye

La la la la la la la la

It's time for saying goodbye...

Saying goodbye

Add to My Profile | More VideosGoodbye, Jason. Time to get this show on the road.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Praying for dear friends and the rest of my week...

Much of the early part of the week was spent playing phone and e-mail tag with various representatives of the Barbershop Harmony Society, dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's to get the quartet properly registered for the upcoming contest a week from Friday – mostly done while I was at work. I spent a lot of time on the phone and computer talking with judges, officials, and other knowledgeable people making sure the all four of us are properly registered and dues paid with the society, that our repertoire is appropriate and legal, and that our application to the contest went through and was processed properly. This is the first time ANY of us have competed with a quartet in the Society, so we want to be sure we got everything right. Mission accomplished thus far. No red flags have gone up, so I'm assuming we're good to go.

Thankfully, there was no contest entry fee, just our convention registration we all had to pay to get in with the chorus, so I won't be riddled with guilt over owing our baritone more money for fronting money for us. The other three of us are usually dead broke, so he has a propensity for picking up the tab for unexpected expenses. Dave Beamer has really become an anchor for the quartet. Between his knowledge of vocal performance techniques, his attention to detail, and his generous nature, he's been a HELLUVA find for us. I'm glad we swooped down like musical vultures and snatched him up before any other quartets got to him.

Deciding on our wardrobe for contest has been a bit tricky. We have several outfits, but nothing very formal. After a couple weeks of searching, I finally found a great fabric for vests and bow ties for us: satin with a hint of glittery sparkle. It's has a classy, subtle sparkle in each of our colors, and not too gawdy. Sonya and my sister, Val, have agreed to work on them so we can have them ready for contest. Both are wizards with a sewing machine. They're gonna look great. The only trick is, do we wear them with our tuxes or just on their own? I'd hate to cover them up. Regardless – tuxes or no – we'll be wearing our trademark High-top Chucks with them.

One little thing they've added to the convention this year is a moustache contest. I generally have neatly trimmed goatee, with occasional forays into the full beard realm, but I'm not big on having a full-on "crumb catcher" under my nose. For the past month or so, however, I decided to give it a try in anticipation of this contest. Thus far, I have a pretty full mustache that has been driving me absolutely nuts! Eating anything with a condiment leads to a sloppy lip, hairs make the occasional journey into my mouth, and forget about drinking anything! I look like a rabid St. Bernard after a glass of milk. I actually purchased mustache wax, which I've used a couple times, in an attempt to "train" the stray hairs, to little avail. It feels like wearing Elmer's glue on my upper lip! On the upside, it's long enough to get the effect of the turn-of-the-century handlebar curl on the ends. I had planned on trimming it back to my standard short length immediately after the contest, but after seeing the cover of the Sunday Free Press and it's headlining story about upcoming video games for the holidays, I found myself twisting the ends of my moustache like Snidley Whiplash as I looked at a picture of Nintendo's Mario. Maybe I'll wait till after Halloween after all.

Brava to Jenn Edwards and her quartet, Moxie Ladies for an ASTOUNDING performance at Sweet Adelines Internation convention this past week in Calgary! I missed the webcast on Wednesday night of their prelims performance, but apparently underestimated their talent as they made 7th going into finals. I did manage to catch and record their finals set, which earned them 4th place in the world!! I fully expect they will get a medal of some kind next year. In my opinion, they were gyped and should have at LEAST gotten the bronze this year! Keep at it, ladies! Ya sounded AWESOME!

The other big part of my week has been spent worrying about a good friend of mine. Jason Bradley was rushed to the hospital late last week after what appears to have been a pulmonary embolism. His heart stopped and the docs performed CPR on him for about 40 minutes. He is currently in the ICU at Beaumont in Royal Oak. The prognosis isn't good, but not certain.

Jason and I have never been particularly close. More than a casual friend, I consider him a good friend that I just don't get much opportunity to see. I met him his freshman year while hanging out with a gaggle of my sister's friends. He was familiar with my work with the choir and Dondero's Pop Concert and looked up to me a bit. I've always like being a mentor, so he and I hit it off well. Jason's a big-hearted, talented guy with a great, though occasionally twisted sense of humor. He loves to have fun, but, like me, derives much of his joy from helping others and bringing smiles to people's faces. We need more like him these days.

I went to visit him last Friday before I went to work at Blockbuster. He was about as I had expected: unconscious, hooked up to every machine in the place, intubation tube down his throat, I.V.s plugged up and down his arms and in every orifice, and monitors beeping and whirring. This didn't shock or surprise me. My mother suffered congestive heart failure a few years back and she was in the exact same place. She was unconscious for several days and in the ICU for about 2 weeks. She's fine now, recovering well, and working on regaining some of the mobility she had lost prior to the event.

This is what I have been focusing on for Jason. Several of his family and friends have been visiting and eulogizing him while they're there, referring to him in that past tense. This infuriates me. If we had done that for my mom, I have no doubt that she wouldn't be with us today. The human spirit thrives on positive thinking and energy. If my mom can come back from this at age 60, my good friend can do the same at 29.

I have always been the perky, chipper, optimistic rock in situations like this. I'm not sure if it's a matter of perspective or emotionally distancing myself from unpleasantness, but rather than spend my time worrying and weeping about what MIGHT happen, I find it more helpful to be a shoulder to cry on and a voice of hope for tentative situations. There is no point in expecting the worst. It's not only torture for the family and friends while awaiting the final outcome; it's counter-productive to the situation. It breeds negativity, and that's not what Jason needs right now.

I'm not a particularly religious man. I have a faith in God and try to live by a moral principal set forth primarily by the teachings of Jesus, but I'm not big on religious platitudes, doctrine, or ceremony. I do, however, believe in the power of prayer. Not in so much as asking God for what you want will grant your every wish. I believe that God has a divine plan and purpose for us all and that our OWN decisions make it so. But I do believe that prayer provides an air of positive energy and love that has the power to heal. God will do what he will with Jason, but surrounding him with positive thoughts and prayers will give him the strength to do as God wills.

Personally, I can't believe that He is done with Jason. Jason is only 29, and while he doesn't take very good care of himself and has a tendency to neglect his own health and well being, it's often for the benefit of those he loves. While he is most CERTAINLY a lazy guy with an unhealthy taste for bad food and other vices, I believe God is planning this as a wake-up call for him to start taking better care of himself so he can continue to be the bright shining light of hope, happiness and fun for those around him.

I've visited him twice so far: Friday before work and Sunday morning. Sunday, I spent mostly taking with his family and giving his mom a sounding board, positive perspective, and shoulder to cry on. He had a parade of friends and family going through, so I just breezed in for a minute to crack a joke or two at his expense, and tell him to "wake the fuck up! We got concerts to go to and stuff!"

I talk to him, not at or about him. I don't pretend he can't hear me. I don't talk like he's not in the room. As long as there's the faintest glimmer of hope that he'll be back again, espousing his latest plan to make it rich and/or change the world and ask how he can help, I'll be COUNTING on the fact that he will. There's no point in thinking otherwise.

If you're the praying type, please say a few prayers for Jason.

If you're not, just think positively about him and look forward to meeting him or seeing him again at your next party.

Above all, think positive, happy thoughts about him and assume he'll be getting out of the ICU soon and hangin' with us again.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Random life updates for you voyeuristic types…

I almost never do a general life update kind of blog with snippets of info on my boring-assed life (to borrow from Kevin Smith), so here's a series of bits and pieces of what's up with me lately…

The music store is…well…same as always. I go in, do a handful of things the others there are either too busy, lazy, or incompetent to do, I leave. It's been kind of slow lately, but unfortunately, I still can't take the copious down time to do the projects I would like, such as blogging, composing, arranging, organizing my hard drive, recording learning tracks, etc. The salesman (who likes to think himself a general manager) is constantly hovering over my shoulder and coming by with inane tasks for me to accomplish. Tasks he could do in 2 seconds if he had any desire to learn ANYTHING about the computer he's been using for 4 years. I swear, I don't know how he ties his shoes by himself in the morning some days. He's the type that likes to make sure the boss is getting his money's worth out of me by inventing chores and keeping me busy whenever he sees me remotely idle.

He has little power or self-confidence in any arena of his life, so he likes to throw what little weight he has around to feel important somewhere. Imagine Bill Lumbergh and a whiney, stuttering 2-year-old, combined. That's him. He's a spineless, indecisive wimp, but nonetheless, he's my superior. Thus, I have to constantly look busy and can't start on any personal project I can't quit immediately or close down before he sees it on my screen, and God forbid bring my own laptop to the office.

I know, I shouldn't complain about doing actual WORK at work, but it's the way he goes about it. I don't mind doing what needs to be done. Servicing horns, making ads, editing the website - hell, even cleaning up and sweeping – are tasks I don't mind doing. It's the redundant and pointless tasks he invents for the sheer sake of keeping me busy that drive me nuts. He spends more time double checking my work and that of others, inventing things for us to do, and walking to my desk and explaining what he wants done than it would take him to do himself if he bothered to use half a brain cell. If he spent HALF as much time actually dealing with matters that are his responsibility and making and implementing actual decisions as he does playing Big Brother, the place would be twice as productive – and a lot more pleasant to work in.

Blockbuster is getting a bit frustrating, but is still a great job. We've been going through a big push for sales of the Rewards membership. Sales are where I shine. I have one of the highest individual sales rates on any given promotion of any employee in the region.

Unfortunately, for this promotion, I have to be behind the register to do it. This, along with a cut in hours passed down from on high, means that I'm off the sales floor and not doing my "Entertainment Specialist" gig. I'm back to being a register jockey.

It wasn't so bad, at first. Being the key salesman, it means I don't have to do the mundane chores like restocking, shelving movies, processing transfers and such. They need me on the drawer to keep up the quota. After a while, though, repeating the same lines over…and over…AND OVER…get maddeningly boring.

I'm fast and efficient on the register and still get to converse with customers and enjoy my coworkers, but I'd much rather be on the floor helping customers out on a more personal level. I enjoy having the time to suggest titles, and make people smile, feel appreciated, and comfortable, which is difficult to do in a few seconds between ringing up people on the register. Not to mention, I LOVE having that P.A. system mic, doing my Blockbuster DJ thing and playing my ukulele from time to time. I don't have a single shift go by without a handful of customers asking me where my uke is.

Eh, it's only temporary. The Holiday season will be here before I know it and my position as "Entertainment Specialist" will be back again, hocking gift cards, suggesting promotions, asking trivia and cracking jokes.

Contest is coming up fast and we're rehearsing as often as we can. We had Dave Ellis come back and coach us last week. We had intended on having him work with us on "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" for the entire time, figuring that as we hadn't worked on our timing and interp much on "I'll Be Seeing You", it would likely waste his time while we worked on that.

After about an hour on "Do You Know…", Lou starts whining about wanting to sing "I'll Be seeing You" for Dave. Lou had brought the song to the table in the first place and he has a special attachment to it. We roll our eyes and relent, figuring we'd sing through it and get a tip or two, then go back to the other song.

We spent the next 2 hours on it.

The ironic part is, it was WORTH IT! Dave Ellis had us singing that song so much better, it became our preferred ballad for the contest, instead of our second choice, as we had expected. So, the tactic was annoying, but the result was positive. We'll be previewing our contest package for our chorus next Monday and get some feedback before we compete.

I have been in contact with the arranger/composer/bass of The Blanks (the quartet from the TV show Scrubs) for a while, attempting to get a few of his arrangements – most notably the theme to "Underdog" – for my quartet. A pleasant guy, but either incredibly busy or a bit of a procrastinator, it took the better part of a year to get something from him. He had planned on publishing his arrangements, but hadn't gotten to it yet. He finally put "Underdog" on MIDI and graciously sent it to me along with his blessing to use it. Thankfully, Finale can extract the parts.

I had attempted to transcribe it myself from their CD recording of it, and had a decent reduction, but I apparently didn't give him enough credit for creativity. Now that I had all the right notes, all I had to do was some re-voicing of the arrangement to get Lou out of the stratosphere. That's just a matter of switching the melody line to tenor a time or two. I input the lyrics, PDF it, and send it to the guys. Our hope is to have it decent by convention to do at hospitality rooms after contest. Otherwise, we'll be doing it on our annual chapter show this February, which has a cartoon/kiddie show theme. Can't wait to have this one in our repertoire!

Liam is doing MUCH better at school this year. He has a new teacher, who has a very firm set of rules and a great disciplinary system based on a reward of free time (AKA "Fun Friday") that they lose time from if they step out of line during the week. It's a great balance of reward and punishment – a kind of simultaneous positive and negative reinforcement – that he's responding VERY well to. 2nd grade is suiting him quite well. He's been better at home, as well, with fewer meltdowns and whininess. That, along with his whirlwind progress through the Wolf Scout Handbook, has given him a great sense of self-confidence and accomplishment. I'm immensely proud of him.

Courtney is doing well in pre-school. She goes 4 days a week for about 2 ½ hours per day. She's enjoying socializing with other kids her age, which she doesn't get a lot of opportunity to do, and doing art projects in class. We need to plan some play dates for her, when our schedule permits.

I tend not to blog about Sonya much, as I'm rarely sure what info about her goings on she doesn't want passed along.She can be very picky and private about her personal life, so I'll leave that to her to blog about, if she chooses. Suffice it to say, she's always busy helping out friends and family as much as she can, as well as trying to keep up with our two bundles of energy. It's not easy in such a small house, trying to keep track of all of her projects, keep up with the kids, and find time to just sit and think her own thoughts. I admire her fortitude.

It's a tough balancing act for me, fulfilling my work and obligations to others, trying to be home enough to let her do her thing and not worry so much about the kids or chores, and not crowding her and being in her way. We need a bigger place.

In the meantime, I try and afford her all the time I can spare to let her do her things. I hope to be able to do more come November. Quartet gigs will slow down, rehearsals a bit less of a priority, fewer distractions, and more time at home. Some better time-managing habits will help that a lot.

Crazy busy, professionally frustrated, and financially stressed.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Have I mentioned…I LOVE THS QUARTET!?

Once again, Coda Honor graced the Applewood Estates in Flint with our glorious presence this past Saturday and had a great time singing for their annual Fall Festival.

The Daves and I headed up about 10:30 and met Lou and his girlfriend Linda at Haloburger for a bite before the gig. We sat around and talked about convention, tunes, and such and did a couple of songs for the employees before we left. After arriving at Applewood, we started in with our usual stuff, strutting around the grounds and ringing chords for the folks.

The thing I love about singing for this organization is that it's almost always a strolling gig. There's no pressure or spotlight. We just wander around, enjoy the festivities, and sing what we want, when we want. The thing I like best about the low-pressure environment is that we can play around a bit.

I've always wanted to be in a group that can woodshed (lingo for "improvise") really well. We only have a solid repertoire of about 13 songs, and repeating them over and over can get awfully dull after a 3-hour gig. I usually bring my ukulele to fill out the song list a bit, and inevitably, the rest of the guys will join in whatever song I'm singing and flesh out the sound with harmony. It's great fun. Even better is when we get requests for songs we don't know and try them out. No music, no arrangement, just us doing our best and relying on our ears and instincts to come up with full harmonies and avoid doubling parts.

We headed to the barn on the estate where the livestock are featured, sang a song or two in the larger of the rooms, and were met by a request to venture into the stables to sing for a couple special ladies. This lovely girl in a wheelchair and her sister, who we sang for at this event last year, wanted to hear us again. We wander on back and greet them warmly, eager to brighten their day with a song. We figure the most chipper and uplifting song we knew was "Keep Your Sunny Side Up", so we start into that one, ringing very well against the hay on the floor and cement walls.


As we went through the song, and came up onto the end of the first verse, we realized the lyrics go, "Stand up on your legs, be like two fried eggs…". The gal is in a wheelchair. Singing this song almost on reflex, we caught the impropriety just ahead of the lyric and all somehow mumbled the words, getting through them quickly. Crisis (sorta) averted.


The second verse has the phrase, "Stand up on your feet, give the world a treat…". CRAP! Same tactic. Mumble the lyrics, get through the phrase quickly, and try to stick the hell outa the tag!

We regroup and quickly go into "Zippidy Doo-Dah" to cover. They then request "Sing A Song" from Sesame Street. Not in our musical arsenal. I look at Lou, who says he knows the words. A quick glance to the other guys and we start singing. We get through a verse or 2 fairly well, just to appease the lovely young ladies. They then request "You Are My Sunshine". Again, not something we have sheets to. Once again, we start singing anyway and sound pretty good! I love this stuff! Nothing cooler than saying, "We don't know that one, but for YOU…" and busting out someone's favorite song.

Later we're in the garden by what was once the chicken coup of the estate, and we sing through "Whiffenpoof", which has references to being "poor little lambs" and "little black sheep". We sounded great, but a volunteer pipes up with, "but you're in the chicken coup, not the sheep stables!" With a smirk, I huddle with the guys for a second. We then turn around and sing "Wild Irish Rose", clucking and bucking like chickens.

We had the audience laughing as we finished and I turn to the guys and say in a loud steady voice, "Sorry guys, but I think that one laid an egg". Not missing a beat, with equal syrupy sarcasm, one of the listeners counters with, "Yea, that was pretty FOUL". Not to be outdone, I retort with, "Well, we'll wipe the egg off our faces and sing something else". And so the next few minutes went with pun after pun being thrown back and forth. We take a bit of a break to compose ourselves, laughing the whole time.

Yea, dad. That's your influence all the way.

This is why I LOVE doing this gig. The patrons are friendly and appreciative, the volunteers are helpful and chipper, and it's just plain FUN! THAT'S what I got into barbershop for!

…That, and the checks always clear.