Friday, August 29, 2008

Kool Kitsch...

Sarah Bradley got me this from Claire's. I had her get me one for each of my quartet as well. Freakin' SWEET!
Chucks Keychain

Stuff, Stuff & More Stuff...

Been a busy week. This is the first time I've been able to grab a cup of coffee in the morning and sit and blog. I usually try to get some "me" time a couple times a week to sit at either the Caribou in Royal Oak or the Bigby Coffee in Madison Heights to either catch up on my blog reading or blog myself, but I've just been too tired. To be honest, I probably could have used the extra hour's sleep, but mental health is important, too.

Saturday and Sunday I spent hanging with my sister, helping with her garage sale. About half of the wares in her driveway were mine, but it was mostly her stuff that sold. I brough some instruments I needed to clear out, which gleaned a lot of interest, but was asking REAL value instead of "garage sale deal" prices. Still, it was fun to hang in my sister's driveway, chatting and catching up with her while catching up on e-mail on my laptop. We're planning our own garage sale for next weekend, for which my sister will be bringing her leftovers so we can return the favor.

School's drawing near for the kids and I'm not exactly looking forward to it. Courtney starts all-day kindergarten next week, which means mornings are going to be kind of crazy. Last year I just had to get Liam ready for school in the mornings, drop him off, and would get to spend some time at the coffee shop before heading to work at 10am. Getting one kid out the door on time was hard enough, but now with TWO kids to get out the door and my new job starting an hour earlier, I expect mornings to be crazier and my coffee time to be shorter. On the upside, Sonya will have some more time to get her stuff done.

School also means Cub Scouts is starting up again. Sonya is extremely involved in the troop and has already been spending a lot of her time planning and attending meetings, as well as organizing popcorn sales, campouts, and agenda. This is going to be a crazy fall. I suppose it's a good thing that I'm not working with a marching band again this year, but I still get that pang of regret when I wake up to a cool, crisp, sunny morning and think, "this will be a GREAT day for rehearsal!"

The quartet has been getting paid gigs a bit more lately. We had a party to sing for last week and it went VERY well. We haven't had much time to rehearse lately, but that doesn't seem to affect us much. We were supposed to rehearse last night, but our baritone didn't seem to think we were confirmed. After hauling myself and my lead to Livonia (about 20 minutes drive) and waiting 20 minutes for him to show, we called him. Living a good 30-40 minutes away, we decided to cancel and go home.
I hadn't been home more than 20 minutes when I check the quartet's e-mail and find a request for our services - a 2 hour stroling gig at Henry Ford Museum. Cool! I call the guys and e-confirm. 5 minutes later, our chorus treasurer calls me with ANOTHER gig, a novogenarian's birthday party. We may have to take a bit of a rate cut on that one to fit the client's budget, but to be honest, if it's close by, we'd sing for free (but don't tell our clients that).

Wednesday was Sonya's birthday. She rarely makes any real PLANS for her birthday or decides how she'd like to spend it in time enough to get and inviting or prep done. This year, she bought a swing set on Craig's List for the kids. Between Cub Scout meetings and my work schedule, the only time we realy had to get it was the evening of her birthday. I managed to get Lou to convince his girlfriend, Linda, to help us and use her pickup truck to get it all the way from Clinton Twp. (30 minutes by freeway). I told Lou to meet me at 6:30 at my place. Lou gets the time wrong, and he and Linda show up an HOUR early. I get home at 6:30, change, and Lou, Linda and I head out in 2 cars to start dismantling. We get there to find it's a very large (not quite huge), but VERY heavy and sturdy wood playscape.
"Oy....this will be daunting."

After taking off the slide and monkey bars/swings off (destroying more than a few VERY rusted bolts and screws in the process), we managed to find about 6 of us to haul the fort section to Linda's truck, with a GREAT degree of strain and difficulty. We spent the next hour or so trying to figure out how to balance it in the truck bed and secure it with the least amount of damage to Linda's vehicle. We put the monkey bars and slide in my car's hatchback and left the ladder section for me to grab on Saturday, as it was about 8 feet tall AND wide and it was too dark to dismantle at that point.

About 9:20pm we finally hit the road and take surface streets at about 30mph to get the monster home, flashers a-blinking. On the way, I call my friend/customer, Dave, to join us for a small gathering/party-ish shindig at my place upon our arrival. We get home, unload the fort from Linda's truck and accessories from my car. Dave arrives just in time to miss the major work and I head out to grab beer, rum, and pizza.

The rest of the evening was just plain fun. We sent the kids to bed after a slice of pizza and sat around in the backyard talking, eating, drinking, and just have a good ol' grown-up time. The evening started with some good productivity and ended with some great socializing. Sonya was pleased...which pleased me.

The weekend is sure to be a flurry of activity as well. The swing set will be assembled Saturday morning, Sonya plans to head to the in-laws' cottage with the kids at some point, I work Ye Old Video Shoppe, and get some recording done for my adopted Nevada quartet to rake in a few bucks, then head up to the cottage afterwards. Hopefully Monday will just consist of just hanging with the family on the beach, maxin' an' relaxin'.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dat's Some Funny Shit Right Der!

(Overheard while my son watched Scooby-Doo)

Shaggy: "Hey Scoob! Wanna hear my radio announcer voice?"

(proceed to Casey Kasem's regular America's Top 40 schtick for 15 seconds)

I laughed my ass off and my son was completely baffled as to why.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Religion & Beer

I arranged to deliver an order myself yesterday to my best customer, Dave, (who happens to have become a good friend as well). After chorus rehearsal Lou joined me to meet Dave at Four Green Fields to drop the stuff and have a beer.
It sounds like the set-up to a joke: a Catholic, a liberal United Methodist, and an Agnostic walk into a bar...
The next hour and a half was a blast. After BSing about business for a short while, transitioning somehow to the ethics of speaking ill of the dead, we got onto the subject of God. We debated theologies, compared and contrasted various religions ranging from Budhism to Catholicism, to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and (as could be expected from such a conversation) came to absolutely no conclusions...
...and that was perfect. No anger or frustration, no raised voices, genuine interest and respect all around. Best conversation I've had in a long time.
The UN needs to hold their meetings in a pub.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another boring blow-by-blow of My Weekend...

Nothing particularly interesting in this one, just another good weekend in my boring-assed life.

Friday, I took off work a bit early to head with Sonya & Courtney to pick Liam up from his week at summer camp. We got a bit of a later start that we had hoped, but managed to avoid the traffic headaches we ran into on the way down. Liam was more than happy to give us a tour of the grounds, eagerly showing us the fire pit, lake, his cabin & bunk (with detailed descriptions of who slept in which bunk).

He had a wonderful time and not many problems. While unpacking his stuff, Sonya found a sheet of paper. One of his counselors wrote Liam a note presumably penned by the elusive "Wild Snuffy", a benevolent and protective creature that wanders the wood and watches over the campers. The "Snuffy" said he had noticed Liam having a few problems with what he considered "fair" in a few situations. "Snuffy" proceeded to give him some great advice and confidence-boosting affirmations to help him cope. It was absolute brilliance! I was extremely impressed and we plan to write the camp, singing the praises of the "Wild Snuffy" concept and giving major kudos to the counselor responsible.

Saturday, I was supposed to take my MENSA exam. I had been thinking about this for a long time - ever since my sister had passed a while back. Sonya and Liam were going to go to the Green Cruise and ride in the parade, leaving Courtney to be tended to. Not being able to take her with me to the exam, I had planned to get a babysitter for her for the couple hours overlap in the time line, but it fell through. Much to my frustration, it turned out that Sonya and Liam didn't get their stuff together fast enough and didn't go. Meanwhile, I missed the exam for no reason and have to wait another 2 months. Grr.

So, I spent the morning mowing the lawn, weeding the flower beds, and trying to be productive. I managed to watch a movie with the kids for a while before heading to work. I worked a bit longer than my shift to cover for a coworker that called off, let Valerie's dog run a bit, then headed home and hit the hay.

Sunday was busy. Woke up at 7am to join my quartet to sing at our bass's church services. We did well, singing with the praise team for the early service, on our own a bit for the second service, and a few of our favorites for the subsequent coffee hour. We added a few more religious tunes to our repertoire for the gig, which is something we'd been planning on doing for a long time. We did a bit better each song and were well recieved.

After the service I headed to the DIA to meet with Sonya, the kids, and the in-laws to see mini Muppet film fest at the Detroit Film Theater. I arrived a bit early and managed to get the attendant to let me wander the museum admission-free while I waited. I've never been a big museum goer. I appreciate good art, but never thought much about it. I only had time to wander the main floor, which holds mostly the older pieces. I found myself being absolutely mesmerized by the work of the early American landscape artists, particularly. The use of light and attention to detail absolutely captivated me. I've always loved breathtaking landscape and nature photography, but to see it through the eyes of one who can truly capture the awe and majesty of God's creation is something that reaches to the core. There's more to great nature than the simple aesthetics can convey. It takes a true artist to go beyond what they see to what they experience. Photography has a difficult way of expressing it (though Ansel Adams does remarkable work with simple black & white). I was moved.

The Muppet film show was a compilation of short skits, stories, and even a commercial from Henson's early work, partnered with his classic telling of "The Frog Prince". This was a choice of my father-in-law to celebrate his birthday. He used to play the record album for Sonya when she was a child and I remember watching it on HBO when I was about 8. We all had a wonderful time and I was more than happy to share my Muppet Mania a bit more with my children. I'm SO glad my father-in-law found this!

Afterward we headed to Slows Barbecue - a small restaurant a few blocks west of Old Tiger Stadium. I can't recommend this place enough. A wonderful selection of microbrews and mouthwatering barbecue that pulls right off the bone. They serve it dry with half a dozen sauces to choose from on the table. Go there - SOON!

After a HUGE meal, I drove Liam home while everyone else headed to the garden Sonya has been tending at a local park. I got home, Liam started a movie, and I just passed out, unable to carry the huge meal in mhy belly a moment longer. A relaxing end to a great weekend.

Unfortunately, I didn't budget in time to do any of my learning tracks. There goes my Tuesday night...

Oh, congrats to Phantom Regiment on the first titel they don't have to share!!! Power to the Old Skool!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

D.C. Aye-Yie-Yie!

What a show! God I miss drum corps! I had a fantastic time on Monday night heading to Toledo with my sister and her boyfriend Christophe to see the DCI Summer Showcase. It was a GREAT mix of corps. Best part was that, being so late in the season, they were very polished (for the most part).

We got there just as the show was starting. After leaving Val & Christophe to park, I get my general admission ticket (to the tune of $20 ?!?!??!?!) and wander into the stadium. Not 10 feet in, I run into my friend Bob, who apparently came up with my old corpsmate Chris. At intermission got to wander the souvie booths and ran into several old friends and former students of mine and caught up. The evening was everything I had hoped it would be!

My thoughts on the corps...

Poor Pioneer. I say that with the utmost respect. They're the corps that never grew up. In some ways, I respect that. They were that last holdouts with G bugles, but they've never managed to make that leap to the "cool kids' table". They cling to their traditions, almost always playing a very loosely themed Irish show and never seem to be taken very seriously. As much as I pity their never-ending mediocrity, I admire their tenacity to hold onto the soul of drum corps. They sounded good (I didn't get to see how they marched, arriving a bit late) and scored in the respectable mid-70's.
As I ascended the bleachers and passed the director, Roman Blenski (and his signature hat), I was reminded of my own era of drum corps. As much as I bemoan the direction of drum corps these days, I do wish Pioneer would take a few reasonable steps toward modernizing their show so they could fulfill the dreams of so many bygone div. II corps and make the top 12 - for the honor and remembrance of Drum Corps Midwest and the lil' guy.

Pacific Crest
A fine corps with a good sound and a decent show. I had a hard time getting really sucked into it because their lack of upper body control was a big distraction. This led to them tiring quickly, phrases being dropped, timing suffering slightly at times, and a general lack of cohesion. It made me want to instruct again - DESPERATELY! That's the kind of stuff I'm great at fixing.
Their uniforms left something to be desired as well. All black with a dark teal triangle. This made the drill somewhat hard to read as they blended into the field too much. Black can be sharp and intimidating, but you need a bolder accent color to be able to see the drill clearly. Drumline had some sloppy moments and the guardwork wasn't particularly interesting or difficult, but it was a good show and (when they weren't sounding tired) was well in tune.

WOW! I hate weird shows I can't hum. I've been a judge and have a music ed background, but when I'm in the stands I'm Joe Schmoe who wants a familiar tune running through my head on the drive home. This show had none of that - and I LOVED it! My pretentious scholarly side must have won out for these guys. The brass book was SO exposed and they did it wonderfully. Foot technique was a bit inconsistent, but the balance, blend, and timing between the drumline, pit, and hornline were AMAZING (most of the time). Unfortunately, at this point in the season, credit for demand is tough to factor in. Ya got what ya got, and mistakes hurt the score. The tiniest of timing errors stuck out. There weren't many of them, but they became an elephant in the room (or on the field). BRAVO for tackling a show like this! Watch these guys! This show will KILL them in September!
...oh yea. You're done this week. Bummer.

Old school drum corps. I loved the show. Now if they had only practiced it more...
Colts have been rather stagnant for decades. Always entertaining and good enough to be considered one of the "big boys", but never a top 6 contender. So continues the tradition. Mild sloppiness and slightly frayed edges abound. Not quite to the point of distraction, but enough to keep them in their familiar place. Same old Colts. That's not meant to be disparaging. I LOVE the show, but they need some sort of Underdog-style "super energy pill" to boost them up just a notch or two to make the big time. After watching them for nearly 20 years, I really wish they'd stop treading water. I want to see them bring familiar music back in vogue, and it seems they may be our last, best hope to do so.

Madison Scouts
"Night of the Iguana" is a show title that both excited and scared me. Madison doing Latin jazz is usually a good thing, but something in the title spooked me. Madison had let me down a lot over the past few years and, like most of the drum corps community, I wanted to love them again. The new uniforms were interesting. A bit of the old school 60's flavor, but streamlined for the new millennium - a good design. They managed to win me back...mostly
The hornline is awesome - loud, characteristically a bit bright, and polished. The drumline is tight, intense, and energetic. The guard...well, not so much. They are the weakest link.
Okay, forgive me for the following:
They have a few guys in the guard that are - how shall I say this - a bit husky. Now, this isn't meant to criticize those members, but when I marched, you hardly ever saw a corps member - let alone a GUARD member - who was much overweight by the end of the season. You work too hard all summer to be ABLE to stay fat! The guard members in question did fine and kept up with the rest of the guard reasonably well, but therein lies the problem. I don't think the guard staff was working these kids enough. The mediochre execution and low-demand work are hints, but the fitness level of the members is the giveaway. My first season, I lost 55lbs, mostly on a 2 month tour! I didn't watch what I ate, I didn't put in any extra work than was asked of me, the staff just rehearsed my ass off (litterally) and we nearly won the title.
I must say, though, with those leather-style biker outfits with the buckles, all I could think of was "Weird Al's" Fat video. I know - pot calling the kettle... Anyway, when the staff goes soft, so do the kids.
Phantom Regiment
Clean, crisp, professional. The show is wonderfully designed, the guard is tight, the percussion is clean. The hornline is a bit inconsistent in tone color. The high brass is a bit too bright (especially for Phantom) to blend as well as they should with the low brass (which as always is wonderfully dark and rich). The character portrayal by ALL members is wonderfully believeable and projects well, at least for the stadium I was in. The musical choice and overall show style was so signature Phantom, I half expected a finale with gigantic 20 yard wide banners and The Wedge. It was Classic Phantom and I loved every minute of it - 'nuf said.
Those of you that have read my annual review of corps know that I try to like Glassmen every year. I always give them a fair shake, and they always dissapoint me. They're usually quite good from a performance standpoint, but the show isn't usually conducive to either grabbing the audience (or at least me) or showing off the strength and talent of the performers. At least , not enough.
I don't know who this corps was in the Glassmen outfits, but it wasn't the corps I've been politely enduring for 18 years. I LOVED This show. The arrangements were INCREDIBLY clever, mixing themes from "Pee-wee's Big Adventure", "Sabre Dance", "Hungarian Rhapsody #5", and a several other tunes that evoked images of a carnival to create a musical tapestry that was simply fun as a day on the Midway! The visual design was well-paced and the use of specific characters tastefully subdued. Design, to arrangement, to performance - the whole package was just...well...FUN!
It took them 18 years, but Glassmen finally has a show that I just can't help but enjoy. Bravo!
Sadly, this year I won't be seeing the big screen event, so I'll miss out on a lot of great corps. Still, having not been to a live show in at least 5 years, I think it was a good trade off. You're not subjected to some cameraman or TV director's idea of what's important. You can focus on what YOU want to see. Plus, there's something about having a live brass line blow you back a few feet that sends tingles up my spine just thinking about it.
Next time, I gotta remember to have money for the souvie stands.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Buzy Bee...

This weekend was full again...

Saturday the quartet had a gig in Rochester Hills to sing at a benefit concert for Amy Jamison, the daughter of a fellow barbershopper from the Guardians of Harmony (Macomb Co. Chapter). Amy has been hit with some pretty severe medical problems just as her father was laid off, so medical expenses were catching up with them. It was a great concert, though not hugely well attended. Since it was a free concert, hopefully they managed to pull in some decent donations.

It was a great mix of quartets and choruses. 6 quartets (including us) and 2 choruses (Pontiac-Waterford "Big Chief" chorus & Macomb). InVoice (SAI district 12 champs) finished out the show with a PHOENOMENAL set, doing some old favorites ("South Rampart Street Parade") and some new ones ("When I Fall In Love" with an AWESOME tag). We did well, starting with "When You Wish Upon a Star", a chorus song we've adopted. It has a tricky key change, but we handle it well. From there we went onto my arrangement of "Rainbow Connection" and ended with "Darkness on the Delta". Our strongest songs. We apparently recieved several compliments on "Wish Upon A Star" and suggestions that we take it to contest. We have our October prelims set pretty much decided, but you never know if we'll need a Saturday night set! Next Sunday we're singing at our bass's church, doing a few more religious tunes we've added just for the occasion.

Sunday, we gathered Liam up for his week at summer camp. He's been gone to the cottage with his grandparents for almost 2 weeks, and I already hardly recognize him. He came back for a couple days in between all tanned, sun bleached hair, and I swear 3 inches taller. Where the hell does the time go?! Most of the morning was spent frantically gathering everything for the week...last minute, of course. Trips to the store for odd-and-ends, doing laundry to ensure enough changes of clothes, hunting for sunscreen, choosing his comics for "quiet time", etc. We left about 1/2 hour later than planned, but figured we'd make it on time - until we hit Detroit.

The camp is just west of Saline, so we figured we'd take I-94. BAAAAAD idea! Every major freeway running through Detroit is either closed or reduced to 1 lane, so every major artery through Detroit was basically gridlocked. We ran around in circles on the surface streets of Detroit for an hour, trying to figure out how to get back on the freeway past the construction. Finally we headed through Corktown and caught north I-96. We at the camp about 1/2 late.
Liam was a bit upset he couldn't take his Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robot ring with him, but he managed to relent without much of a scene. No crying or worries about being away from family for the first time, no tearful goodbyes as he passes another milestone on the way to growing up. Just a stupid plastic toy. I'm proud he's not affraid to be away from family, confused why the ring was such a big deal, and a bit dissapointed at the same time that he didn't seem he'd miss us more...but mostly proud.
On the way there, we passed a HUGE field of sunflowers. It was absolutely spectacular. The kids were asleep in the backseat in the way up, but we made sure to stop and snap some pics on the way back home. Unfortunately, all I had on me was my cell phone, so they're not the best quality, but they turned out okay. You can check them out on my Flickr Page. Sonya's going to get a few pics with Liam when she picks him up on Friday.
Today, it's back to work. Tonight, though, I head with Val and her boyfriend to Toledo to see my first live drum corps show in probably 7 years. I'm kind of surprised how excited I am about it. I spent about an hour yesterday planning and gathering my wardrobe. After spelunking the dark recesses of my shed and attic through boxes like an archaeologist exploring the tombs of the Pharohs, I found my tattered corps jacket, a 1993 Velvet Knights t-shirt, and then prepped my mandatory Red Chucks. I just filled my MP3 player with a few choice selections for the drive down as well. Lots of late-80's & early 90's stuff. Ya know, the GOOD years (open for debate).
I've ranted here about my disilusionment with DCI a lot - and it still holds true. However, there's something to be said for the experience of going to a live show - the fans, the electricity in the air, and 60+ horns blowing your hair back with a huge final chord. Plus, seeing as local shows are such a rarity these days, I'm bound to see a ton of folks I probably haven't seen in decades (which is why I need the corps jacket and chucks - to be recognized). :)
So, while I'm a bit dissapointed in myself for bending my principles about supporting DCI in any fashion, when all is said & done, I'm still a drum corps addict. No matter how long you've been out of it (nearly 14 years now), how many other hobbies/obligations/addictions you find to distract you (barbershop harmony, work, family, comics), it's in your blood - calling you back like the salmon of Capistano. I fully expect to leave shaking my head is dismay about a few of the shows I'll see, but I also expect to fully enjoy the experience and even aspects of the corps that'll strike familiar chords (pun intended)....
Or it could be a rain-soaked disaster. We shall see...
Coming up next: D.C. Aye-Yie-Yie!