October 5, 2017
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October Thoughts!

We are becoming a nation of blame.  Pointing the finger, trashing someone in the news, believing that everyone else is always at fault.  Obviously this is unhealthy. It implies a lack of responsibility.  We can see everyone else clearly, but personally we are clouded in mystery.  This is easy to see in all of our media.  Someone puts it out there, and we dump on it whether it is an idea, an act or just immobility.  This kind of constant criticism takes no thought. It is usually “off the cuff” and unsubstantiated.  As my father-in-law (PR man) was fond of saying: “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”  And compounding this is the immediacy of our ubiquitous communications.  Someone’s thought about “Whatever!” can go viral in a matter of seconds. This thought can be assimilated globally and then acted on by the reader or listener with either praise or blame.  And you can’t take it back.  You can apologize!  But you can’t take it back.  It’s out there.  You are stuck with it for life.  So where does this leave us?

How about thinking before we expound on any subject?  Checking our facts is simple now on the internet.  It takes seconds of our time.  But we have to evaluate the importance of doing this.  Is it necessary?  Do we even care?  There are only so many hours, minutes and seconds in a day.  And we take a split second to decide if we want to take the time to get information before trashing someone over an issue we feel strongly about but on which we have limited information.  The issue itself versus our limited time.  This begs the question: Are we forgetting how to think?  Is this bad habit infecting our children?  Or do we just cop-out and blame someone else for any, or even all, of our mistakes and misjudgments?  So far we have blaming and thinking.  One is instantaneous the other takes our precious time.  What makes the difference?

Character. Class.  Integrity.  Responsibility.  Self-reliance. All of these make a profound difference in our lives and the lives of others.  We need thoughtful opinions, and thought should be a complete circle.  No gaps.  So how do we learn to actually think clearly?  First of all we must pull back from the chaos of the maddening crowd and learn to be alone.  And once alone, there is a possibility that we can develop a train of thought that is organized and cohesive and unaffected by the popular ideas of the moment.  This pulling back doesn’t need to be extensive, it can be minutes or even seconds.  Flashes of clear thinking don’t need great length, just adequate space to live and grow.

This space can be created by music.  But the music must have some kind of value attached whether it is vocal or instrumental.  There are many styles which have music which can enable clear thinking.  Classical, jazz, country, independent styles, all have sounds that can be thought provoking and have structure, not just be filled with propaganda or brain-washing loops.  Also needed is depth in the lyrics, not mind-numbing hooks that propagandize your thinking.  So choose wisely, be discriminating, and wake up your brain with musical interest, not wallpaper which causes the brain to atrophy.  Sing a different song, march to a different drummer, make your own kind of music, and listen to sounds that are not part of the problem.  Return to ground zero and be aware and listen!   Wisely!

September 13, 2017
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September Awakenings

It is always frustrating to me that the baseball season goes on for so long and the football season is so short.  Baseball wears out its welcome and football leaves you wanting more. I’m sure that there is a message in this unevenness, but I have never found it.  Just frustration, and there are quite enough frustrations in life without adding this to them.  Both sports are supposed to be games, but I think that really they are obsessions.  Habits that start at birth and continue throughout our lives, sometimes unnoticed.  Addiction might be a word also used to describe the hold that these games, and others, have on most of us. Actually obsessions and addictions are with all of us throughout our lives.  We just deal with them in different ways and call them by different names.  Habits.  Predisposition to whatever.  Genetics.  In our DNA.  An inheritance from our ancestors, etc.  All euphemisms for being on a merry-go-round with something.  Is this why so many people get hooked on drugs which are by their nature habit forming?  Are we that easily lead?  Whatever the answer is to this problem, the problem itself has been around for a long, long time.

It is this predisposition that has gotten many societies in trouble when they are easily lead by someone with promises whether outlandish or vaguely possible.  The promises are usually about the ideal, the utopia, world peace, and anything and everything based on wishful thinking.  And these are not necessarily bad in themselves.  It is when they are mandated that they become dysfunctional. When enough people become seduced with idealism, the herd factor takes effect.  Everyone must follow the mandate or else, and it is this “or else” that becomes the flypaper that binds until it is too late to change.  There can be nothing worse than waking up to reality when you are stuck in the flypaper and someone else has the flyswatter.  If you like to read history, there are examples too numerous to mention to illustrate this point.  A very few societies have awakened in time to fight the seduction and the inherent mandate before it was to late to change.  Most haven’t, and at that point there always has been and always will be blood and violence as the only way to bring back reason and rationale.  Think for a moment about the traps and seductions that we now deal with on a daily basis.

Technology.  The computer, the world wide web, phones that connect globally in an instant, television (a window into almost everything), even transportation.  What does all of this have in common?  Communication and control.  And this is the seduction.  Communication is good and ideal, and also fraught with promises.  But with all of the above comes control.  Not by the user even with a password, but by the leader.  Keep in mind that the leader is not necessarily the government or any section of the government.  With the kind of technology that we now own, it actually owns us.  Anyone could be the leader, insulated by layers of digitation.  Once in place, the person or persons only has to operate the invisible puppet strings for everyone to dance to.  And by then it is far too late to do anything but lament.  Demonstrating, marching, carrying signs, tweeting, or destruction of property are all ineffective and infantile wasting of time.

Will music of any kind help to prevent any of the above?  Music initially is a good part of the problem.  It goes hand in hand with obsessions and addictions.  But it can also communicate on a global scale with a power strong and enduring enough to prevent mass control of societies.  There have been times when musical styles were the outlaw against tyranny.  The underground voice of reason of downtrodden people and whole populations.  Currently it is a good part of the problems we now face.  But by using the very technology that can be dysfunctional, even evil, music has the power to make great and extensive changes.  In the right hands.  And now is the time for music to wake itself up and find ways of preventing the potential disasters that loom ahead.  The media has lost its credibility and its power.  Music hasn’t.  Yet.  Wake up now and actually listen to the words that are being pounded incessantly and hypnotically into our brains and the undeveloped brains of our children.  Insist that it clean up and straighten up.  The only thing that really counts in music today is numbers.  If you use these as leverage, music can and will change and cease to be part of the problem.  Rock on and on and on…!

August 16, 2017
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August Almost

August is a transitional month. It is situated between summer and fall. No school, then back to school. The heat of summer followed by an eventual cool-down.  And like the other two months of summer, August slides by very quickly.  All of a sudden we are all experiencing fall with all of the holidays looming ahead.

I faintly remember way back in my childhood when time seemed to drag.  Everything was slow.  The summer was long and hot.  Fall was cool and far away.  Each school day took forever and each month, semester and year was like dealing with infinity.  What happened?  When and why did things change so drastically?  Were the days longer?  Were clocks slower?  Probably the answer was yes, at least in my mind.  There was very little to create blocks of dedicated time.  Time allotted to fixed projects and responsibilities.  The flow of life connected to a clock.

I suppose that this change in time is part of growing up and maturing.  Living a life that is now controlled by segments of time pasted to our collective consciousness.  This begins somewhere in our schooling when we start having homework, taking lessons of all kinds and having commitments that we can’t avoid.  It’s called responsibility.  This is what causes our time to speed up and eventually get out of control.  And these responsibilities and commitments start to build up and increase as we grow, and if we are not careful, they take over our lives.  We have to learn to live with them and even control them just to keep our sanity and our health in some kind of balance.

How do we lose track of time and escape its control?  Music!  Music can take us to different places and different times.  Music itself is based on time, but it can be flexible time.  And it is this kind of time that can relieve us temporarily of burdens that we carry that are seemingly inescapable. We live in an era where music is everywhere.  Almost any kind of music is available.  We just have to remember to take advantage of its power and its magic.  At home. In a car.  Using headphones. Etc.

So get back at time.  Listen to music and take control of your life.  Widen your tastes and appreciation of styles both old and new.  And just maybe this enjoyment will help you to live longer.  For starters check out Bach, Beethoven, Benny Goodman, Benny Green and the “Bohemian Rhapsody!”

July 10, 2017
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July Mentalibrium

It is so difficult to remain in the moment.  Our lives are so full of distractions that any thoughts which contain any continuity are being constantly derailed, making it more difficult to return to the original moment of clarity.  This is the current meaning of the term “mentally disturbed,” and we are all mentally disturbed for a good part of our lives.  Thrown off balance, mentally buffeted and battered. Society forces this upon us, and the resulting effect is to make us and people in general “crazy.”  All of us.  We all may look okay on the outside but our interiors need help. And “shrinks” of all types help us only minimally because they, like the rest of us, are mentally challenged for the same reasons and maybe even more so than the average person because of their proximity to the problem.  So if our compasses are not pointed north at the same time, this is obviously causing some great and fundamental problems.

Negotiations of all kinds are potentially uneven because the parties are pointed in different directions making it difficult to arrive at sensible agreements.  Families suffer when parents are at different mental levels and children begin to bounce up and down and back and forth mentally, making communication and education difficult, if not impossible, because the communication vectors are rarely connecting.  One wonders at times who the role models are.  Are they the parents or the children?  And even this changes as age becomes a factor and we grow together or apart.

The workplace is another example of uneven communication and lack of polarity.  Some degree of polarity is necessary for a company to run smoothly when most of the time it is flawed, interrupting what should be common goals.  Employees and administration alike are affected by too much caffeine, problems at home, hormones, lack of sleep, etc.  Schools are prime examples of mental disparity.  Students and teachers alike have the same problems staying on, and in, the same subject matter.  All are carrying around loads of baggage, and it is this baggage that interferes  with the mental freedom that should let us all sift through information in a particular subject and retain what is useful or even valuable.

So how do we cope with this problem of a common mental balance?  What gives us a helping hand with which to stay even and moving forward with purpose and stability?  Religion?  Sometimes…!  It could be very effective if it were concise and stable and ubiquitous.  But there are too many permutations that cause even more distractions and mental confusion.  This might be one of the causes of the drop-out factor in most church-goers in all of our different faiths.  So, again, what is the most helpful factor in reigning us in from being crazy as a society?

In a word…Music!   Music tends to straighten out our bent and broken vectors and can reset our polarity.  Music helps us to think, and think straight ahead with a common rhythm.  This being the case, music may be the only salvation not only of our society, but of our civilization.  And, best of all, there are styles, melodies, harmonies and rhythms to fit almost everyone.  But we must listen!  And we must re-start the musical training and listening in our schools so that as each student grows, the benefits of music listening grow with them so that when they become teens and then adults all are increasingly less mentally disturbed and able to think creatively and analytically and actually move our society and our civilization forward.

So let us all listen to music.  Really listen to the content whether vocal or instrumental.  Listen for our mental health! And survive…!

June 13, 2017
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May into June

Spring into summer!

May was a crowded month for me, so it seemed like “all of a sudden” it was June and I still hadn’t written my blog.  My ideas were channeled elsewhere.  Even worse, I just noticed that the same thing is happening now, halfway through June.  Spring is about to become summer.   Again!  And, so, in my present planning I am looking at fall, then winter, and then spring again.  I’m chasing my tail, and this process seems to be going faster and faster.  And I can only hang on tighter and tighter.

Slowing down is not easy.  Unless something happens and you are no longer here.  Then, of course, there is no scheduling, no deadlines, and no days or weeks or months crowding together.  Everything just stops.  Then what?   It is very difficult to think of your own mortality when you are wound up tightly and stressed to the max.  So these thoughts get shoved farther and farther down the ever present list.  Then what?   We keep up our insane schedules as usual and ignore the inevitable. Bury our collective heads in the sand.

How about a compromise?  A little of this and a little of that.  This sounds good and it works for a while, but then we tend to slip right back into our well-practiced and now ingrained routines.  How about retirement?  I’ve heard rumors of this and the effects of getting even busier, or conversely bored or just slipping away.  Personally, I would rather keep doing what I am doing until I drop in my tracks.  Boredom is not my style.  So what is the take-away from this sobering train of thought?

No matter how busy you are, it is better to move forward rather than stand still.  Especially since the rest of the world does not stand still.  Forward may mean inches or feet or yards or miles, but forward is definitely the answer.  Life in this way is a lot like music.  Music always moves forward.  It has no choice.  It exists in time and space.  If it stops it is no longer music but silence.  What a horrible thought!

So listen!  And live!  And when the music stops at least you can say  “I was never bored.”  And this is just about as close to experiencing happiness as is possible in this lifetime.  Doing what you like. Following your passion.  So move forward and listen.

“Don’t worry, be happy!”  Thanks, Bobby.  RIP…


April 21, 2017
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March Into April

Well, I blew it with March.  I wasn’t able to even think, let alone write a coherent blog. So here it is with the last week of April approaching and I am just beginning to write again.

During the whole of March I was sick.  Heart, lungs, stenosis in my neck, a bad cold and/or flu and, of course, my hand.  I had to take water pills to get rid of fluid around my lungs which worked, but made frequent trips to the bathroom a necessity.  My neck was very painful, and limited in motion from side to side and up and down.  We tried codeine – I was allergic to it. Then a higher dose of valium which didn’t work, then vicodin which mad the pain at least manageable.  Next my therapy picked up again to restore mobility in my hand which was ravaged by a cranky cat.  And finally, since my heart was beating very irregularly at 130 bpm, I ended up having a cardio-version at the end of March.  The doctor sort of “jump starts” the heart with an electric pulse which is supposed to lower the heart rate and make it regular again.  It did, and by this time my cold was gone, so life was returning in time for the Easter rush.

April to me is Easter.  I prepare and rehearse the music for five services and supervise the other services to make sure everything is in place and ready to go for Holy Week and Easter Sunday.  Thankfully I was now well enough, though somewhat weak, to accomplish these tasks.  Every year I look forward to the day after Easter, “decompression Monday.”  And, by a series of miracles, I made it!  So this week I am cleaning up my desk, tables, floor, and every place that had music piled high upon it.  Little by little things are getting back to normal during “decompression week.”  Once again life returns. Now I can get back to my usual routine of preparations and rehearsals, writing and arranging, and, hopefully to my next CD that I am roughly two months behind on.

There is a definite similarity between the Easter theme of Resurrection and daily life returning.  For me, both involve musical themes.  There is hope, there is love, there is the work of discovering new ways of configuring notes and rhythms and styles.  Much of the time like working a giant puzzle.  You don’t know what you have until it is all together and finished.

So now we look forward to May with its holidays and gardening and warmth.  And yet again we get to sing and invent new songs and music.  We need to sing more. People don’t sing naturally any more for happiness or just the love of it.  Pause a while and think about this (while humming  a tune) and consider the joy of what you are doing.

February 3, 2017
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February – Open & Shut

I found myself on the defensive once again in a conversation with my wife.  This was not really contentious but merely an after dinner conversation.  I was for the umpteenth time supposed to remember something that was planned or had happened or was going to happen that we had talked about recently.  But once again I had no clue about the incident.  My mind was a blank.  This has mystified me for a while now because it  has become a regular occurrence.  Things that I should know, but don’t, won’t resurface into my consciousness unless I really concentrate on a particular time, event or conversation. And this requires a key word or event or date which I rarely have.

Just recently I was talking with someone else about writing and arranging music. I said casually that when a piece that I had worked on for maybe weeks or months or even years, and that I knew intimately was finished, and I went to work on another piece for another period of time, I totally and completely forgot the previous piece. This allowed me to completely concentrate on the new piece without the interference or distraction of the previous themes or keys or structures that might cause confusion.  I believe that this has allowed me to stay mentally balanced or even sane.

When I started writing and arranging for bands in the middle 50s, I wrote constantly.  I filled music pads and folders with ideas.  My school notes were filled with musical doodles which I would try out on our piano when I got home.  When these ideas were more formed, I tried them out at rehearsals with small bands and bigger bands that I was playing dances with.  My notebooks kept my ideas organized.  Everything was there for my referrals.  But when I started arranging for more bands in the 60s I fell into a new process.  There was no time for notebooks.  My mind had to keep things organized.  I was writing for dance bands, sometimes whole books of 30 – 40 songs. I was writing arrangements for jazz and stage bands for high school and college concerts and events. And I was writing for high school and college marching bands and the occasional drum and bugle corps.  Eventually I did over 40 pieces for publication for all of the above bands and ensembles including a tuba sextet.

After college I took a position as band director at a small high school in Ohio.  I became immediately aware that the arrangements that I was buying did not always work for me. They were rarely the current songs that I wanted to perform.  So I started arranging the most popular songs of the day for my band, then other high schools, and then colleges.  At first I was doing just single arrangements of pop music from the radio. Then I started doing entire halftime shows which had a theme or some kind of continuity.  At my peak in the summer when everyone was preparing for their fall shows, I was doing 3 or 4 arrangements a day just to keep up with the deadlines.  Ultimately I did over 500 arrangements of deadline work until the demand came to rest in the late 70s.

The only way that my mind could process all of this work was to “shut the door” on each previous arrangement.  I would completely block it out of my consciousness.  When I wanted to return, I had to revisit the arrangement itself.  How else could I do 10 or 12 arrangements of MacArthur Park or a Chicago or Beatles song that everyone wanted, and keep them all different?  So closing the door on previous information became a lifelong habit, and a lifesaver for my mind. And closing the door on previous projects has also helped me in doing work of any kind, but particularly work involving a mass of material or schedules, events, etc.  This has saved my mind and my life.

On the other hand, closing the door can be very inconvenient when my wife asks me about an event that has happened or is going to happen and I don’t have a clue what she is talking about because I have closed that door.  Because, (and here is the kicker), I finally figured out that marriage is an “open door” commitment………  And implementing this means that:  “Our Love is Here to Stay!”

January 5, 2017
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January Jabberwocky

January is not really an important month, but it is the first month of the calendar year.  That makes it the beginning of a new tax year, the start of another quarter, the reason we buy new calendars, and the time when I get another flu shot and begin a new cold with sinus draining, sniffles, coughing, and just feeling lousy.  This does not recommend January as the exciting new start of anything useful, except to get through it as quickly as possible (AQAP).

Contemplating a cold brings the worst foreboding of all to anyone who sings.  It means that you have no control over your voice, and its normal sound. The notes that should issue don’t always cooperate and with the addition of a stuffy head, everything sounds different and “off” anyway.  Nothing good can come of this.  Your work can come to a halt and your normal routine becomes nonexistent.  It seems that there is nothing to do but wait it out. Or else be proactive and attack the cold.  Go after it with everything possible.

There are so many cold remedies that the mere thought can bring on a major headache.  Start with the things we used when we were young, the natural cures.  Vicks, herbal tea, echinacea, whiskey, cough medicines of all kinds, heating pads, inhalers, pills, and almost any combination of the above ingredients have been recommended and used for generations.  Sometimes some of them work, and sometimes they don’t work.  It always seems to take the same amount of time to get through the cold whether we medicate or not.

So exactly how do we wait out the cold?  One way is just to feel miserable, and cough and sneeze and plod along as if everything were normal.  And make everyone else sick who is near to you.  This is the “misery loves company” approach.  No one likes either you or this approach.  The most humane alternative is to take some time off from whatever kind of work that you do.  Your co-workers appreciate this, but it can become very annoying to whomever is stuck at home with you.  Coughing, sneezing, watching TV and expecting service doesn’t last very long.  But doing this while reading a book in a spare bedroom with the door closed might work better for awhile.  Or checking into a hotel.  Alone time with your misery seems to be the answer that works for everyone around you.

So at last you are alone with your miserable cold.  Now what works?  Books, music, television, phone, iPad, iPod, etc?  All of these are short term fixes. There is really only one answer.  Sleep.  And plenty of fluids.  Dreaming is good.  But be careful of ear worms.  They can be devastating when you are already miserable.  So, take a drowsy pill and try for dreamless sleep.  Not only will you be happy when this is all over, but you will still have your friends, coworkers, and your marriage.  So the light at the end of the tunnel for me seems to be February.  And looking forward to Valentine’s Day.

December 1, 2016
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December’s Family

December in my mind is actually a composite of holidays which extend from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Day.  It is a corpulent month filled with many things, but especially family.  The traditional get-togethers are Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner and New Year’s dinner with all of the traditional foods we prepare and eat.  The family is close together for each of these holidays and it is this concentration of personalities that can cause friction in even the happiest of situations. I realize that not all families exist this way, but in my younger years, mine did.  And, I must say, it was never boring.  As a means of self-preservation I developed a “fight or flight” attitude.  But mostly it was flight, meaning: always plan for a quick exit no matter where you are.

A more normal attitude during these holidays is to relax and talk or work puzzles, or reminisce and catch up on nostalgia with anyone who will listen.  Words like celebrate, commiserate, re-connect or re-hash come to mind rather than annoy or pile onto the weak. There are many different styles and traditions, but all during this time involve family.

Family is where ideas are sorted out and either trashed or passed down through the ages. Ideally, we build bridges when there has been separation.  We heal.  We pray together before meals.  We acknowledge growth and the passage of time.  We listen. We offer opinions for discussion with acceptance or rejection.  Then at some point the general volume is raised to near deafening because everyone is talking at once.  And, at last, because of the large meals and desserts, the volume decreases as one by one everyone drops off to sleep.  The only ones who avoid this are those who are watching a football game.  Nothing deters an avid fan of the game.

However this plays out in the individual situation, the most important part of each get-together is the family itself coming together and re-connecting and perpetuating its own ideas and feelings of love through each generation.  The family is the basis of our love.  And love is the acceptance of each individual no matter how “over the top” or “out in left field” he or she has become.  Unconditional love, however, is reserved for the immediate family.

So as we near the middle of this season and the month of December, let us think more deeply than usual.  There are many who are disconnected and have no family, and consequently no love.  There are many reasons for this unfortunate situation, but the result is always the same when there is no love – depression, and a yearning for the things that someone else has. Let’s try to help these souls in some way before they get to this last resort. Everyone benefits from love. Most of our popular songs tell us this is so.

So the next time you meet someone in need who is without love, sing to them.  And then run as fast as you can.  Not everyone likes to be sung to.  Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! And have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

November 1, 2016
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November Sliding

November is a very slippery month.  It has been for as long as I can remember.  All of the major holidays are ahead, and Halloween has just occurred.  Now Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Day are looming ahead.  It seems as if time itself is suddenly tilted and we are collectively sliding toward the New Year with no control.  This is the reason for stores, magazines, etc,to begin to overlap their decorations.  There is very little time between the holiday events.

When I was young and still in elementary school, the time went very slowly between holidays.  Much too slow.  The waiting was maddening.  I suppose that my mind was so uncluttered that this was all I had to think about.  This is, of course, unimaginable now. Everyone’s mind seems to be cluttered.  If our thoughts were visible as flowers, we would all probably look like large peony bushes.  I wonder if the ideal mind at this point in time would be somewhere between cluttered and uncluttered.  Maybe a chia plant growing from our heads.

This year even more clutter than usual has come from a very important presidential election.  The commercials and advertising have been out of control for months and months, an inescapable daily input, like vines growing everywhere which threaten to strangle everyone and everything.  Election Day is important, and everyone who can, should vote, but I look forward to the day after Election Day.  All of the vines disappear.  Television commercials are just about Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there is an exciting feeling of anticipation of holiday madness, a time when we collectively lose our sanity and drain our checkbooks and fill our credit cards.  This is the yearly price of anticipation and excitement.  And beware.  This can be habit forming.

So, as we slide mindlessly toward the New Year, let us hold on to the one little bit of sanity left in our holiday confusion: music.  Music for all of the holidays will be playing everywhere starting now.  Either enjoy it or use your iPad headphones and enjoy anything you carry around with you.  But listen and hang on to your sanity through your favorite vibrations and frequencies.  And slide carefully into 2017 keeping control of your plastic, your sanity, and your tax deductions…!