Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.20- Playing Together

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

◦ Steve Carlton was one of the premier pitchers of the 1960s to 1980s. In 1972, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Carlton had a win-loss record of 27-10 and a remarkable earned run average of 1.97. When Carlton did not pitch, the team was 32-87. No pitcher in the twentieth century has won as high a proportion of his team's victories (45.8%).
◦ In 2016 Brian Dozier had 42 home runs, the best of his career. He was tied for 3rd in major league baseball. His team, the Minnesota Twins floundered at the bottom of the league.

As great and wonderful as these statistics are for the individual player, they show something else. It is very difficult for a team to make it if they only have one great player. Carlton, Dozier, and others like them stand out because they have a great deal of talent that can surpass the teams they play with. But the team needs more than they are capable of giving.

I thought of this again as I looked at those four things we as musicians are supposed to pay attention to:
  • Music was #1
  • Fellow musicians #2
  • The audience is #3 and
  • You, the individual musician, are #4.
In other words, it isn’t all about me. It is “us.”

Jason Bergman, in the October 2016 Journal of the International Trumpet Guild, interviewed the trumpet section of the Dallas Symphony. Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet said,
You know, a principal player is only as good as the section. Specifically, he’s as good as the second trumpet allows him to be. It’s always up to Kevin how well I’m going to do. I always trust Kevin and know that any time I sound good it’s because he’s right there with me. (ITG Journal, October, 2016, p. 90)
Music is #1, but who you are playing alongside is #2. In order to perform the best that you can, and do justice to the music itself, you have to be aware of what the other musicians are doing. You have to know your place in the piece and your role in the group. I said earlier this season that a composer writes a fourth part for a reason- she wants a fourth part; it does something for the music. Whatever part you are playing can seriously impact the other other musicians, the music, what the audience hears, and finally your own feelings about what you are doing. See how all four of those fit together?

It happened to me again on Christmas. The quintet was playing a really fun and exciting piece as our final prelude number. Somewhere, somehow about 8 measures into the piece I had a very brief moment when I defocused. My ADD had a “squirrel” moment. In a piece like that, even a brief mini-second is enough to get lost. I got lost. Because it was a newer number I was not as clued into the whole sound of the group as I could be. It was not a big disaster, but it was enough. For about 16 or so measures the group was relatively lost. The congregation listening to us might have just thought that it was a kind of weird arrangement. As a group, though, we had some difficulty getting back together until what was obviously a transition point in the piece.

It ended well. The brass accompaniment to the opening and closing hymns was superb. No one but us will probably ever remember the prelude falling apart. But I re-learned several things in the process:

1. Focus is essential. Maintaining it can be tough. I have come to realize that a significant part of what used to be “performance anxiety” has become more like the inability to stay focused. I can get distracted by a movement in the audience. I don’t usually get distracted by my own thoughts, although it does happen. When I think of it as “performance anxiety” then I do get distracted by myself. But it is usually that other movement. It is one of the things I must work on. I am better, but I am still working on it.

2. Rehearsal is essential. As we have heard, practice is for us to learn our part; rehearsal is to learn how our part fits with everyone else’s. Obviously I have gotten lost before in a performance. (See #1). In a number of our pieces we all know the piece well enough to get back without a train wreck. For me, this incident showed how important those rehearsals are for the sound of the whole group together! If I know my part well enough, I can then stay focused at rehearsal and know the rest of the parts.

3. Don’t panic. I have learned not to react when I get defocused. When I was younger I tended to feel like the world had just fallen apart and was only going to get worse. It is impossible to regain any focus when that happens. The fight or flight syndrome will automatically kick in. Mindfulness, stress reduction, centering can then be used to stop the panic. With enough practice of doing this when panic isn’t happening, just a quick breath, switch in thought, or some internal cue can being things back to center.

4. Listen. When I am no longer on the edge of some form of panic, self-induced or other, I can take a moment and hear what’s happening. If my time in rehearsal has been effective, I can more easily find my way back to where I’m supposed to be. The feel of the piece, the forward movement of the song, the groove at work will guide me in the right direction.

5. Get focused again. With all things back in place- or heading in that direction, it’s back to focus and move on. The music regains its #1 place, I am in tune with the other musicians (#2), the audience gets to hear the music (#3), and I’m in the right place in my head. (#4)

It takes longer to write or read this than it does for it to happen. Like all else in what we are doing, we need to develop the skills. Next week I will look at some of the ways we can learn and develop those skills. That is important since performance is not the only place where we can get defocused, lost in our thoughts, issues, problems, or stress.

How we do anything can become how we do everything!

Monday, January 16, 2017

In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 This week, perhaps more than in any year since Dr. King died:

The work continues, 
the truth marches on.

(Lyrics by Julia Ward Howe, 1861,
in support of the Union forces in the Civil War.)

At the End of the Road- For Now

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dark Night of the Soul #3: An Earlier Experience

My only previous experience of a dark night-type experience was over 30 years ago now. Details have become foggy, but it all began with a premonition. I envisioned a war in the Middle East during August of 1982. About two years earlier, in 1980, I had been asked to choose hymn verses and write prayers for our denominational devotional, The Daily Texts. I was assigned August 1982. As I read through the daily scriptures for the month I found myself growing afraid. They seemed to indicate that a war was coming in the Middle East. This idea got planted firmly in my conscious and unconscious mind.

This was only enhanced in November 1980 when I hosted a trip to Israel. Among the group who traveled with me were several people who believed that the Second Coming was imminent. An important part of that view is war in the Middle East. They spent a great deal of time talking about that as we toured the country. They almost seemed more interested in that than in the religious and spiritual aspects of the trip. The visit to Har Megiddo (Armageddon) was particularly difficult!

One afternoon I had some free time and I went to one of the hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem and sat there meditating, contemplating and praying. I could envision fighter jets flying over the walls of the Old City. My overactive imagination did its thing. It cemented the fear and uncertainty I was feeling. It remained there when I returned home. A few months after the trip our daughter was born. Now there was more reason to fear and worry.

I lost many nights sleep over the next 18 months. I didn’t talk about it to anyone for months. It was a constant presence in my thoughts, under the surface at times, but always bubbling up in the night. I became interested in St. John of the Cross and his writing at that point, but was unable to truly connect it with what I was going through. Nothing I did seemed to ease the tension. I began trying to figure out how to survive the coming war. It was no longer located in the Middle East in my imagination. It had become World War III. We owned a vacation place in the wilds of northern Pennsylvania so I decided that this would be as good a place as any to survive such a war. I planned that we would go there for the month of August. I never explained why.

I did go to see a pastoral counselor at one point. All he did was make it worse. “It must be something to have that ability at premonition,” was the only comment I remember. Not a help. I don’t think he was being sarcastic. Ironic, maybe. I did finally talk to my wife about it, but by then I was overwhelmed and just looking forward to getting past August. I knew it was crazy, but it was still alive.

Needless to say nothing happened. August 1982 came and went. I went back to “normal” life- or so I thought. Looking back from 35 years later I see that something else happened. It was but the beginning of a longer dark night that took another six years to finish. During this time my use of alcohol increased significantly. I would go up to our vacation place by myself. I would spend days alternating between drinking myself drunk at night and working on sermon and worship planning during the days. Days were productive; nights were hell. I would find renewal in the daylit woods and writing but the darkness would bring the demons. It is not an unusual pattern for a deepening alcoholic. I didn’t realize it was happening and even had trouble describing it several years later when faced with the outcome. But I tried something- in July 1984 we moved from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin.

Geographic escapes don’t work any better than any other actions of denial. The darkness was deepening and I was oblivious to the problems. A number of other personal and emotional storms began to develop. I began to question my own direction, desires, calling. I was outwardly doing well; inwardly I was falling apart. And no one knew it. Least of all myself. Can I blame it on the inability to identify the dark night of the early 1980s? Could it have been avoided if I had taken a different approach before it reached these stages?

No, I don’t think so. One of the difficulties of becoming spiritually mature and insightful is that you have to be old enough to have had the necessary experiences. Premature maturity is truly an oxymoron. The darkness at the beginning of that decade was the start of the dark night. It was setting the stage for what was to come. Through the mid-1980s I struggled with an inner darkness. I thought there had to be light shining somewhere in there; in truth I was fooling myself since I was looking for answers in my own understanding. I was refusing to allow the spirit touch my soul, although I knew that I wanted it.

My drinking expanded. It was a classic binge drinking pattern. It was easy to binge when I was away from home. I would go to conferences and hide in my room at night. I would visit friends in New York and make sure I had enough to drink when I was alone in what I called my “monk’s cell” in their apartment. I would walk the streets of New York with loneliness in the midst of eight million people. I was lost in my own darkness and unable to see the dark night St. John talked about.

Until finally, in late 1988 I had my own epiphany. I had become an alcoholic. I needed help. I entered treatment. Part of me expected it to be an escape. It turned into freedom. I thought it would be a way out of the inner hell I had created. Instead it became a way through that hell. It was a true dark night for in reality the night that John describes is an awareness of- and acceptance of- powerlessness and personal unmanageability in all areas of one’s life. Which is, of course, the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. I wouldn’t have used the words from John’s first stanza at that time. I do now!

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
--oh, happy chance!--
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
John describes this first stanza of the dark night as purging the lower self- the sensual self. In my years of sobriety and work as a substance abuse counselor, I would say that this is a good way to describe the work of the first three steps of AA. That purging or “housecleaning” is then described in steps four through nine. It is necessary. Most addicts and alcoholics have been hijacked by the senses and feelings of the “pleasure center” of the brain. Or rather, their chemical use has hijacked that area and turned their lives into hell. There is a constant search in the bottle or the pills, the weed or the next line, to get rid of the thoughts and feelings that seem to never go away.
—Oh, happy chance!— 
 that I was able to go forth and discover, in the midst of darkness, the light that shines in that darkness.

I could spend many days putting the dark night and early recovery together, which is not the purpose of this particular series. When I started this discussion of the dark night and how I have come to approach the current political and cultural issue I did not expect it to go this direction. I did not- and do not- have the whole thing outlined and ready for “prime time.” It is through my times of writing that these things work out. As I wrote the first two posts I realized that, for me, this is part of a longer and more profound journey. In putting this together I am describing my pilgrimage and its present location. I do not believe that this is unique to me. The language I use in the telling is mine but the experiences are far more common than not.

Within the next week we will have a new president. The divisiveness, anger, fear, and even hatred shown in the campaign and transition period was what spurred this series. There are times when I see a post on Facebook or a news story about some particularly difficult event that I get this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. Anxiety builds; darkness seems to be more prevalent. It doesn’t appear as if that is going away any time soon. For today, and at least the next few weeks, the question is how do I live and grow through this? The Dark Night remains the best paradigm for me to work from.

In the next post I will delve more deeply into the path the dark night takes us on. John is very clear about what that is and why. I will utilize my experience of the Twelve Steps in that, but it is not about alcoholism or addiction. It is about the spiritual journey. John states that the goal of this journey into the dark night is
the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that the purpose of the twelve Steps is the same, though in different words-
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps… and to practice these principles in all our affairs. [emphasis added]

Some Road Songs for the Week #1

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Some Quick Thoughts on Ethics

Over the past years I have developed into a kind of ethics "consultant", workshop leader, and a champion of ethical behavior. While mine has been in the health care field ever since I was in grad school in the early 90s, I am very aware of the wide-branching of ethics - and its lack in our society. A friend of mine has commented that many of the big problems we have faced over the past couple decades (or more) are due to the fact that we don't teach or talk about ethics.

Actually, I am not sure we ever have. Or at least we have never connected ethical behavior with day to day life. We allow ethics to kind of hang out in the cosmos with no clear application. Instead we take the position that the "ends justify the means." (Actually that is an official ethical principle, albeit one that I generally find hard to justify.) In any case, we have certainly heard a great deal about "ethics" in recent weeks with the election of Mr. Trump. Those who held Mr. Obama to high ethical standards are now ignoring the low ethical standards of Mr. Trump. 

His seeming unwillingness to follow certain legal issues- or spinning them into irrelevance (son-in-law as Sr. Advisor; not divesting things that could be conflict of interest) or just moving past them as if they didn't exist (I got elected. Now I don't have to show my tax returns.)

Ethics is a tough field to explain, expand on, and get people to understand. "So what," some might say, "if he's honest we don't have to worry. If everything comes out all right, well, ethics be damned." Until of course it's someone you disagree with. Round and round and round it goes.

Instead we get into heated arguments about celebrities making statements while ethics is set aside. Or we get the President-elect raising other issues instead of his personal ethics. (CNN is "fake news" so I don't have to answer their reporter's question.)

I will end this brief discussion quite simply:

  • If we ignore ethics, we are doomed to be taken advantage of; if not by Trump, then by the next one who will follow the precedent.
  • If we ignore ethics, or follow the "ends justify the means" thinking, we leave ourselves open to follow the whims and ideologies of whoever happens to think they are in charge this time.
  • If we ignore ethics, we are ultimately ignoring the role of oversight of our elected officials, something the Founders would shudder at.

Just some quick thoughts, as I sit and watch in uncertainty and disbelief that this is really happening right here. Under our noses.

And we are letting it happen. 

Hence I continue to wrestle with my dark night.

Some Road Songs for the Week #4

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.19- As Simple As...

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

It is one of my favorites of Mr. Baca’s insights from the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop:
Make everything sound like "Mary Had A Little Lamb." A 3-year old can sing it without thinking about it. Put the rhythm on the board for a new player and they will struggle with it.

And we all know it’s true.
  • All those black marks on the page are intimidating.
  • All those sharps or flats? No way!
  • Look at the tempo marking. Are they kidding?
  • How am I ever going to get that down in time for the concert?
Excuses, excuses, excuses. But they work. We don’t ever learn it like we could. We don’t take the time to practice like we need to. We continue to assume that it is too hard because we think it’s too hard and therefore it remains too hard.

No, this is not another post on practicing. That’s still a few weeks away. It is another post reminding us to keep ourselves in the right balance with the right kind of goals. It is a reminder that just practicing any old thing will just get us any old someplace- or nowhere near where we want to be.

Last week in looking at planning for the new year I wrote:
  • We start something by taking the necessary steps to get there.
  • We have to know where we want to go.
  • We then create opportunities then things happen.
  • We follow our interests and take risks.
One of those places we want to go is to make everything as natural as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (or "Twinkle, Twinkle.") No matter what the piece is that we are working on, it is the feel of the natural that we want. I used to joke when I heard a trumpet player do something extraordinary that “those notes aren’t in my trumpet.” I was trying to be funny. But I was also trying to make a feeble excuse for myself. If they aren’t in my trumpet then I don’t have to work on them or learn to play them. Simple? Yes. But also self-defeating. It ’s almost like saying:
“My goal is to be as mediocre as I feel I am. I want to continue to suck at being a trumpet player.”
The website, Cyber PR posted last year on ideas for setting musical goals. They suggested a few steps:
  • Find your focus areas (You are creating a sense of order)
  • Write the goals down. (Journals, paper or virtual, are a great idea.
    • Start with an easy goal and do it on a timeline
    • Keep moving by keeping lists for each goal
    • Look at the goals daily
    • Look for people to help you achieve the goals- your “team”
    • Plan for the time to do what you want
So, after writing that I came up with my focus list for musicians to consider. I wrote them in the first person since they are my way of finding some focus.
  • Listen to the kind of music I want to know or play better, which is (or should be) basically all music
  • Take time to sing
  • Find my weak spots
  • Develop a plan to improve the weak spots.
  • Try some memory work
  • Write some licks, choruses or songs
Here’s one thing that came out of that:
  • A week or so ago I was listening to a folk version of the song the Beach Boys interpreted in Sloop John B. I noticed that it had a different feel from the Beach Boys’ version. I also noticed that I liked the way the arrangement fell into place with the different voices. [This is the first item above. I love to listen to music, but as a musician I am also trying to listen differently than I used to. Hence I noticed things about the song that intrigued me. Yes, I sang along!]
  • It might be fun to learn the song on my trumpet. [This helps me address a couple of my growth areas- playing by ear, memorizing a song, expanding my musical vocabulary.]
  • I then thought that it also might be a fun piece to work into a number for the brass quintet, maybe even trying to put different sections into different styles allowing the different voices of the different instruments to stand out individually. [I now move into the area of taking what I hear and discover into writing it down- and adding other parts that also require a closer listening and more learning by ear. It will also help me understand a little more music theory, chord, melody structure, etc. An important area for my own growth!]
  • I have a couple months coming up when I will have more time than usual to do the learning and writing. [A timeline- by the end of March to have a first draft ready for the quintet to play.]
Hence I have come up with a goal and a plan to address some of my own joys and areas for evolution.

Right now that all looks and feels a lot like a full score of Les Mis printed on one page. But with my goals set down for you (and me) to see, I have a plan to turn it into "Mary Had a Little Lamb." It of course is one of several goals in my focus for the next couple months, but this is a new and challenging area for me. I expect it will also have impacts on my other areas of advancement.

To learn to do this in music is a great way of learning to do it in other areas. I have already learned ways of doing this kind of planning and focus in my career and personal life. I bring it to my musical life, improve the process, and take it on to other things as well. This is the cross-fertilization that naturally occurs in our daily living. We are internally interconnected. Allow each to nourish the others. You will keep your life in tune.
What is your plan for the next three months?
Where do you need to focus?
Who can help you develop it?
What’s keeping you from doing it?
Go and do it.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Dark Night of the Soul #2: St. John of the Cross

In the first post of this series on the dark night and the movement from last year’s election, I introduced the relief I felt when I realized that my experience and possibly that of others, was a movement of the soul for me. At the heart of it was the nearly 500-year old understanding of the movement toward union and unity with God.

The image of the Dark Night of the Soul in that growth toward union comes from the mystical vision and writings of St. John of the Cross. It is deeply embedded into Christian mysticism and Catholic tradition. It is powerful and life-changing.

Saint John of the Cross (1542 – 1591) was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, a Roman Catholic saint, a Carmelite friar and a priest. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. -
John, though 25 years her junior, was a contemporary, and a colleague of St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). Together their writings and work are the foundation of over 400 years of prayer and faithfulness. Their friendship cultivated John’s visions that became the understanding of the dark night of the soul.
The Dark Night of the Soul, a poem written in 1578 or 1579, narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. It happens during the night, which represents the hardships and difficulties she meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. -
When I first came across the idea of a dark night over 35 years ago, I thought, as do many, that it is a time of great distress, loss, and uncertainty. While those are some of the experiences of a dark night, to get stuck on that idea is to lose the incredible power of what this is all about.
The main idea of the poem can be seen as the joyful experience of being guided to God. The only light in this dark night is that which burns in the soul. And that is a guide more certain than the mid-day sun. (Aquésta me guiaba, más cierto que la luz del mediodía.) This light leads the soul engaged in the mystic journey to divine union. -https://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Dark_Night_of_the_Soul
The poem begins with an underlying joy, in spite of the darkness:
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
--oh, happy chance!--
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised
--oh, happy chance!--
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide,
save that which burned in my heart.
Note the repetition of “oh, happy chance!” in stanzas one and two and “In the happy night” at the start of the third. John is letting his readers know that while the darkness and trials of the “night” may seem things to be avoided, there is more to this than meets the eye- or any of the normal senses. This is a higher power than our human powers. This is the work of God. This is a way toward union with the very Creator of the universe.

It has been felt by some that all people go through these ups and downs of living. It is such a powerful phrase that seems to describe many human reactions, such use is no surprise. But, no, this is different. It is different in quality, in source, and finally, in its conclusion.
The "dark night of the soul" does not refer to the hardships and difficulties of life in general, although the phrase has understandably been taken to refer to such trials. The nights which the soul experiences are the necessary purgations on the path to divine union: the first is of the sensory or sensitive part of the soul, the second of the spiritual part. Such Purgations comprise the first of the three stages of the mystic journey, followed by Illumination and Union. -
Which is why I was at first hesitant to apply the dark night to what I have been going through since the beginning of November. So many people were reacting in ways similar to the way I was feeling. It was situational, built from the shock and negativity of the election. It might even see self-righteous, grandiose, or even insensitive to take this solely upon myself. It’s not all about me, in spite of what I may want to believe.

But then I realized- remembered(?!)- that God comes to us in the midst of our own individual lives. God speaks to us from the events of the world we live in. God calls us into deeper union by what is occurring in our own souls. Might it be that the feelings engendered by the election are part of something in me that I need to pay attention to? Might it be that for me this is the next phase of my own spiritual movement? Might it be that by publishing this on my blog others might find a way through their own experiences that just might be for them a dark night experience?

I have been interested in mysticism for almost 50 years. I have been intrigued by the mystical traditions of my Christian faith as well as the faith of my Jewish ancestors. I have been moved by the mystical world of the Muslim poet Rumi, the depth of Howard Thurman’s practices, and Evelyn Underhill’s explanations. Mystical stories have been found in my own Moravian history in the renewal of the ancient church by an experience of the Holy Spirit in the 1720s at the same time as the mysticism of the Baal Shem Tov was revolutionizing Eastern European Judaism. I saw the events of the charismatic movement and wondered.

There is something deep, profound, and ultimately world-shattering about these- and the countless other examples from myriad traditions and places.With all this, it should probably not have surprised me when the mystical tradition of St. John of the Cross and St. Terese of Avila, two of my favorites, came to the surface as a result of these past two months. In these two posts so far I have set the history. In the next one I will explain some of my past exposure to the dark night and its place in who I am- and most likely in who I am becoming.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

History Being Made

One of the most important and innovative musical adventures of the 1970s was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken. It was a massive three-record (now 2-CD) set of collaboration with some of the greatest musicians of the bluegrass and country field. It opened whole new musical landscapes for many musicians and listeners.

They followed it up in 1989 with Vol. 2 and in 2002 with Vol. 3 (a 2-CD set.) All three, over the 30 years were amazing recordings of some of the great songs and musicians who created bluegrass, enhanced country music, and helped the music grow.

Here is a video of the recording of the title song in 1989 for volume 2. Watch history being made.

One more video, a brief documentary of the making of the original 1972 album.

Friday, January 06, 2017


1. (initial capital letter) a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.

2. an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.

3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

Never said any better than this:

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Dylan- The Immortal Three

I was originally planning on posting this back on December 10 when Dylan was scheduled to (not) pick up his Nobel Prize. Things got in the way and I pushed it off until now. No reason that I chose today other than it seemed like a good day- the day before Epiphany.

2016 Nobel Prize in Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 is awarded to Bob Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".
I had posted my favorites among Dylan's many songs. I skipped these three. I see these as his immortal songs. They defined the myth and music of Bob Dylan. Everything he has done since then is growth from these three.
  • Blowing In the Wind-1963
    Protest and hope in the first two songs. Firmly in the folk tradition, but hints of new worlds of music, new standards of sound, hints of becoming Dylan.

  • The Times They are A-Changin'-1964
    A call to one generation from a so-called voice of the new. But he wasn't that. He was a voice of change, challenging all generations to get out of the way if you can't understand. Perhaps there is a message here for our day. This is a video from a performance at the White House remembering the music of the Civil Rights Movement. This is more than that.

  • Like A Rolling Stone-1965
    He was criticized when he did this song, electric, at the Newport Folk Festival. He opened new doors for music and some feel it is the greatest rock and roll song ever written. The song grows with Dylan. Poetry in motion.

The argument on whether Dylan deserved a Nobel Prize will continue. There will most likely be no final answer. That's okay. Dylan is who he is. For that those of us who grew up with his music over the last 55 years can be grateful!

Let's finish this off with the remarkable and emotional performance of Patti Smith at the Nobel Prize ceremony. She sang what may be Dylan's most powerful protest song, and fine poetry- A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.18- Failing Forward

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Google goal-setting. There can be:
  • Seven types of goals;
  • Four types of goals;
  • lifetime, long-term and short-term goals;
  • outcome, process, or performance goals….
On and on it can go. Goals need to be
  • Specific and achievable;
  • Measurable and realistic…
  • etc., etc., etc.....
As we start a new year we often hear about all those great new year’s resolutions- that are only too soon forgotten. Anyone who has been a regular at a gym will tell you the worst time of the year is January when all those people who have decided to get healthy show up. Give them a month or so and things will quiet down.

Resolutions, though, aren’t goals. Resolutions are ways of wishing and hoping. That’s why they usually fail. And when they fail, we give up on them. Guess I’m not going to do THAT this year. We move on.

Perhaps that is one of the greatest differences between resolutions and goals. When we set a goal, we are also setting in place the possibility of failure- and if we are honest- we know that. But when we set goals, the failures are planned for.

Several of the faculty talked about some of this at last year’s Shell Lake workshop. I went back to my notebook from the week and came across this series of notes and reflections on the important place “failures” have in helping us reach our goals:

Goals take time. They have failure moments along the way. Success is moving through the failures and using them for your benefit. The famous remark from Thomas Edison that he didn’t have failures, he just knew many things that don’t work.

How did your failures help shape you? I was set on being an engineer when I graduated from high school in 1966. Everyone who had any kind of chance to go to college in those years was directed toward engineering or science. The space race spurred it; American pride accelerated it. After two years it was more than clear that I was not cut out to be an engineer. It wasn’t how I thought. Some of my family saw that as failure. I was not going to make it in the world with a degree in political science. I was a disappointment.

Figure out a different way. Which is what I eventually did. I didn’t give up on life or whatever. Over the next four years I finished college and found something that did fit the way I work and think. I entered seminary and went on to a very satisfying, challenging, and exciting career.

• Change your perspective. Management guru John Maxwell wrote a whole book about this- Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success. Failure is in giving up, not getting back up. Success- at its very basic is continuing to put one foot in front of the other, even when it doesn’t look like it’s going the right direction.

• There are valleys between mountaintops. That is one of the more subtly profound statements I wrote in my notebook. The metaphorical mountaintops lead to valleys. The valleys are the places where we can learn to take the next step toward what we saw from the mountaintop.

• To realize you suck at something- you’re on the right track. It was when I heard a recording of our quintet and the poor quality of my sound that I realized I needed to do something. I didn’t hear that when I was playing live. The same thing happened when I heard my solo on Basin Street Blues with the big band for the first time. In my ear- it sucked! I didn’t like it. It had no life. It sounded tired. If I had never heard that and realized how poor it sounded, I might never have started on this journey that has now gone through two summers of Shell Lake camps and incredible hours of practice in ways I never have done before.

That’s the simple process of failure and success. I was in my mid-60s when that all began. It could have been discouraging. I could have said “The hell with it!” But I had a greater goal, one of those big ones- to truly be a musician in ways unlike any time in my life. It can be called perseverance, or grit, or stubborn, ideas I will deal with later this winter and spring. It is just following the goals and dreams into something new and different.

Have goals and act on them. Prioritize, them, of course. I have never been able to memorize. That doesn’t mean I can’t. At this point in my musical life, there are other things more important than taking the time needed to learn how to do that. My goals are in scales and arpeggios, improvising and endurance, fun and performance. I keep thinking about memorization, but it’s not a priority. Yet.

As we start 2017 in our musical journeys:
  • We start something by taking the necessary steps to get there.
  • We have to know where we want to go.
  • We then create opportunities then things happen.
  • We follow our interests and take risks.

    Happy New Year! Let’s continue to make music- and life.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2016: More losses

Yesterday I posted a list of the musical losses of 2016. There were a number of others from the entertainment, political, and news field that we also will miss. Here is that list.

Rest in Peace!

·      Abe Vigoda
·      Alan Thicke
·      Antonin Scalia
·      Arnold Palmer
·      Carrie Fisher
·      Craig Sager
·      Debbie Reynolds
·      Doris Roberts
·      Edward Albee
·      Elie Wiesel
·      Fidel Castro
·      Florence Henderson
·      Garry Marshall
·      Garry Shandling
·      Gene Wilder
·      George Kennedy
·      Gordie Howe
·      Gwen Ifill
·      Harper Lee
·      Janet Reno
·      Joe Garagiola
·      John Glenn
·      Morley Safer
·      Muhammad Ali
·      Nancy Reagan
·      Patty Duke
·      Richard Adams
·      Robert Vaughan
·      Shimon Peres
·      Tom Hayden
·      Vera Rubin- astronomer
·      William Christopher
·      Zsa Zsa Gabor

Having listed all these names over these two posts, it is only appropriate to ask, "So what?" Too many times we take these deaths of famous people as if they are members of our family, a close friend, or someone we just can't live without. I reflected on this a bit back in April after Prince died. The issue is that our lives are defined and impacted by all kinds of different events. Our stories include the events that were going on in our greater world- for better or worse.

That list above contains names of people who over the past 60 years defined certain times and places. It could be the way we responded to a TV show like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Robert Vaughan) or the fall of Cuba (Fidel Castro.) It might be remembering where I was when our first American astronaut went into orbit (John Glenn) or the power of fiction was made clear (Harper Lee and Richard Adams.) When these people die, we remember our lives and how we are connected, impacted, changed, and grow thanks to many influences.

No, we are not acting as if we knew these people, but rather, how, by what they did, they helped us get to know ourselves better.

Monday, January 02, 2017

2016: Music Losses

Yes, 2016 was a cruel year for those of us who love all the varieties of music. Here is my In Memoriam list for the year past. Music is not quite as full today as it was a year ago.

Rest in Peace!

·      Bobby Vee
·      Buckwheat Zydeco, accordion king
·      Dan Hicks, the Hot Licks, multi-genre singer/songwriter
·      David Bowie
·      Gato Barbieri, jazz legend
·      George Michael
·      Glenn Frey, Eagles
·      Glenn Yarbrough, Folk-era star
·      Greg Lake, Emerson, Lake and Palmer
·      Guy Clark, country/folk singer/songwriter
·      Kay Starr, pop and jazz singer
·      Keith Emerson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer
·      Leon Russell
·      Leonard Cohen
·      Maurice White, Earth, Wind and Fire
·      Merle Haggard
·      Mose Allison, jazz legend
·      Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane
·      Pete Fountain, jazz legend
·      Phil Chess, Chess Records co-founder
·      Prince
·      Ralph Stanley, bluegrass legend
·      Red Army Choir
·      Rudy Van Gelder, Miles Davis’ engineer
·      Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley guitarist/legend
·      Sharon Jones, soul singer
·      Sir George Martin, famed Beatles producer
·      Sonny James, country star
·      Toots Thielemans, jazz legend

Sunday, January 01, 2017

New Year's Day

Praise the Lord! 

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, 
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.

A 50-year Memory: A Video for January

As 1967 began one group was set to dominate the Hot 100 for 7 weeks- with the same song! It was #1 on Dec. 30 and would remain there for another 6 weeks. An amazing feat in any year. It did help that they were TV heart-throbs. Even at that, it may be their best song. The Monkees- I'm a Believer.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve

Be thou my vision,
O Lord of my heart,
Naught be all else but to me,
Save that thou art;
Be thou my best thought
In the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping,
Thy presence my light.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Time for Reflections

It is finally here- the end of 2016. This ranks among the most unusual years of my lifetime. These past 364 days have had some of the strangest events with the most profound impacts on me than most of the past nearly five decades of my adult life. Prior to this year the ones with the most impact would be:

  • 1968- The year the world was turned upside down in many ways.
  • Marriage (1972) and birth of daughter (1981)- Obvious!
  • 1988- The year I got sober and my world was turned rightside up!
Reflecting then on 2016, not even counting the seemingly endless deaths of musicians and cultural icons, it was a year of up, then down, then uncertainty.
First half of year:
  • Renewal and settling- the first time our two months in Alabama as snow birds was more than just getting away.
  • Photography- lots of time with pictures in Alabama.
  • Reconnecting with old friends- Friends from 50 years ago got in touch with us- and we saw them for the first time in 30+ years. 
  • Trumpet improvement- I am amazed at what has been happening with my musicality. Don't let anyone tell you old dogs can't learn new tricks.
  • New directions- I began to feel like retirement was falling into place, or as I have calling it, Career Three.
  • Publishing and writing expanded- I published a book for the trumpet camp and then another of my Christmas stories. It has pushed my writing to new directions.
  • Another old friend connection- Another boyhood friend stopped by to see us! Wonderful times.
  • Music continues
  • Election campaign and growing uncertainty- even this old Political Science major began to get overloaded with the election because I was...
  • Absolutely appalled by the campaign. To say this campaign was awful would be to give it too good a review. It may not be the worst in American history- yet- but it was the most awful in my 68 years!
  • Maintained Music- the one thing that kept me going!
  • Grief and fear followed by the feeling that I was
  • Slogging through quicksand in everything for the last two months leading to great
  • Difficulty maintaining focus in all things.
  • Christmastime in Bethlehem, PA, back at our spiritual roots and great times with friends gave a bit of positive uplift. It was only temporary, however. Things are just too wobbly, uncertain and downright scary- at best.
  • Awareness of aging and its impacts physically and emotionally began to sink in at a couple different times during the past year. It is the inevitable process of aging, but it doesn't have to mean giving up. It means maintaining the soul and the spirit. That I have been able to do thanks to ...
  • The wonders of music... my own and that which I have been privileged to see and hear in person. Music is so essential to my life. Amazing! But so was...
  • The joy of writing. With more to come in 2017.
As the wise teacher of Ecclesiastes might say, 2016 was just another example of the simple fact that time moves on, things change, and times are what they are. With some of what has happened in 2016 I have no idea why they have happened and what the outcome will be. That's where my uncertainty and fear come in. I have to finally admit that I have no choice but to continue to live within the cycles and seasons, while finding the ways to be proactive and supporting that which is important to me. In 2017, I will look for those opportunities as things continue to move on. With thanks to Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger then, important words for uncertain times...