May 1, 2015
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May Mind Noodling

Sometimes in the month of May I ponder too much.  Then I wonder as I ponder, and this usually leads to random “mind noodling.” In this particular May my thinking has been circling and circling, becoming a vortex which has come to rest with the words accountability and supervision.  Or maybe supervision and then accountability.  Whatever the sequence, a lot of the problems that we face daily are caused by a “lack” of accountability and a lack of adequate supervision. And these are two sides of the same coin. The structure of our society is based on these two terms, and when they break down we face serious problems.

In education, roughly speaking, this sequence is: parent-student-teacher-principal-school board-superintendent, etc.  In our cities and towns: citizens-police dept.-fire dept.-city council-mayor, and on to the state and national governments.  Each of these structures, and many more,  includes supervision and accountability, and problems begin when they are interrupted or lost.  Parent to child or teacher, worker to boss, boss to manager or owner, elected officials to their superiors or constituents, all are vital to our very existence. Without the structure and supervision and accountability, we face chaos, anarchy and returning to the law of the jungle with its  survival of the mentally and physically fittest.  And living day to day without a strong infrastructure doesn’t last very long.  In this situation the only accountability left when all else fails is to our God, in whatever form we choose to believe, as our ultimate supervisor.

Many societies have risen and fallen in the past on this same earth that we are inhabiting.  Small cracks started appearing, unrecognizable except to a very few voices lost in the din of daily living.  And who even listened to them?  Some of the signs were the break-up of the family, mores loosened, perversions accepted, and day to day living over regulated to the point of claustrophobia.  Everything was being done for the individual, leaving no room for self-reliance, self-management, creativity or free-thinking.  Then the cracks widened into religions and customs and government, leaving no room for either supervision or accountability.  Who benefited?  Only those at the very top of the food chain where the accountability stopped.  At this point absolute rule of some kind takes over.  A dictator or a king or a despot rides in to rescue the society.  Religion and education have to be controlled or eliminated.  And that is the end of individuality.

This process is so slow that it is almost unrecognizable in day to day living. It has happened many times before in the history of our earth, and it is happening now.  There are cracks appearing and occasional breakdowns not only in our own society, but globally.  Families are being restructured to fit any situation.  Christianity, and religion in general, is being systematically erased from public view (forced to go figuratively underground), every little thing is being legislated, but penalties for large offenses are being diluted so that accountability is also being relaxed.  In other words, both supervision and accountability are being lost for the individual.  We are being forced into the law of the herd where we mindlessly follow whatever leadership is the loudest or the most compelling.  And the question becomes:  Is this process preventable?  Can it be reversed?  Individually, yes.  Collectively, maybe.  As long as the majority of people in a society are content to be passive recipients of life’s necessities, the collective “maybe” will change to “no.”

Common sense is the foundation of any solution, based on facts, not emotions.  Accountability and supervision and a willingness to recognize self control and self motivation are vital.  Read a book entitled “The Death of Common Sense” (How Law is Suffocating America) by Philip K. Howard, pub. 1994 by Warner Books.  For over twenty years we have ignored warnings which are now becoming part of our existence.  That’s long enough.  Now we need to get serious.

Musically speaking it’s time to D.S. (Dal Segno), or go back to the sign which indicates where we have been and the firm foundations which once permeated our society.  We need to get rid of “political correctness.”  It has only been used by those with questionable agendas to blackmail and intimidate, and anything that has these for their mission statement must be stopped.  Bringing back supervision and accountability will help all facets of out society to re-adjust our thinking and our actions.  And we need these in order to survive.

Also in music, when there is a conductor there is supervision, and all of the musicians are accountable to all of the various sections in the group and also to the conductor.  Beautiful harmonies and musical structures are possible.  The same is possible in our lives.

April 1, 2015
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April Accidentals

April 1st is called April Fool’s Day for a reason.  I have proved this many times over.  And it’s not just April 1st.  It’s the whole month.  For example, the common stove.  This can be a very dangerous machine, if you haven’t noticed.  Recently I was in my normal (daily) cooking mode when strange things began to happen.  I took a tray of buns out of the oven and happened to reach for a thinner hot pad, rather than the usual thicker one.  Consequently, the heat transferred immediately to my right (grabber) hand which then tilted to the left.  My left hand (no pad) then, reflexively, steadied the pan to prevent a spill and lift the pan to the top of the stove which, I had forgotten, was almost covered with uneven pots and pans busily cooking various foods.  So, while toasting my left hand, I turned and dropped the buns on the only small space open on the counter top.  Simultaneously, one of the other pans on top of the stove started boiling over, so I scooted it to the back burner, which caused the hairs on my right hand to be burnt, causing that unpleasant smell that should never be in a kitchen.  Unfortunately, as I scooted the one pan, it nudged another pan, causing it to spill some of its contents on the top of the stove and onto the floor. This caused another unpleasant burning smell not uncommon to kitchens, but still unwelcome. All of this was compounded when one of our cats nonchalantly brushed by my legs and distracted me from the smells and the spills.  This caused me to move enough to step into the spill on the floor, and while slipping… I sneezed.

None of this is possible under normal circumstances, but, it was an April Fool’s Day, and, you guessed it… I was “it.”  I was the the fool or the joker or the butt of some kind of cosmic joke.  I didn’t know what hit me!  Cooking is not supposed to be “life threatening!”  And this is just the stove we are talking about.  What if you were playing in a symphony orchestra, or dancing on a stage, or driving on a freeway, or on a roller coaster or a waterslide, or on a boat to Catalina, or just taking a nap?  The possibilities boggle the mind.  And this is normal everyday living, not an earthquake or a tornado.  Things like this are not supposed to happen under normal circumstances.  But, April, obviously, is not a normal month.

I suppose we all can look to the other eleven months for normalcy if we must, but we are probably still fooling ourselves into another false belief.  That life is normal.

Life is NOT normal under any set of circumstances.  We go to great lengths to prove that it is, but we are just wasting our time.  It will never be.  We all make plans.  We map out routes, schedules, routines, and projections, but there is always something little that gets in the way.  Roadwork, sickness (ours or someone else’s), and at least a zillion other possibilities that are lurking in the shadows, to appear when you least expect them.  What April teaches us is to embrace these unexpected circumstances.  To expect them and even try to enjoy them, or at least to see the humor that is usually present if you look for it.

When you really think of it, MUSIC itself is not normal.  Frequencies happily flow at certain levels and rates without interruption until something gets in their way.  And that something, or someone, is usually the musician.  We have taken frequencies and divided them into arbitrary increments.  We have then made them do weird and unnatural things to reflect our own moods.  We collect batches of them and isolate them into tracks, and the tracks into various sized collections.  The infinite possibilities built into these frequencies have now been pared down and squished into a fraction of what they were just so we can understand them and deal with them on a daily basis.  This has become normal for us.

We have done the same thing with our universe, both macro and micro.  Everything is compared to our earth, which is not even a quantum of a fraction of the known universe just so we can try to understand it and also manipulate it.  We also do the same thing with our Creator (but I refuse to go there)…!  So what is our conclusion?  That we are constantly “April Fooling” ourselves just to get a handle on enough things to be able to make it through our lives.  Not bad!  It seems to work.  But is it normal…?

March 4, 2015
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March Musicale

March is supposed to come in “like a lion,” and go out “like a lamb,” or come in “Like a lamb,” and go out “like a lion.”  I’m not sure that any of this applies any more.  March is both winter and spring and summer, depending where you are in the country,  and everything in between.  At the very least, it seems to begin a calming trend in the weather, even if there is a last blast of winter toward the end of the month.  Not being sure about what to expect next brings an element of excitement to this transitional month.

My experience in playing night  clubs in the sixties was very similar.  Playing in the house band meant being ready for almost anything, musically speaking.  Monday’s rehearsal meant becoming familiar with the music of one or two or even three different acts which could be a singer, or singers, dancers, animal acts, comedians, magicians, hypnotists, etc.  Like the month of March, this became its own brand of excitement.

In Kentucky, just across the Ohio river, there were two clubs that were really nice and classy:  the “Lookout House,” and the “Beverly Hills.”  Both of these were beautiful venues which brought in acts like Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Frankie Laine, etc. They were fun to play, and made me feel like I was connecting to a bit of music history.  Eventually, both of these clubs burnt down under mysterious circumstances.  I’m sure that economics played a large part in their demise.  Unfortunately.

In Cincinnati, the main venue was Cincinnati Gardens.  There I played acts like Sonny & Cher, James Brown, Engelbert Humperdink, and several different companies of Ice Shows like Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice.  Also circuses and rodeos, both of which, in my opinion are better played outside.  Inside, the air gets rather “close.”

In Dayton, I played at a German dinner/restaurant called Suttmiller’s.  This was a large club, seating 500 people for dinner and a show.  I never figured out how they transitioned from one dinner/show to the next, moving that many people.  Also, this was in the sixties when smoking was still ubiquitous and it could get difficult to see the music because of the indoor clouds.  Thankfully, things are much healthier now, but then, most of these clubs are now gone.  A lot of the acts that came to Dayton were there to break in their songs, routines, etc, before opening in New York or Las Vegas or Los Angeles.  I was proud to be in a house band that could read anything that was written down, and a lot of things that were not.  We were constantly proofing.  It has become a lifelong habit.  This club featured act like: Lou Rawls, Carol Lawrence, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Professor Irwin Corey, Johnny Desmond, The Diamonds, etc, etc.  Too numerous to list.

This too is almost gone.  There are very few clubs left now that have live name singers, comic, dancers, etc, in an intimate setting with good food and a safe, smokeless atmosphere.  Catalina’s in Hollywood is one of the few left.  We are in the habit of seeing Steve Tyrell one or two times a year when he is in town.  To me it’s a lot like going back in time.  Check it out sometime.  And if you are lucky enough to be near a place that features good entertainment, all I can say is: Rejoice!  And consider yourself very fortunate.  Music that has melody is not dead, it’s just temporarily dormant, or maybe in hibernation.  We can always count on one constant in music taste and style: it will change!  Not always to what we would prefer, but change nevertheless.  So, “Don’t worry, be happy!”

February 4, 2015
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February Freeze

This February has been especially brutal for those living in the midwest and all the way to the east coast.  The jet stream has forced the cold, arctic blasts more frequently into the whole area.  There has been a lot of snow and resultant power outages, and eventually there will be flooding to look forward to when the snow and ice finally thaws.  A messy and unpleasant situation.  And more to come, if you believe the groundhog’s prediction. In contrast, the western part of the United States has been pleasantly mild so far this winter.  Just thinking of the problems in the east brings back many memories of my life there for twenty some years.

As a professional trombone player, I lived in Middletown, but, in order to work, I had to drive to Dayton, Cincinnati or across the river to Kentucky.  In all weather.  It didn’t matter what the weather report said.  I just got in my car and left for the job, no matter where it was.  Ahhh youth,  when we are immortal  (and, for the most part, clueless).  When I first started driving, my cars were junkers.  Stripped down.  Bald tires.  Temperamental when it came to starting the motor, etc.  You get the picture.  I remember far too many nights after a job, in another city, when everyone else had gone, still trying to get the car to start without flooding it  (at which time there was an even longer wait).  I’m not sure to this day whether it was the curse words or the prayer that finally got the car to start.  (Hallelujah)!

When I started working at a club in Dayton called Suttmiller’s (a theater restaurant that seated about 500 people), I finally, with a little help, was able to get a brand new car that would start when you needed it to start.  With this car, I traveled thousands of miles up and down Route 75 for many years in all kinds of weather without any problems.  And, I never had snow tires or chains.  The car was a Corvair,  which had the motor in the rear of the car, and the trunk in the front.  To balance this, I put a few cement blocks in the front trunk and traveled through ice, snow, black ice, sleet, and freezing rain with never a problem on the road.  Whenever possible, though, I followed salt trucks, especially late at night.  A lot slower, but a lot safer.

The only other difficult part was coming out of a job and finding my car covered with ice or snow, or both, and having to clean it off before being able to think of driving.  Actually, you first start the car, then turn the heat up full blast, and then start cleaning off the ice and snow as they start melting.  The other indispensable item is anti-freeze in your car.  I would usually also contain my own anti-freeze from playing a dance where the booze was flowing freely.  (another dangerous thing about being young and stupid).  But I was lucky, or maybe had an overactive guardian angel.  Whatever it was, it allowed me to be here now.  And I am grateful for that.

Weather and music seem to go together in some weird way.  And music and booze (or whatever) seem also to be linked in some weird way.  These were the days when the music for dances and parties and proms, etc, was “live.”  You didn’t even have to say it then because the music for these things was always live.  The only exception was the “sock hop” in the gymnasium.  A lot of the time a record player with a stack of 45’s was used. Also a lot of fun in those days.  Now I think that this probably was the forerunner of the DJ who would eventually take over and do away with live music altogether.  A very sad state of affairs for all musicians.

I really hope that live music recovers from this downturn, and once again lives to generate excitement in a very personal way as I and many others of my generation enjoyed it.  It could happen…!

 

January 8, 2015
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January Journey

Once again I have conveniently forgotten to make my New Year’s resolutions.  But, I have instead become a bit more introspective.  I tend to do this anyway when I read a newspaper.  So much that is news is depressing and eventually leads to ignoring the news for a while in order to gain back some perspective and sanity.  So instead of resolutions, this year I have collected some observations.

First of all, I have noticed that in the real world as depicted in the newspapers and the media in general, there are good people and there are bad people.  Somewhere in the middle is where most people reside.  Neither all good nor all bad, but slightly tainted by both sides.  Being human will cause this to occur.

There are many forces which will gradually guide us to one side or the other, and these influences, whether strong or weak, determine the direction that our lives take.  They are usually subtle and take hold so gradually that we don’t know we are either hooked or in control of our lives until much later in life.  They keep growing and attaching (bad), or reinforcing and supporting (good), for the rest of our lives.  To offset these influences, we thankfully have choices which we can make, or not.  When we make them, our choices must be very strong and definite in order to hold to one direction or the other, and, if we are to survive, we all need support (by friends), and strength of character (developed by wise choices).

When we look back at any age along our life’s journey, we find that it has been a series of choices (both good and bad) affected by outside influences, and causing us to either change direction or to resist a change of direction.  Changing direction can be either bad or good, and mistakes can be made, but these mistakes can be corrected at any time.  This is what requires the most strength in our character.  Recognizing whether change is good or bad is difficult, but not insurmountable.  Our tendency is to resist change, but a static existence is also bad when it stunts our growth, either physically or spiritually.  Both resting or moving are important, but it is far better to grow and correct our course occasionally than to just float aimlessly with no direction and no goals.

Music has participated in this process for centuries at a time.  In ancient times there was mostly rhythm.  The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, etc, had rhythm and rudimentary strings, brass and woodwinds.  In Europe during the Renaissance and onward, there were traveling actors and musicians, trouveres, troubadours, madrigal groups, and the refinement of the orchestra.  In this country the birth of jazz started the break with European musical traditions which originated in the blues, and became the basis for most of the popular music we now recognize.

And most of this musical tradition was associated with both bad and good.  There had to be music for saloons and bars, speakeasies and brothels, which were associated with outlaws, gangsters and gambling right through the present day.  There were also dance halls, concert halls, hotels, and restaurants which provided a more tame, romantic and melodic type of music.  There were choices for the musician, dancer and listener, including church music which has survived numerous changes of style.

So for this New Year, I will be glad that we all have choices to guide us in our growth and journey through life no matter what our age or situation.  Let us all use them wisely! ………. (and either “Rock on” or “Praise on.).

 

December 2, 2014
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December Dynamics

There is something incongruous about the Christmas season and its various themes when you are living in 80 degree weather.  Nothing really fits, so you have to do a mental transition that will help you to accept the proximity of snow and ice and hot temperatures. We trick our minds so that Santa and his sleigh and the north pole, etc., work.  Decorations help.  The tree with icicles, frosted ornaments, snow scenes, and prints by Currier & Ives all help to cement the illusion. Gradually the mind begins to accept these images, and the Spirit of the Christmas season starts to take over.  Music adds another dimension, talking of snow and winter weather, sleigh rides, snowmen, and frosted window panes.

All of this used to start after Thanksgiving, which was the official start of the Christmas season.  It worked for many decades.  The transition was from Halloween (celebrating fall and a successful harvest), to Thanksgiving (expressing our gratitude for the plenty stored away for the winter), to Christmas (the birth of Christ, and the advent of Santa and gift giving).  All of this used to take place gradually, season to season, with no rush.  Until the growth of the department store and consequently, the birth of advertising.  In the beginning, the theme of each season and its reasons for buying within each theme were presented separately, usually with a slight break between each.  Then, gradually, the seasons started growing together with various sales and enticements to keep up the rhythm of buying and gift giving.  Then the seasons started to overlap, and now we have Halloween transitioning right into Christmas with decorations, music, etc.  Thanksgiving has become a mere blip on the screen of sales, and is almost taken over by shopping mania. First the day after, and now the day “of” with the whole weekend becoming its own shopping holiday.  Why is this?  One reason is that the survival of the retail brick & mortar store is at stake.  Online shopping is taking over with its ease of purchase, and “no hassle” shopping.  It is now a battle of numbers.  Reality shopping versus digital.  Why not let UPS and FedEx do the moving through traffic and deliveries?

The result is beginning to become obvious.  The meaning of our very special holiday season is weakening, waning, if not disappearing.  Spirituality is in real danger of morphing into a cartoon-like existence.  Superficiality and glitz are taking over with instant gratification making it seem like we are actually living in a reality-produced commercial.  There is a smooth, effortless, relentless sliding from Halloween to the New Year.  And, “Is everybody happy?”  Sure, if you don’t mind all that the spiritual reformers have taken away from us:  The manger, angels, Nativity scenes, Wise Men, prayers of thanks, or any kind of prayer, etc.  And the question becomes: Is it possible to retrieve the soul of our holiday season?  Are we willing or even able to do so?

Yes, we can!  By remembering how special and deep are the roots of our symbols which are based on faith, hope and love.  And by realizing that something as small as a nucleus or a single cell can grow to astronomical proportions and take over the world.  It happened once before in Bethlehem, and it can happen again.  Prayer, whether sung or spoken, unites and builds and binds cohesively.  We have only to remember to use it – regularly and with purpose.  Music has the ability to magnify thoughts and ideas.  It also is the cement that can bind these thoughts and ideas.  Use it  – regularly and wisely and with purpose!

November 4, 2014
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November Noodles

During each November, for as long as I can remember, I have thought of food, home, family and friends.  Not necessarily in that order.  And all of these seem to connect to the Thanksgiving Holiday.  The situations may change,  place to place or family to family, but the feelings about the holiday itself are much the same.

When I was young, we always went to my maternal grandmother’s house for a Thanksgiving meal of Pennsylvania Dutch style cooking.  Even now the sight and smell of the heavily laden table are very clear to me.  The hustle and bustle of the kitchen, and the organized confusion are still very real.  And the unspoken “either help out or stay out of the way.”  It was and is still fascinating to me.  I’m surprised that I didn’t become a chef.

I don’t remember ever going to my paternal Hungarian grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, although there were many other times throughout the year that we were invited for dinner.  Chicken Paprikash was a favorite of everyone.  Actually, there were a lot of dishes “paprikash.”  The Hungarian meals were in general fairly spicy.  My grandmother grew  peppers of all kinds which were dried in long rows hanging on the cellar walls.  Then these were ground up into a powder or flakes and used in cooking or as condiments.  Her chicken yard provided a lot of meals with chicken, duck, goose, turkey, etc;  practically anything besides the old tough rooster who doubled as an alarm clock at dawn every morning.  My grandmother’s garden was a good part of an acre lot.  In it were a corn field, and rows of many varieties of vegetables, fruit trees, and vines of berries adorning the fences.  When these ripened and were harvested, she canned a lot of the fruits and vegetables.  These were delicious and convenient in the dead of winter.

Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, on the other hand, being German, was less rustic and more mild, at least in my experience.  The Thanksgiving table then was almost as standard as it is today but with more variety, and much more quantity.  That being the case, I felt that it was my personal duty to cut a large swath through the menu.  I was always the subject of amazement as to the amount of food that I could devour.  Consequently, I was usually the last person sitting at the table, and, astoundingly, this never caused me any of the gastric problems that I would now experience.  While everyone else took a nap or got reacquainted, I would curl up under a table somewhere with a book.  It worked then, and it would probably work now given the opportunity.  After the main meal marathon, I was still ready for the spread of desserts.  And later on when the sun went down I was always ready for a turkey sandwich and some gravy with anything.  It seemed that I was unstoppable.  Or just storing food away for the winter.

There is one similarity between the cooking of both of my grandmothers in their prime in the late 1940’s.  Both of their cooking styles contained a lot of grease.  Chicken or turkey or beef or pork or ham fat was a treat.  Things like “cracklin’s” were  a real treat!  When the fat was rendered from any of the above, it was used for frying almost anything.  It is hard to understand now, but this is where a lot of the delicious taste came from – the grease.  And the reason that we had bread at the table was to soak up the leftover grease from our plates.  Now this is frowned upon, and grease is disappearing….. just like our ancestors whose arteries gradually hardened and shortened their lives.

Our lives are full of choices:  long lives or great tasting meals;  hard labor outside in the healthy sun and air or sitting at a computer all day without any exercise and developing heart disease.  Choices.   Trade-offs.   Life is full of them.   My own heritage gave me a love for cooking.  I have always loved combining different flavors for the taste and smell that can become unique.  This is a lot like composing and orchestrating music, which is combining the different colors and timbres of various instruments into sounds that are pleasing and unique.  Both are based upon the choices that we make.  And, no matter what area these choices are in,  let us all remember to choose wisely…!

 

October 1, 2014
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October Leaves

October always has the feeling of beginnings.  All of the holidays are ahead of us.  They are lined up and waiting to be accessed.  All of the decorations are waiting to be put up, then taken down for the next set of colors and themes to be displayed.  The frustrating part of this which we experience very early in life is that these holidays are somewhat brief.  While you are in the holiday, you experience it fully, but the next day it is gone, erased, and the next holiday is before you.  The anticipation sometimes overshadows the actual event. The year in holidays sometimes seems like a giant circular puzzle in which the pieces are entered one by one, and then fade away as the next is entered.

I have always liked puzzles of all kinds, but especially board puzzles.  When I was young we always had puzzles for the holidays, set up on a card table where anyone who wanted to select a piece  for a perfect fit could give it a try.  I became fairly adept, and so increasingly wanted more difficult scenes or colors schemes.  It was this inclination that fed my interest in combining notes and instruments in musical ways and led to my life’s work in doing the same.  Transcribing, engraving, arranging, orchestrating and composing have always interested me.  They are all intricate and tedious, but the hours spent in any aspect have always posed a challenge and excited me.  I have never been bored with the combining of sounds or notes or instrumental colors.  Probably because there are so many possibilities and combinations.

Thinking about these possibilities and combinations can happen anywhere and at any time.  An idea can appear in your consciousness at any time and anywhere.  The only problem I have ever had with this is getting the idea down as quickly as possible so as not to forget it.  I found out very early on that these ideas rarely come back, at least in their original form.  These ideas are spontaneously generated.  A gift.  But, where do they come from, and how are they generated at will?  I have never had any success in bullying an idea to fit a specific need.  Coaxing maybe, but never bullying.  As close as I can come to initiating an idea is to feed my conscious or subconscious with as much relevant information as possible until something starts taking shape.  In other words, create parameters that will eventually enclose a germ of an idea that can be gradually developed.  This takes a fair amount of patience and a large amount of creativity.  And it is a lot like working a puzzle; looking for pieces that fit the whole in a seamless manner and with a thought process that moves through space and time and develops in a logical manner.  A puzzle has borders (parameters) that enclose the main idea (development) and takes shape gradually to form the whole. Most creativity follows somewhat the same process.

Quiet sometimes helps.  We have a tendency to think of quiet as emptiness. A scary place to go and confront the unknown.  Anything could be there to attach itself to your consciousness, good or bad.  But I have always experienced it as fertile ground.  If it has been fed, it will usually produce.  If it has not been fed, then there is opportunity to cast your net around this vast universe and be accosted by strange and interesting ideas and situations that can develop into useful material when exposed to the light of day.  To me, quiet is friendly and benign, exciting and challenging.  There are no borders or limits or impediments.  Just peace and fertility of thought which can be experienced anywhere at any time.  The only warning is:  do NOT experience this when in a conversation with your spouse.  The effects are not peaceful.  But do use quiet judiciously and you will be rewarded with what has been before this  –  unknown.   It is the reward of pure creativity.   Use it wisely.

 

September 2, 2014
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September Staves

September, when it was back-to-school, always reminded me of structure, a strict schedule, uniformity, and days regulated by hours.  This is in sharp contrast to the recently departed summer which could be unscheduled, free, and mostly without structured hours to contend with.  Beginning in September your time is not your own.  You are a part of a system with many parameters.  Most of the time you are indoors with artificial light, rather than outdoors in the sunlight and with fresh air.  Words like restrained, boxed-in, claustrophobic and fettered come to mind.

I don’t think I was ever in a classroom either as a student or a teacher that I didn’t stare longingly out of the nearest window.  I was always drawn to some point in the distance from wherever I happened to be at the moment.  This can be restful, but not very good classroom management no matter which side of the desk you are on.  Most of us would say that this is daydreaming, but I draw a different conclusion.  Daydreaming is not constructive.  It is being lost in another dimension and also vulnerable to those around you who are alert, whether students or teachers.  In other words, you can get caught at daydreaming and have no idea as to where you are in the topic at hand.  This can be embarrassing or at the very least disorienting.

Looking through windows, on the other hand, is perfectly safe as long as you don’t slip into the daydream state.  The “window” state is where I spent most of my student classroom consciousness.  I planned my after-school time, I practiced trombone slide positions mentally, I arranged and composed music and worked with keyboard intervals so I could hear the note relationships accurately.  This was in junior high and high school, even before I knew how much this would help me in college music courses where I discovered that there were actual systems that others had invented for the refining of technique in these areas.  But I was thankful for the ground-work that I had previously laid.  All of my classroom notes had musical doodling of one kind or another, and it never seemed to affect my grades which were good, and as I look back,  I am very thankful for that.

This thought process became a life-long habit;  I thought of it then as “split thinking.”  I always seemed to be able to think of several different things at one time.  Before it became “multitasking.”  This split thinking blurred the imaginary lines between reality and thought, letting me occupy both at the same time.  The thought process, instead of being a one-way street, became a highway with potentially many lanes.  Sometimes these lanes would intersect, and sometimes not, but the option was  always there.  Whatever situation I was in whether classroom or some kind of job was reality and I was always alert to the task at hand. But my mind also was being developed to follow a train of thought, or even several lanes of thought through a logical process to sometimes, an acceptable conclusion.  A window usually helped to focus, especially when the premise was faulty and  drew incorrect conclusions.  In these cases, I would have to start over in different lanes and with different configurations.

Music and writing in general are made up by their nature of many lanes or lines or layers which, when not parallel, can cross or intersect or even abut.  All of the arts have this fundamental nature.  Learning to control the lines or trains of thought is the purpose or goal of every artist.  The mundane in any of the arts is the tedious process of traversing many lanes and highways while striving for the profound, or deep, or just perfection in execution. But, as important as these are, they don’t guarantee success.  And success, to me in this area, is the addition of feeling or emotion into the work or project.

Adding  feeling or emotion into any of the arts is the goal, the highest achievement, the pinnacle, and becomes the difference between basic construction and the art itself. Looking through the window (traversing the highway, and daydreaming (adding feeling and emotion) are both necessary,  but expressing feelings and emotions through perfection in execution is the goal.  So, as you look out of many windows, in your search for answers in the world of thought, dream on.   Look out the window for the creativity  in your thinking, but, for infusing feeling and emotion, access your dreams.   Look out of a window, then fill your mind with daydreams, and dream on and on…..!

August 4, 2014
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August Articulations

When I think of August, I think of swimming, and when I think of swimming I think of diving.  When I was young, both municipal pools that I went to regularly had diving boards –  low, middle and high.  Low boards were great for jackknives and flips, middle boards were more for cannonballs and straight dives, and high boards (10 ft. to 20 ft.) were for either a jump,  feet first,  or a dive for depth.  I’m not sure that there are any diving boards left.  Maybe the owners or managers are afraid that someone will get hurt and sue – (the biggest deterrent to everything that used to be fun).  At any rate, diving for fun seems to be a sport that has passed away.

My second most favorite pastime in a swimming pool was just sitting at the bottom of the pool and observing the surface activity and odd swimming and diving techniques.  Sitting at the bottom of the deep end (10 ft.) was easiest.  As the water got more shallow, it was harder to stay down.  Way too much work.  But also, the deep end was more mysterious, and quiet.  I could usually hold my breath for a minute to a minute and a half, long enough to swim the length of the pool under water.  This made possible my real fun in the deep end –  messing with the lifeguards, or even “freaking them out.”  One game was to get a lot of height in a dive to go deep into the water, even touch the bottom, then stay there or curve around to an unlikely spot and wait, and wait until I saw motion above – the guard trying to figure out why I didn’t surface.  This usually drove them nuts. And if they decided to come in and look for me, I would race to a more crowded, shallower depth then carefully surface.  Great fun!  But, as with most pranks, eventually you get caught and let off with a warning:  “I’ve got my eye on you, kid.”  It was still fun though, because there were a lot of different lifeguards who weren’t on to me yet.

All of this really had a side benefit.  My breath control through high school improved immensely, and this was a great help to my trombone playing.  Good breath control helps your tone and is the best support for playing long phrases and extreme dynamics.  Both loud and soft.  Smoking on the other hand was always stupid for any player of wind instruments, especially brass players.  But a lot of us went through that dumb stage of our lives.

I just found out that the pools we used to frequent have all been torn down and covered up so the land could be used for other purposes.  This was a very depressing thing for me to find out.  How do all of the young brass players train?  And how do you stay cool all summer?  We didn’t have air conditioning, so we hung out in a pool.  We learned to love the smell (and, I guess, the taste) of chlorine, and by the end of the summer my bleached blond hair was almost green. Swimming and diving served a purpose, and we all survived.  But a really great “fun factor” is missing now in the teenage repertoire.

When we look around at the places where we grew up, there is an awful lot that is now gone and become both history and memories.  On the surface at least.  Some of us don’t want to dig too deep.  Someone like “Pennywise” or “It” may be waiting.  Or even worse…, what could possibly be worse?  Why reality, of course, now come to life again as  our long-term memories surface.  So what can we possibly pass on to our children and grandchildren?  These memories?  A sense of our own history?  Reality?  What good would these serve?  So what if we dress it up a bit and smooth over some of the rough spots?  Would the young even listen? Should they?  Aren’t we trying to guide them to a better way to think and live, or is this a fool’s errand, since our best learning is through our own experiences. When we reach the time in our lives that we really want to learn from our grandparents they are usually gone or unavailable.

As usual, there are many more questions than answers.  And, since we live with a sense of hope (or should), hopefully we will have the right, or at least some acceptable, answers when the deep questions come up.  I hope so.  Until then, I have the cold, metallic feel of a trombone to bring back reality – and music to my soul.