Home, politics

My Undumpy White House

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As accustomed to the frequent barrage of BS from the current administration as I’m becoming, I confess to being more than a little taken aback by #45’s critique on Tuesday of his current digs; “That White House is a real dump.” Over the past 196 days, #45 has said and done some doozies, but something about dissing The White House itself, a spectacular home which is paid for by our taxes, just boggles my mind. I picture him leaving his dirty socks all over the West Wing, littering the White House with greasy fast food wrapping, the way he’s been littering our country with trashy hate-filled speech and Twitter tweets.

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The comment kept coming to mind the past couple days, until it occurred to me to consider my own concept of “home”. And I realized with a start that MY home is my body – where I live, the physical manifestation of my being – and that in the past I have been treating MY White House as “a real dump” – every time I don’t take care of it. Every time I overindulge in food or decide to stay up too late or make myself jittery with too much coffee. Every time I blow off exercise and fritter away hours window-shoppping and doing stupid puzzles online. I’m offended at #45’s lack of respect for his home because I’ve been disrespecting my own home.

I’m actually grateful for the wake-up call. I can only hope that #45 will tune in and hear himself as clearly as I am hearing him now. Because where we live is NOT a dump, unless we make it so. You don’t have to be a billionaire to figure that one out!

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self-acceptance

Embracing Limbo

No… not THAT kind of Limbo!?!  🙂

Jeff Foster was nice enough to send me the following in today’s email:

“Whatever it is, stop trying to figure it out now.
Let it remain unresolved a little while.
Stop trying to fast-forward to the ‘answer’ scene in the movie of your life;
trust the present scene of ‘no answer yet’.
Allow the question itself space to breathe and be fertilised.
Relax into the mysterious ground of Now.”

 

I’ve been in limbo professionally for quite some time; while I still think of myself as a songwriter and musician, I haven’t composed any new songs for many-a-moon and my piano-playing gigs have dried up substantially from earlier years. At times I’ve despaired that I might not have anything more to say, musically at least.

But I’m learning to trust myself because every time I’ve tried to force the issue, the results have been disappointing. Call me lazy if you like, but for the time being, I’m letting it be what it is, which is: Limbo (an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place).

 

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music biz

Old Dog, New Tricks

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Out of nowhere right before New Year’s, I was invited to play with the Tucson Symphony for a couple of Byron Stripling concerts.  He’s a very talented trumpeter who also sings and was doing a Louis Armstrong/New Orleans type of thing with the TSO in conjunction with the Tucson Jazz Festival. I was a bit hesitant because I’d never played with an orchestra, had no idea who had recommended me for the gig and I thought it might be too much work for not enough money (a trend these days!?) But then I thought, “heck, this is Tucson. How many other piano players could do it better than I could, if I put my mind to it?” and I couldn’t think of too many, so I said yes.

I picked up the music at the orchestra office and felt a bit daunted – LOTS of notes! – I’d have to actually read, and not just chord symbols! LOTS of complicated rhythmic figures and changing tempos and time signatures, due to the medley-nature of the charts. LOTS of empty bars of rests to count! (Being a pianist who usually plays club dates and private parties, I haven’t had to count bars of rests very much in my professional life – I usually just play wall-to-wall! I’m here to tell you, it’s mighty nerve-wracking to count measures of rest if you’re not used to it.)

I researched as much as I could online on Mr. Stripling – looking for YouTube videos so I could hear his patter, how some of the pieces should sound, his bio, etc. And I practiced a couple hours every day for 2 weeks with a metronome!!  Sometimes right before bed, but always at least once through the show, because some of the tunes were burners, and I was afraid I’d mess up if I didn’t have them under my fingers – (these days I don’t usually play anything that fast!!)

I felt pretty well prepared by the time of the rehearsal. That night’s concert went well, and the following day’s matinee went well, too. A couple weeks later the paycheck came in the mail. I feel pretty good that I took on something that was a bit out of my comfort zone, devoted the necessary time to learning it, and then performed pretty well! I even found out who had referred me for the gig – a percussionist I’d hired for a church gig many years ago!? (you never know, do you!?)

Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, if you’re patient and keep calm, eh?  🙂

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music biz

What You See Is What You Get

A blog platform I subscribe to recently changed its logo and got me thinking about the impact of images and slogans. Medium tried on a number of different hats before settling on their present one,

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while I actually prefer one they rejected:

M&M

which communicates the inclusive attributes towards which the site strives, a bit like a Celtic knot:

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Now, not every slogan or logo belongs in the

Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame

though some do – they’ve stood the test of time. But it can take a bit of time and effort to arrive at the logo or catchphrase that truly reflects your intentions. Like many new businesses, we copied our predecessors when starting out; Mark and I had met while working at Com/track in Chicago –

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so even though our first company logo was a bit “lawyerish”-looking, it was what we were comfortable with at the time:

orig.H:W

“just the facts, ma’am….”

The next year Mark had an idea: we had searched for a fresher identity and settled on the slogan, “The New American Jingle Classic” coupled with Grant Woods’ American Gothic –

H:WCard

HWPoster

to convey that while our company was new to the advertising community, we did have (midwestern) history and were experienced, (with good ol’ fashioned production values they could trust!  Just like these fellas here!!)

When we moved, we incorporated the American Gothic image into our new letterhead and business cards for a while:

A.G.HouseLogo

the typeface still says “lawyer” but there’s this HOUSE above it, see….

but it wasn’t very exciting to us, so when we moved back to Chicago in 1987, we looked for a new image

1987H:Wlogo

this one was okay, UNTIL….

H:W in jail

we saw what it looked like without color…. Gee! The treble clef is in JAIL!!!  Wonder what it was guilty of???

finally settling on our current one:

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UPBEAT!! On the RISE!!  (and no treble clefs were imprisoned or harmed in the creation of this logo!)

 

Contrary to Marshall McLuhan’s assertion, while the medium may be PART of the message, it doesn’t tell the whole story, IMHO. It can help create an identity, however. My cap is off to graphic artists everywhere!

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Starting Over

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The past week I’ve been working on some lyrics for a dear friend who wants to perform an Ivan Lins song but doesn’t like the English “translation” provided by the Bergmans.  It’s been a wonderful project for me, since I’m stretching and working muscles I haven’t worked seriously for almost 4 years – finding JUST the right words to convey the mixed emotions of beginning anew without resorting to clichéd old images. It’s a challenge and extremely gratifying to find the most elegant turn of phrase that also fits well with the music.

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Reworking material has never been my strong suit; I watched my dad endlessly reworking his plays and was made to read this version and then that version – as if my opinion actually mattered. I don’t have a lot of patience with the process of rewrites, even if I can perceive the improvements. (It is a bit more gratifying when you’re in the driver’s seat and making those changes on your own work, however!)

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Rewriting your own life is another matter. I came across this blog post today:

Learning From Failure In the Classroom

and was struck with the author’s willingness to really look at what wasn’t working and how he might remedy that.

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Being open to revision is a skill set I’m still working on, and it takes a great deal of patience and humility to fully grok where I’m falling down on the job and take steps to amend my path. It’s worth it, though. The best stories are those of eventual triumph over unimaginable odds:

My Big Fat Finished Marathon

to which I can only say, “Yeah!!!”  🙂

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Gaslit* at the Gaslight

*gaslit = freaked outscaredunnerved into questioning ones own sanity (Oxford).

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While I was hardly “born in a trunk”, both of my parents were theater-folk; they’d met doing shows at Syracuse University and continued to perform in plays and revues throughout my childhood. My sisters and I would “run lines” for them when they prepared for a performance, type copies of my dad’s plays for 10¢/page (pre-Xerox!) and be an enthusiastic audience while they rehearsed and performed at tiny theaters around CT.  My father had a number of his one-act plays published and even had an off-Broadway show produced in NYC in 1965. The Fourth Pig

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My first (unpaid) theater gig was playing for an awards ceremony for the Mark Twain Masquers in Hartford when I was 15, and I later earned a few shekels accompanying dance classes while at UConn. I always liked actors personally but grew impatient with the number of rehearsals they wanted to do. (we jazz musicians like to “wing it” more than some other performers!)  When I participated in the terrific ASCAP, BMI and ASK workshops, I also discovered I wasn’t too thrilled with the degree of compromise required with working in the musical theater – the endless rewrites for non-musical reasons, for example. While it can be exciting to collaborate with other talented people, the old adage of “too many cooks” DOES come into play at a certain point – usually, for me, earlier than anyone else. (Which is ironic, since I truly love musicals – I’m just not crazy about the process of creating them, I guess!?)

So I’ve resisted involvement in many theatrical endeavors, despite my high regard for most thespians. In 2008, however, I agreed to sub for the pianist at a musical melodrama theater – an extremely underpaid gig that extended almost 2 years before I had enough financial wherewithal to walk away… umm, make that RUN away! For years afterwards I told myself that it was the unreasonable demands of the music director, some of the actors and staff that had made me so miserable during that period, when every single day for 7 days a week I would dread the one or two performances I’d have to play each Sunday. It was only after I’d subbed at another musical melodrama theater that I realized that, crabby and unappreciative as the cast might have been, they hadn’t been the problem – for me, it was the job itself! Juggling last-minute changes while responding to what’s happening on the stage and always being “on!” is nerve-rattling and I just don’t have the constitution to sustain that for 2+ hours. When it comes together, you might feel like Superman…

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but when something goes wrong (as it frequently can!), there’s hell to pay, whether it’s actually your fault or not!

Technological advances and shrunken production budgets have had a dreadful impact on the current state of musical theater; to be filed under “Spinning Straw Into Gold”,

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the last gig I was hired to play seemed easy enough when I checked out the songs via YouTube videos; the score was non-challengingly melodious and traditionally orchestrated, like musicals in the 1940s-60s. When I got to the first rehearsal, it was revealed that ALL of that orchestral music, (save a solo cello, solo flute and the music director’s piano) would be MY responsibility, courtesy of a jury-rigged computer-keyboard setup with multiple pedals, sampled sounds and sheet music indicating multiple instrument changes within 2 bars – an impossible scenario for low-tech me.  I knew that there was no way I’d ever be able to perform, let alone master this part, no matter how much I practiced, so I bowed out that afternoon. I later learned that playing this particular show had reduced more than one highly skilled professional pianist to tears.

My cap is off to theater musicians – especially music directors – who are able to run the show AND make superb music doing so. They create unique magic for an audience, and they are more-often-than-not ill-compensated for their alchemy.

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…… after all, fingers take a beating, doing this sort of thing!!

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self-acceptance

The Best of Us

“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” – J.M. Barrie

“When the life you dreamed of and expected does not materialize, it isn’t over and your existence is not a failure. It is simply a different life.” – Alexander Khenkin

I really like this post re. rewriting our story as a Hero’s Quest – by Rev. Gerry – kinda turns “failure” into “success” without too much fuss and DEFINITELY without any dishonesty – thanks, Gerry!

https://revgerry.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/a-re-blog-rewrite-your-story-as-a-heros-quest-by-gerry-straatemeier/

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