Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summertime, and the livin' is...CRAZY!

Well, the main reason I haven't posted in a while is that shortly after my last blog, we lost a few people at Starbucks and I was working 40 hours there, 12 hours at Blockbuster, 2 hours (plus 1.5 hours in commute) directing a chorus, 1/2 hour giving a trombone lesson, 2 hours at quartet rehearsal, and 3 hours (plus 2 hours commute) for my weekly dinner with my kids. That's 63 hours out of my week, plus household chores, miscellany, and trying to see my girlfriend in there, somewhere!

Oh, did I mention? I'M A CHORUS DIRECTOR!!!! I can't believe I haven't mentioned it yet, but about 3 months ago, I got the position of Director for the Livingston Lamplighters Barbershop Chorus! The pay's not much (basically enough to justify the 2 hours and pay for the gas there and back), but then again, barbershop chorus directing gigs rarely pad the wallet. Mostly, this scratches my professional itch - and does it EVER!

As a music educator, I appreciate a challenge. That's not to say the chorus is bad - far from it! They are, however, small in numbers, varied in musical background, and have not had a lot of exposure to the nuances of the style, its traditions, or its evolution over the past several decades. That's where I come in.

I have always most enjoyed coming to a group with room for improvement, connecting with them, and getting them to understand what I'm looking for. From there spawns an avalanche of progress. I've always said that with a directing job, I'd rather take a small, budding program and build it, rather than a huge successful program and try to maintain it. It's more fun, more satisfying, and let's face it, MUCH less pressure. When there's no where to go but up, there's nothing to look but good.

What I liked best about the Lamplighters after visiting their rehearsal for the first time, was the camaraderie and brotherhood they shared. That's the benefit of a small group. Beyond that, they all had a visible passion for singing. They may not have had the guidance to fine-tune it or the background to interpret it, but it's much easier to refine passion than to try and create it. As I listened, I heard things I liked and things I didn't. Some chords would ring beautifully, some vowels would line up wonderfully, while certain phrasing and tempos were awkward and lyrical meaning lost. The entire time, I sat back and thought, "I can FIX this! I have the ability! I can make them better...stronger...MORE MUSICAL!"

As I began directing them, I started to realize more the responsibilities and work that would go into this job. The first month or so, I stumbled a few times: I wasn't as prepared as I should have been, I allowed too much talking during rehearsal, my conducting left MUCH to be desired, etc. Thankfully, after a few tips from the baritone of my quartet and one of the members (and former director), I started to find my footing.

My debut as director was for the senior living complex that offers us the rehearsal space. My girlfriend made it a point to drive 45 minutes from home to be there for me, showing enthusiastic support for my endeavor, which meant the WORLD to me. The song selection was a bit awkward, random, and dated, and the script was full of groan-worthy puns, but for a mid-season barbershop show with a brand new director, that's par for the course. We sounded solid, with few noticeable gaffes. I was pleased.

Since then, things have only gotten better. They're ringing chords more often, they're working on the parts on their own more diligently, and they're starting to sound more like a solid barbershop chorus, rather than just a group of guys singing barbershop songs fairly well. They're learning my conducting style, even as I refine my own technique to match their response. They're watching more closely, emoting more, expanding dynamics, and starting to FEEL what they sing. It's truly beautiful to watch their progress week to week.

I wish I could make a living out of this and make it full-time, but sadly, I gotta pay the bills otherwise. Enter: a new job opportunity!

A regular at my Starbucks was so pleased with my demeanor, she asked for my resume! After researching the company, I find out she's the president! I've had 2 interviews and am awaiting a final decision, which should be along within a week or so. I don't want to say too much at the risk of jinxing it, but I truly hope this comes through. My current employment situation has me barely hanging on, and all it takes is one catastrophe with the car or some other unexpected bill to have me running to family for help. I just can't have that any longer. I'm beyond grateful to know that my family is willing to catch me when I stumble, but I'm 36, and shouldn't need the help. I love my jobs (usually), but they simply aren't enough to live on with any financial certainty.

So, as always, I'm on the financial precipice, but have enough good things going for me to keep me chipper. Life's all about balance. :)

Coming up: Fall district contest - Chorus? Quartet? Both? Neither? and a potential West Coast vacation!

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