April 2, 2014
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April spring songs

April usually means that winter is gone and spring has at least started the new growth of life that in expected during this time of year.  Not always, but usually this is so.  There is a greening and a flowering and a collection of smells that have been absent for many months.  There is also a rainy spell that accompanies the new growth and makes it possible.  This is the part I most enjoy.    Rain in any form:   rain on a tin roof, rain on a tent, rain on a car roof, even rain on a raincoat when you are safely inside and dry. All of these are inspiring and invigorating to me.

Conversely, I am disappointed when the rain does not appear.  If a drought occurs, it also occurs in me, and I tend to dry out and wither in my psyche unless I find rain or somehow conjure it up.  When desperate,  I do this with movies containing rain scenes, or books that talk about rain.  Or I just imagine situations in which I am soaking wet or at least hearing he sound of rain.  Recordings of rain sort of work, but they become predictable, and rain is always unpredictable.  The rain in any form, I hope, keeps me sane.

The month of April also, normally, contains Holy Week and Easter.  I never thought much about this until I began directing choirs. These holy days are filled with music which reflects the Resurrection, and new life, and hope and love and a lot of other themes throughout the season which ends with Pentecost.  This is actually the easy part.  The difficult part is all of the preparation and rehearsal of the music to be used.  This is also, to me, the exciting part.  Not only finding music that is appropriate and works, but also composing and arranging new music when I can’t find anything published that works for us. But, this always becomes the challenge, and, though I tend to grouse a bit, I look forward to it every year.

April also becomes the end of the first quarter of the year, and this, to me, means that I am looking ahead once again to getting through the summer and into the fall, which is my favorite season of all.  It helps to have something to always look forward to, and when you are planning ahead, this is always the case.  The downside is that the year seems to shrink, and go faster and faster each succeeding year.  These cycles are a part of life itself, and must be either enjoyed or ignored.  I choose to enjoy them.

And after Easter, when everything slows down a bit and relaxes, I find that I can read more books and think a lot clearer and begin to vegetate and gather more ideas for original music and songs. And sometimes these ideas develop well and give me a feeling of satisfaction, and I am marginally content.  And sometimes this leads to happiness.   I tend to play the percentages…

 

March 1, 2014
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March Muse

March is sometimes characterized as “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” or vice versa. Either the end of winter or the beginning of spring.  I’ve always thought that this inherent indecisiveness signaled the perfect time to read books.  Lots of books!  And not just the average sized book.  I’ve always preferred large books with very small print which give you a chance to enjoy the environment within the book.  Some of my favorite authors have been: James Fenimore Cooper, Joseph Conrad, Ayn Rand, Alexander Solzhenitsin, Allen Eckart, etc.  All other books e.g. mysteries, spy novels, etc, are fillers between to provide a break or diversion; an abrupt change of mood, scene and environment; a sort of refresher before the next big adventure. This has been a pattern for most of my life, an attempt at order, organization, control, and even sanity when real life intrudes upon the creative process.

There is an exception, however.  The science fiction genre stretches the limits of reason and order and reality, and sometimes pushes the creative process into overdrive.  This is necessary in order to keep from getting bogged down in the past, which is a nice place to visit.  All of the really great science fiction writers have now passed on into the extrapolations of their own work.  Names like Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Van Vogt, Heinlein, Bradbury, etc. They all expanded the consciousness of many of their readers who have since caused the improbable to become probable or even realized.  Most of the new writing in this genre is fantasy, and it doesn’t serve the same purpose or have the same impact that the original science fiction provided.

The newest science fiction seems to be virtual reality (for the moment), and is still being developed, and our global society is assisting in this development.  But keep in mind that it was the great writers that made this leap ahead possible by expanding our collective consciousness, and it was done for the most part without illegal drugs which are debilitating and ultimately self-defeating. Think of some of the great “druggies” and their accomplishments, and realize how much more they could have accomplished with a fresh and active reality without the illusions provided by the drug of choice. Many of these innovators were and are musicians, writers, and artists of exceptional abilities who became limited either by their choices or their addictions. Both ways are unfortunate.

Creativity is a gift.  It is not to be abused.   Its muse is fickle.  When its door is open, the artist must recognize that it is open and proceed accordingly.  Most of the time there is only one opportunity.  The creative mind must take nothing for granted –  selectively absorbing, like a sponge, that which furthers the art, and, always, always, learning the new songs of life.

 

February 3, 2014
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February Fugue

February contains two holidays – Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, and, other than a monday vacation in honor of former presidents, Valentine’s Day is by far the most enjoyable.  The theme is love.  Wife, girlfriend, or just fellow world travelers, this love can be expressed in many ways.  Cards of all sizes and shapes, gifts of jewelry or candy (especially chocolate – which I personally dislike), and many other ways in which love can be expressed.  Taking my loved one to dinner is my favorite, usually with a card and a meaningful gift.  (she already gets all of the chocolate that might appear).  Watching a favorite Valentine movie also works – either in a theater or at home.  I never think of flowers (since I dislike them) – they die fairly quickly, so the significance is totally lost for me. But all of these tend to brighten up the month and make life worth living.

February is also midwinter.  When I was young it was always dark and gray and gloomy most of the time, and cold with unpredictable weather. Definitely a month to “get through” as quickly as possible and on into spring.  Whether at school or at work, it is hard to dredge up the energy to focus on projects that take a lot of thought.  An overactive imagination helps, but it can also blur your focus when dealing with the mundane.  A fine line to deal with in February.

In southern California it is supposed to be the rainy season.  Sometimes “it” doesn’t know this and we have a drought, like now.  It can also get very dry also with the low humidity and become a dangerous fire season.  The dry brush just waiting for a spark to appear from anywhere.  When this happens we have thousands of acres waiting to erupt in flames that become out of control almost immediately and then it becomes necessary to pour water on them or some kind of fire retardant so that homes don’t get reduced to ashes.  The whole water problem seems ridiculous to me because we are located right beside an ocean.  Water is plentiful in an ocean.  The only problem is that it is “salt water.”  But we have had many decades to figure out how to economically remove the salt from the water so it can be used on land, and this hasn’t happened.  There must be other priorities or agendae that have made this not happen.  We also need to figure out a more efficient way to put out fires on a mass scale.  Believe it or not, there is still much work to do in our society.

The other side of this coin is mudslides which happen after the fires have removed all of the vegetation, at which time we have heavy and extended rainfall which becomes raging streams of water that urgently seek the ocean, carrying everything in its path.  We seem to be an area of extremes.

Musically, February has always seemed to be a time of planning.  There is Easter and the summer months ahead with all of the festivities that require music which needs to be found, and arranged or composed for the groups that play for these events. For an instrumentalist all of these different groups and events become like a fugue of interwoven events where you change hats, or coats to fit the occasion.  It is what makes “live” music exciting, and we love it!

January 5, 2014
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January Jangle

January – the first month of the New Year!  I spent my first 30 odd years of life in the cold and unpredictable winters of Ohio, and the next 30 plus years in the mild winters of Southern California.  There is a huge contrast between the two areas.

My memories of Ohio in winter:  cold, snow, freezing temps, iced-over car windows, car won’t start, won’t even turn over, need a second car in the garage to start the first car, jumper cables, treacherous roads, black ice, bridges freeze first, snow tires, chains, salt, salt trucks on the roads and highways, stopped at a red light on an icy hill and my car starts sliding –  panic over no control whatsoever, scrapers for icy windshield;  icy steps, layers of clothing, a topcoat, gloves, hat, scarf and rubber boots; snowballs, ice balls, icicles – dripping, melting, falling, melting snow and ice, slush, icy tree branches in the wind – crackling, breaking from the excess weight and falling heavily and breaking power lines also frozen and iced, sleet, ice storms and blizzards, driving sideways on a highway, doing a 360 on an icy road; car door frozen shut – hoping my hot breath will thaw it enough for the key to enter and open the door – then hoping that the car will start. Brrrrrr…

Thinking of these things during a particularly harsh winter in Ohio in January, then moving to L.A. in June:

Fog at the beach, and sometimes rumors of earthquakes (it took me ten years to have the actual experience), rain and mudslides – occasionally –  mostly drought conditions (it’s a desert), water shortages (we live beside an ocean – why do we have water shortages?) and no one in this area has figured out how to desalinate the plentiful ocean water; desert winds that blow in from the hot, dry inland areas, humidity down to 10% or less making the air quality bad and  hot and dry with static electricity; but during the winter holidays we can have 70 to 80 degree temps while watching weather reports from the East with conditions already described. I left all of that aforementioned weather behind in Ohio for the mild conditions in Southern California – especially at the beaches, where: you wonder if you’ll get to wear that new sweater or jacket this year, you are bored with the same T-shirt-jean combination you wear every day in 70 degree weather, you ask yourself if you should get a car wash or is it going to sprinkle for 3 minutes and mess it up, roads collect dust and oil so that when they do get sprinkled on they can get very slippery (but your car door will still open).

Conclusion:  January in Southern California is just about the best place in the country to be at anytime, and, the second day of January is the celebration of our wedding anniversary – another best.  And, the best song of all for the best twenty-one years of my life is: …(Ta Daaaaa)… “Our Love is Here to Stay!”

 

December 3, 2013
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December Carols

December is a month that is full of contrasts.   Even when I was young, these same contrasts were evident, starting with extreme highs and extreme lows.  A lot of us, both then and now, seem to have trouble dealing with and expressing our happiness overtly and celebrating, in general, the season because of these contrasts.

First there is the original reason for the season, the birth of Jesus, contrasted with the comparatively recent advent of Santa Claus and the resulting rise of advertising and rampant commercialism.  These are almost polar opposites that are forced together in the space of one overcrowded month.  This can be a very confusing time, especially if you are already a little unbalanced.  If you are shopping, then you are acquiring presents to give to others, implying that, in contrast, you will be receiving presents. We are supposed to learn this when we are young.  Sometimes we do.  When we have completed our list of presents, we must wrap them, implying decisions like ribbons or bows. In contrast, when we receive, the only task is to remove the wrappings that were so painstakingly applied.

Next there are decorations to contend with, both inside and out.  The outside decorations are large, meant to be seen from a distance, contrasted with the inside decorations that are for small tables and other flat surfaces.  The tree is a study in contrasts with either colored lights or all white lights, and ornaments of all different shapes and sizes and themes.  There also used to be fads such as angel hair, tinsel (too much or too little), and flocking.  Lights can also either be sparse or very dense, blinking or non blinking and of course, too many could cause a fuse to blow causing all of the lights to go out.  And the absolute height of possible light problems is the light strand that is in series.  If one light goes out, they ALL go out.  This problem can be faced even today.  Avoid it!

The month also is a study in contrasts of weather. Going east, west, north or south, if you travel you will probably feel the effects of the local weather. It may be nice in LA, but if you are flying to the east coast or Chicago or Cleveland,  you may face flight diversions or cancellations that can drastically change your plans with no warning.  Depending on where you live, you may even face snow or ice or slush or rain, sometimes in a relatively short time. Sometimes combined. This contrast also causes a change in wardrobe from coast to coast or state to state, and even more luggage.

All of these contrasts can cause us (the haves & have nots) or us (the happy & unhappy) to have violent mood swings in many directions, which brings me to the salvation of the whole month and even our sanity – MUSIC!  Our favorite Christmas songs and movies that contain our favorite scenes and songs that we have watched and heard over and over for many years are like an anchor, grounding us against the many and varied contrasts contained in the month of December. Embrace the music, the standards and the carols and you will reach the New Year with your sanity intact.  Think of your radio & your iPod & your CD collection as therapy, as a hedge against the unknown. Inhale it with your ears and even your pores and you will survive.  Think of music as your friend, your new found friend. (there are some suggestions contained in this web site)…

Good luck, and have a Merry Christmas!

November 3, 2013
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Autumn Memories

November was always my favorite month in autumn.  (I always considered December to be winter).  It had a tendency to be dreary from the cold, wet rain blanketing all of the fallen leaves, and I always liked the feeling that this generated in me. It was invigorating.  Energizing.  The trees were less mysterious.  Since they had no leaves, there were no secrets hidden within, and so there was no point in my climbing up to hide in what used to be a secure place,  silent and protected from the stress of the world outside.  And, there were no longer any fruits to pick: apples, pears, plums, peaches…just droplets of water which would now fall whenever a branch was jiggled.  Stark and gray. Smooth and slippery.

So being outside, in November, took on a different meaning.  Dark clouds took on the role of security blanket, and rain falling became a friendly presence, whether it was a gentle touch or vigorously pelting everything with a loud white noise.  To me this was an enjoyable and delicious escape.  The exception was marching with my trombone in uniform in the mud.  Especially as the weather turned colder.  The trick for survival was layering clothing under my uniform and putting extra socks on inside my shoes to produce the illusion of comfort. (what we go through for our art)…

At night when it was cold and wet, I always liked the way the lights from signs and store windows would take on a halo effect, giving the surroundings a fictional feeling.  I would use this opportunity to invent stories and scenarios that took me into different places and even distant worlds.  This was at a time when I read a lot of science fiction.  I read a lot of everything, but I preferred science fiction.  It was also the heyday of this genre. All of the great writers were in their prime. Names like Asimov, Heinlein, Dick, Van Vogt, Bradbury, and many more were creating material that stirred my mind and stretched it like a large sponge.  These writers were inventing things then that we now use and  take for granted.  Even more intriguing is that many of these things have yet to be realized. A sobering thought.

In most cases this is probably a good thing.  We have enough to deal with right now and in the coming years in our own reality.  So, for now let’s all just enjoy this autumn, a season that in our much too infrequent quiet  moments brings back so many memories.

October 9, 2013
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October Scary Music Fest

My favorite Octobers of the past were wet and rainy.  Leaves of many fall colors were falling from trees turning gray, and on the ground, they provided a damp cushion for anyone walking on a sidewalk.  Sound in general was a bit softer and not so abrasive, making it easier to think and more comfortable to walk.  Remember when we used to walk a lot?  To various stores, to the downtown, to school, to lessons, to the nearest market.  This gave us a lot more time to think about life in general.  To philosophize on what ever level we happened to be in at that moment.  I think that this was healthy, and I miss it.

The change of seasons also brought with it a change in input to our senses.  The drastic and abrupt change in colors in vegetation from greens and browns to a whole spectrum of fall colors was invigorating, until they change yet again to deeper browns and grays. And the smells that we experienced when walking also changed from sweet and pungent to the moist and musty smell of decaying vegetation.  And these changes combined to lead us into our scariest October festival – Halloween.  The whole month still actually turns into a prelude to Halloween.  Darkness appears earlier each day, bringing shadows and an air of mystery.  And with the grayness comes the commercial colors of black and orange.  All of this adds up to our anticipation being drawn out over the entire month, which can make the holiday itself anticlimactic, it being over so quickly.  I still remember that slight feeling of claustrophobia when fully costumed, and the musty, gluey smell of the mask when walking from house to house croaking “trick or treat!”

Marching band was always a lot more comfortable because the heavy uniforms, stifling in the end of summer heat, worked much better with the cooler weather. Especially at night.  However, as the grass that was recently so comfortable turned brown and all but disappeared, the replacement was either hard earth or mud with the occasional pothole to contend with.  Try holding on to a note while stepping into a pothole, and maybe also losing a shoe in the process.  Also scary!

Besides the scary songs of Halloween, there are also always the songs of Octoberfest.  Lively, Germanic, and bringing  new sensory inputs of schnitzel, sauerkraut, beer and pretzels among other goodies.  The last great harvest festival before winter sets in.  The oom pah sound of the tuba and the clarinet, trumpet, trombone, accordian and drums ring cheerfully throughout the whole month. Enjoy!

September 3, 2013
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September Songs 2

September ia a month that contains everything that I really like:  football, fall, kids going back to school, fall colors, rain (at least in the east and midwest), and the beginning of a change of seasons.  The main holiday is Labor Day, which used to signal a return to school.  Now most schools are already started by Labor Day.  And this particular September marks the first anniversary of this web site.  An exciting event, if only to me personally.

Labor Day, when I was young, meant picnics, baseball (our back yard had a decent sized baseball diamond and out field when it wasn’t a cornfield), outdoor games like croquet and badminton, basketball, horseshoes, and water sports with hoses, squirt guns and water balloons, and just being barefoot and running through the lawn sprinklers.  My deep tan and sun-bleached hair lasted all through September.

In Junior High and High School, my interests returned to music which centered on marching band and wearing a heavy uniform in the stifling heat (just like the football players). This was offset by the new music and drills we had to learn and the sheer energy it took to accomplish all of this.  Usually it started to turn cooler at some point in the month.  Something else to look forward to in the heat.

After college I began to write arrangements for marching bands like Ohio University, University of Oklahoma, Miami University (Ohio), University of Kentucky, Morehead State, Bowling Green, and a lot of high schools in and around Ohio.  This was always meant a series of tight deadlines. Some of the writing was individual arrangements, and some was for full half-time shows.  The most satisfying at that time were the ones that were televised.  Remember when the networks used to televise the bands during the half-time?  I still miss this event. All of this could get very stressful when I was teaching high school and directing the marching band, writing arrangements, AND working night clubs six nights a week from 9:00 to 2 in the morning.  There is something to be said about being young and having boundless energy (and a type A personality).

September was definitely the month of beginnings, and everything coming together at once.  Lots of music, lots of stress, but VERY exciting!  Nice to look back on, but once is enough. Now I am content to enjoy the thought of fall and its relaxing colors, and my own September Songs.

August 5, 2013
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August Arpeggios

The summer wanes.  When I was younger all I could think of was the coming of fall and “back to school” looming ahead.  Part of this process was always buying school supplies.  Picking out notebooks, pencils, erasers, and folders was exciting, and the smell of these when they were new fascinated me.  I don’t think I was as excited by using these tools as much as being fascinated by the tools themselves.  This thinking leads to chewing on pencils, pens and erasers and actually putting pen or pencil to brand new paper.  It didn’t matter what was applied to the paper, but the act itself was most important. I suppose that learning has to start somewhere. Why not with the tools. This sort of thinking continued off and on until college when I was “freaked out” by the price of all of the large, required books and the tools themselves.  Expense always seems to trump the senses.

For my three years of high school, August meant band camp.  This was a real adventure in music, marching, and social events like games, and campfires and singing and square dancing.  Even meals were social events.  And after a week of this kind of discipline, we were all ready for the coming season of football and the half-time shows.  But, getting to this point required a lot of work.  First – learning the music, second – learning the marching routines, and then – combining the two into playing the music smoothly while marching over rough ground.  Not an easy task.  But, a week of concentrated work made this possible, and actually seem easy later when during the football season it rained (causing the field to turn to mud), or when it snowed (making the field slippery or the yard lines become invisible), or when a multitude of unforeseen incidents occurred (bringing into play a reservoir of creative thinking).  In my case this was all great preparation for a career in various aspects of music and for life in general.

In college August meant wrapping up a summer job and then looking for an apartment in Cincinnati, near to the conservatory of music, with a roommate. Once the fundamentals were once again in place, it was back to a routine of personal practice and study, school concerts and dance jobs, and exams and instrumental boards (playing exams).

August now still leads me into my favorite season of fall with its distinctive colors, and football, with its distinctive sounds and sensory input.  And, once it gives way to winter, I spend the rest of the seasons waiting once again for August, the harbinger of fall.

July 9, 2013
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July Jammin’

In the not-too-distant past, July usually started with another parade which meant marching in full, heavy, all-weather uniforms in hot, humid, muggy weather.  I believe that this is a form of torture for musicians.  At least, after the parade, the rest of the day was more casual and consequently cooler.  And, we all looked forward to a barbecue either at home or having a picnic in a park, which was preferable because it was usually cooler in a park with a wooded area.  Lots of trees and damp vegetation.  A very nice place to decompress, (and be on the look-out for poison ivy).

The rest of July was usually a lot different.  More practice on my trombone, private lessons, park concerts and, later in high school and college, playing (paying) dance jobs on the weekends.  Lots of music. And accumulating a lot of variety in experience.

But the most relaxing and satisfying part of July was always unlimited and unrestricted reading.  I have loved reading books from the time I first could go to the library and pick out books. This became a lifelong habit. Reading is a lot like breathing to me.  I can’t imagine living without it. Another habit on a hot, muggy, summer night, when the temperature stayed in the 80′s, was sleeping on the front porch swing, although I didn’t really sleep very much.  Usually I would start a book at 9 or 10:00 at night, and read by flashlight until the sun came up, when I normally finished the book. I read a lot of Zane Grey, Perry Mason, P.G. Wodehouse, and many more during the summer.  I liked to pick out an author and read all of his or her books.  Who needed TV or video games.

The reading, of course, was usually after a day at a swimming pool.  There was one within walking distance and one requiring a bus ride.  We opted most of the time for the walking, starting mid-morning and returning home for dinner at 5:00 or so, very hungry and tanned.  This was not a bad routine, but it only lasted until I got busy with more music projects in high school and then college.  But, early in life, this routine prevented “summer doldrums.”  I was never then, and never have been since, bored. I don’t even understand the concept!