Saturday, September 24, 2016

What Next?

Monday is the next installment of the zoo, circus, and sideshow that this year's presidential election has become. I have been watching- and avoiding watching; I have been pondering what to write here and what to ignore. Overall I am in a state of numbness over the whole insanity. It has been going on for so long that I think we are all just going to either throw our hands up in surrender and do nothing- or vote in anger.

Neither of which is helpful!

But I also know that most people already have their minds made up. Very few will change their opinions between now and election day. That means the ones who will decide the election are the

  • fence-sitters
  • protest voters
  • die-hards
Who can be convinced differently?

What will make a difference in this year of illogic?

What will ease the sense of anger and powerlessness that appears to be driving many voters?

When will facts replace innuendo and policy replace finger pointing?

I have been hoping that something would bring about some type of breakthrough. So far nothing has. Will the debate on Monday? Will any of the others?

Doubtful.

But we can never give up on hope.

I will be writing on some of this in October. I know I won't change anyone's opinion. But at least I will feel a little less powerless to at least get my opinion out there.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Shameless Self-Promotion


It is now available for you, your family, your friends. I have published my Christmas Eve stories and reflections through Amazon. It is available as

a hard copy book and as

a Kindle eBook.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.3- No Small Parts

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Many of us have no doubt made the statement:
It’s only a small part. It’s just the 4th trumpet.
As a result, many of us have no doubt also heard a director make the statement:
There are no small parts; only small players.
That’s a hard thing to keep in mind sometimes when you have been an almost professional 3rd or 4th trumpet. You play your part and wonder longingly at the soaring lines of the first or the intricate solos the second develops. Every now and then your part has some interesting counterpoint or even a kind of fun note in a chord. But most of the time it’s just that “small” part. Historically, in many high school and even college bands, the less talented players are often placed at 3rd and 4th. The parts didn’t go too high, they weren’t all that technically difficult. As one progressed through high school, the older students would move up to 2nd and 1st places. It was as much seniority as skill at times. It could at times be overcome by a truly gifted musician. But, overall, people would covet those upper parts. So, in essence, they gave the seemingly “small” musicians the 3rd and 4th.

I used to say that I enjoyed playing 3rd or 4th since it meant that I didn’t have to practice as much or develop the embouchure. I could just show up and play (sort of) and go home. But it also meant that I didn’t have to practice anything difficult or challenging. Sure, you have to know how to count rests and syncopated notes from time to time. In general, though, it was an easy way out of getting better.

If you don’t practice, if you don’t challenge yourself, nothing happens.

In the past year of working through this Tuning Slide and my personal skill development, a couple of different things have happened.

First was when a local orchestra contacted me because they needed a 4th trumpet for one piece at the spring concert. Did I say that loudly enough? They NEEDED a 4th trumpet! No smart remarks, please, about why would anyone need a 4th trumpet? There is a very clear answer to that:
Because the composer wrote a 4th trumpet part! The composer/arranger wanted a 4th part.
I felt good about being able to do it, especially since the piece was a concert piece of selections from the great musical, Les Miserables. Overall, it was a typical 4th trumpet part. But it wasn’t my typical 4th trumpet part. It had sections in all kinds of keys that we don’t normally play very often- you know- 5 and 6 sharps (B major and F# major). I was glad that I had spent hours working on the 12 major scales last winter. It took some concentration, but the 5 and 6 sharps didn’t send me into panic- although it did send me to the woodshed. It wasn’t an “easy” or “small” part. Sometimes it doubled the 3rd, which is what the composer/arranger wanted. That note was obviously important. It needed a little more emphasis in tone, color, and location in the chord.

I think I am being clear about what I am trying to say:

All parts are important- 
that’s why they were written in the first place!

That’s the first thing that happened. It was an important lesson. The next thing was hearing the comment again at Shell Lake: All parts are important.

We had a trumpet choir of 50 musicians - and some of the arrangements had four, five, six parts. Wait a minute? Why all those extra parts? What is so important about those “lower” parts? Well, at first it was simple to say that it was because we only had trumpets and someone had to play those “lower” notes of the chords. With no horns, or trombones, or tuba- where was that foundation to come from. Other trumpets, obviously. Again, 4th, 5th, and 6th parts were needed. But it also brought to mind that when there are six parts, there is a reason that there are six parts. All the parts are pieces of the whole. Hmmmm.

“Pay attention, Barry,” was the message I was getting from all of this. As my skills and range have increased, that does not mean I can - or should - leave the 3rd and 4th behind.

All parts are important- 
that’s why they were written in the first place!

So I decided to try something in the big band I have played in for the past 8 years- the big band where I am the eternal 4th trumpet. When I started in the group my admitted skills for the group were more important in the range of being the announcer than of being a trumpet player. I needed to learn the language of the big band and playing jazz. Years of listening needed to be translated into being able to speak the language and not just listen. Playing 4th allowed me a lot of leeway to do that- and it allowed me to develop the announcing for the band as a part of the entertainment. But after all these years now, it was feeling boring. (A dangerous thing. It can lead to stupid decisions and bad actions. Stay away from boredom!) But wait a minute. I was now playing with more confidence, better tone, and (mostly) able to speak the language.

If there are no small parts, why not see what it feels like to play the 4th part as if it is important and not just added on to give me, the announcer, something to do between announcements?

The first evening I really had the chance to try that out in any serious way in rehearsal was this past week. We were working on some more difficult pieces- both in intensity and sound. Chords were all over the place giving different tone and color to the piece. There was one point where over several measures a tension was built and released through a series of half and whole notes in the trumpet section. The first time we played it, something didn’t feel right. My ear said that we were off somehow or another. I glanced at the person who was “leading” us at the time and it looked like he heard it, too. It was not a dissonance that was written into the score. It just was off.

Without saying anything about it we tried it again. This time as we came to that section I consciously paid closer attention to what I was playing, hitting each of the notes more clearly- solid and centered. It sounded right. It fit. When we were done the leader made the comment that the difference he heard was that I played that 4th part with the strength it needed in order to be the foundation for the total sound of the section. I don’t know if anyone else did anything different that time. I just know I did- and it made a difference.

All parts are important- 
that’s why they were written in the first place!

Now, would anyone in an audience ever have noticed that there was something out of sync the first time we played it? Probably few if any would have. Would they have noticed the difference the second time? On some level, perhaps. My guess is that there would have been some emotional reaction they had that was more positive the second time. That’s often the level at which these things make a difference. So why worry? Why make a big deal about it?

For one, because in the long run it is the accumulation of those seemingly small things that make the difference for better or worse. Playing a whole number where there are a series of “off” moments will certainly reduce the positive impact on the audience- and, of course, vice versa. We want the audience to have the best experience possible. That’s the issue of “sound” and “tone” that is essential to music which we will talk about in coming posts.

Just as importantly, though, we make a big deal about it because it helps make us better musicians and keeps us connected to the integrity of the song itself. We are being true to the music and to who we are as musicians and people. That intentionality then expands in our lives to other things we do. We become more conscious of the way we treat others, the way we do our job, the way we respond to issues and concerns.

In life, as in music, there are no small parts!
(Sidenotes: 1) The orchestra called me again for the fall concert as 4th parts were again needed. 2) I am looking forward to the next year of more intentionally being the 4th trumpet in the big bands. Let’s see what else I can learn.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Truth from Lake Wobegon

In last Saturday's news from Lake Wobegon in a repeat Prairie Home Companion show from twelve years ago, Garrison Keillor challenged "old people" about looking back to find their story. Instead he said,

Look to your children for your story!
It was one of those profound Keillor moments. s I listened I found myself smiling gently and nodding in agreement. Keillor went on to describe sitting and watching his little girl during a trip they took together and how it was the perfect description of what he was talking about.

My wife and I had just left having supper with our adult daughter and her boyfriend. It was, as always, a wonderful time. It was an hour and a half of talking, getting caught up, kidding each other, and generally sharing our family's love.

I understood what Garrison was saying.

Look to your children for your story. They are the ones who write what has been important.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Is It Possible?

Two posts on Facebook earlier in the week caught my attention.

First was a church sign that said something like:

Jesus is coming again...
Hopefully before the election.
Then the big baseball news:
The Cubs clinched the Division championship and could be on their way to the World Series.
Long time friends of these wanderings will recognize the connection that might indicate the church sign's wish will come true. My scenario for the hapless, World Series Championship-less Chicago Cubs.
It's the bottom of the ninth in game 7 of the World Series.
The Cubs are leading and on the verge of their first championship in over a century.
It's two outs, no one on base for the American League opponent.
Then, as the Cubs pitcher winds up for the final strike-

Jesus returns.
The fact that the World Series ends before election day only adds to the possibilities.

Just saying- you heard it here first.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Tuning Slide: In Everything You Do

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

In one of our discussions at the trumpet workshop it was pointed out that many of us would not be making a living as a musician. As much as we love playing trumpet, that will not be our “day job.” In the different bands I play in a majority of the members are not professional musicians. Health care and computers have both been a major part of the community’s economic base. As a result there are many different health care professionals and computer engineers in the groups. Sure, there are also a sizable number of band and music teachers as well as some who make their living performing music.

As we thought about this we were reminded of something that we should not forget.
    Things you learn playing the trumpet will make you a better… surgeon, teacher, worker, friend, spouse, etc.  
We all have various skills and personalities. What we discover in playing music- the discipline, the ability to work with others- are also essential to our vocations. What music teaches us is very much what is essential in our lives.

It’s also a two way street: If you have developed into a good (fill in the blank), you can become a good musician. It takes the same commitment, discipline, and work. The things you learn in life or career will make you a better trumpet player.

This brought to mind a comment a friend made to me back in July. He was talking about some of the wisdom he has been given by others and quoted this tidbit. It boggled my mind and twisted my life like very few things do:
    The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
Looking it up on Google I found that there are a number of apparent “sources” for it. In any case, it is one of those statements that is so profound as to shift one’s world view.

    •    Do you find shortcuts at work in order to get done faster, although not necessarily more effectively? That may very well be how you do a lot of other things?
    •    Do you treat people with condescension and not really care about them? Chances are that’s how you treat your family and friends as well as strangers.
    •    Are you careless in how you take care of things you own? Are you taking care of even important things in the same way?
    •    Are you satisfied with “good enough” in projects you work on? Maybe “good enough” is all that you will ever be able to achieve.

This is not meant as a judgement but an observation. If we don’t pay attention to how we do some things, chances are we may find it hard to pay attention to other things. This has to do with style and habit as much as with a conscious attempt on our part. It has to do with what we want to get out of our day-to-day lives and how much we put into it. It does not mean suddenly becoming a Type-A workaholic. It does not mean that we change our entire way of doing things. Some of us are more intuitive and introverted while others of us are far more cautious about making sure we plan well. Some of us would die if our entire day was closely scheduled while others would die if it wasn’t. It is rather about how we utilize who we are, our personalities, skills, etc. in order to reach our goals.

Two weeks ago I was talking with this friend again and told him about how he had thrown me into a mental wrestling match. He agreed that the same had happened to him. It was then I realized that his statement along with the discussion at camp had been at work for me in this past year. For over 18 months I have been working on what it means to be retired. Yes, I am still working part-time, but I have been wandering around being retired. That has given me to be able to develop what I have called my “third-career.” While I did expand my music into a nearly full-time avocation, I knew there was more to it.

Then a year ago, the events that started this Tuning Slide blog and threw me into a completely new way of working on my music. Within a few months I went from a person who worked on whatever needed working on to a systematic trumpet player. After nine months of increased practice at a 7 out of 10 day pattern I made it to the daily practice level. Since mid-April, for example, I have missed two days of playing my trumpet- both long travel days. My trumpet playing is probably the best it’s ever been.

But the real surprise I realized two weeks ago, after a year of a whole new regimen of music practice, discipline, and growth, a number of things came together in June and July. It was a true “A-Ha” moment as it all made sense. Some of my retirement questions seemed to disappear and I found the direction I have been waiting for. In other words the way I was doing music in new ways, was the way I was now doing some new things with my retirement.

The way you do anything, is the way you do everything. It can go from the music to other things- or from other things to the music. In reality it is not an either-or idea. It is a both-and action. It doesn’t even have to be conscious. When you discover a new path, a new idea, a new discipline, a new reason for getting out of bed in the morning- that will interact with everything you have been doing.

How then do we do that? How do we work at making sure we are doing our “everything” the right way to be healthy and helpful to us? How can we aim at living a life that is consistent, starting with our musicianship?
  • First is passion. What excites you? What are you willing to take extra time to accomplish?
  • Second is focus. Are you ready to bear down and discover what living out that passion means? Are you honest with yourself about what that will mean- what sacrifices you will have to make, what changes you will have to work on- in order to be successful?
  • Third is action. If what you say you are passionate about doesn’t move you to do, can you really say it is a passion? This takes dedication and determination. It takes a commitment to do- not just talk.
Make your list. Begin to think about some goals. Look at ways you can enhance and grow from your previous experiences and efforts.

Now, how does this apply to the every day things that you do- simple things like how you follow through with promises, how you treat your family and friends, your simple actions? Do these fall in line with what you have written- or do they show that you need to do some changing in order to get where you are going?

It takes that kind of commitment. In the Twelve-Step recovery programs there is an often used question based on  a phrase from the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book:
If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it….
If you have decided you want to move into the area of your passion- or even just to be better at being who you are as a person, are you willing to go to whatever lengths are needed to get there?

Don’t worry. We don’t have to do it overnight.

So get out that horn and keep working.

The way you do your music is the way you do everything.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How Did We Know Which Way to Go?

Coming up out of the New York City subway can be very disorienting. Which way is what? How do I get to where I want to be?

Even more to the point- how did we ever manage before GPS and Smartphones with Google Maps?

I was thinking this the other week when I spent a day in NYC with a friend. Then he- a mere young thirty-something- asked me that very question. "How did anyone ever get around the city before these things?"

My admittedly smart alack answer was- "An m. a. p."

But he was right. Smartphones and related technology have made it easier to get around a place like NYC. Need to know what subways go where? Google it. How about the bus schedule back out of Port Authority? Google it? Need an Uber ride? Use the Smartphone app.

People in those prehistoric days probably did have a better understanding of where to go in their home areas. They probably had a map in their head that helped simply because they followed the same routes on a regular basis. Tourists? Well they had to figure it out.

I have seen some thoughts that the use of Google Maps, Siri, etc. have made us too dependent on the technology. We don't know how to read maps like we used to. But it has allowed us to travel new routes, in new places, even in our home towns.

Somehow or another we managed. We are adaptable.

And often got lost.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Gone: Never Forget

It is not about looking back and fanning fires of hatred and anger.
It is not about revenge any more, if it ever should have been.
It is about hope
and freedom
and being Americans together.

If we keep looking back we will never move forward.
If we only remember what happened we will leave those who died stuck in a world of no hope.

To look at what we can do and be - Americans of all colors and faith, all ethnic and cultural varieties...

that is the ongoing legacy of 9/11

a spur to move into a world where freedom is possible for all
and an incentive to sing our own individual hymns to freedom.

The video I produced last year after my visit to Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center holds up that hope with the inspiration of Oscar Peterson's moving Hymn to Freedom. Never Forget- and keep moving forward.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Physics of the Universe

I have always had a strong interest in science and its relationship to life. When I started college some decades (!) ago, I started out as an engineer. In the mid-1960s any student who showed any aptitude at all was directed that way. Well, it didn't work out so well for me, but I never lost my interest in science. In these past 50 years the world of science- and particularly physics- has exploded in all kinds of directions and insights that are nothing more than mind-twisting. Quantum physics and everything related to in has made the universe so much more complicated and interesting.

Sometimes things come together to pique my interest even more.

  1. This particular tweaking of my thoughts started about a month ago when I came across the book, The Jazz of Physics by Stephon Alexander. I had just finished the "biography" of physicist extraordinaire, Richard Feynman by James Gleick. When you begin combine jazz and physics I knew it had to be interesting, even if it did look a little more in-depth than I could begin to understand at times.
  2. I hadn't had a chance to start it when I was visiting with an old friend. We were talking about all kinds of topics, including religion when he said, "Try this one on for size. What if Einstein's theory of relativity was a way of describing creation?" I no direct answer and kind of filed it away since supper was ready anyway. (Eating and heavy thinking don't often go together. Something about doing two important things at once.) With this question in mind, I picked up the Jazz of Physics book that evening where I found out that Alexander was using jazz as an analogy for physics as a way of coming to an understanding of how the structure of our universe was created. Alexander wrote:
    It had never occurred to me, he wrote, that galaxies and superclusters of galaxies were organized structures, let alone that they could tell us something profound about the nature of the universe, including what it is made of and how it came into being.
  3. Next came the fun day in New York City last week with a young friend we have known since he was a young child. One of the things he is working on in his own mind has to do with music, physics, and how humans have "musical sounds." Which is exactly what Alexander does in his book.
Such a confluence of events and thoughts amazes me. Call it serendipity, synchronicity, or plain old coincidence, it usually gets my attention. I have now worked my way through the rest of Alexander's book, often scratching my head at the physics, but understanding the basics he was trying to describe in both physics and jazz. I would describe it in my own very non-technical and
very unscientific way like this:
We are all made of music! And music made us all.
Way back at the beginning of creation when all was infinitely small and of an infinite mass it was the very quantum vibrations of the smallest of particles and anti-particles that began the movement into the universe beginning. Sound, music, is simply vibrations and that early vibrating energy had a tone, a type of "music." Photons and electrons and positrons and whatever else I don't understand, kept the vibrations moving at that quantum level. Somehow or other the building blocks of modern physics including Einstein's work on relativity and Heisenberg's Uncertainty play into this.

Beyond that, I am lost. In fact all I wrote in and of itself is probably so wrong as to be an embarrassment to anyone who knows physics. But that's okay for me. I'm just learning. I may take some time to do some digging into the physics Alexander writes about. In some mystical and marvelous way this relates to improvisation and an understanding of how knowing your next note in a line opens up the possibility for ALL notes.

Underneath it all for me is the idea that we are music. We are energy vibrating, perhaps at our own unique wavelengths. Who knows but that we are finely tuned instruments who respond at our quantum level to the music and vibrations, the energy and pulsing rhythm always surrounding us.

Or, I may be all wet. But I feel the music, I hear the sounds, and something in me responds. Whatever it is, I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Tuning Slide: Being a Trumpet Player

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Today I start volume two of The Tuning Slide. I come refreshed with new ideas from another Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop week. I have been doing some exciting reading and experiencing insights into music, life, and the connections they make.

Over this past year I have found myself moving from an okay amateur trumpet player into a somewhat more accomplished amateur. I have spent more time practicing and playing than I ever would have thought possible. As the year progressed I found it more and more difficult to MISS a day of practice. Since mid-April, I have only missed one day- a long day of travel and meetings. As a result I have discovered that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

In some of my reading I came across a fun and insightful description of trumpet players. It came from pianist and composer Jonny King's An Insider’s Guide to Understanding and Listening to Jazz (1997, Walker). After talking about other of the jazz instruments, on pages 61-62 he tackles the trumpet. Here is part of what he had to say.
The Egomaniacal Trumpet Player
Among musicians, trumpet players are reputed to have the biggest egos. As the other musicians see it, they’re the cockiest guys on the bandstand. They… try to take over every tune and every gig and musical situation. Of course, such sweeping generalizations couldn’t possibly be true for all trumpet players, but the trumpeter’s reputation might be justified to a certain extent. You probably have to be somewhat brash to think that you can lead a quintet or power a big band’s brass section with a pint-sized horn with only three valves….
Well, yes. That is our reputation, but at least he has the insight to see where some of it comes from- a pint-sized horn that powers a whole band. He goes on to give us some pretty heavy support:
The technique of playing the trumpet is bewildering to the rest of us. The horn is a small curved piece of brass (or other, more exotic metal finishes) with a mouthpiece the musician blows into and a “bell” that fans out from the horn and projects notes and sounds. The mouthpiece is a small metal cylinder into which the trumpeter must blow his tightened, purse lips. … The trumpet is an extremely physically demanding instrument, and you can’t lay off for more than a few days without seriously compromising your chops.
I had never thought about it that way. I started playing in 1961 at age 13. I don't remember any of the early fights with learning or how awful it must have sounded to my parents. And that bit about compromising your "chops" is one of the more famous issues to a trumpet player. Yeah. Wow. He understands.
Once you get a full head of steam and force air into the horn to create notes, how do you determine the pitches of those tones? By combining different amounts of air pressure, changing lip positions, and pressing down different combinations of the three valves, the trumpet is able to sound about three octaves worth of pitches. Most people are fairly blown away by the prospect of trying to control dozens of different notes with barely perceptible changes in lip positions and valve alterations. 
 As I was writing this, I was listening to Lee Morgan do everything described in that last paragraph- and then some- on the amazing "Just One of Those Things". He made it sound so smooth and easy- using only those barely perceptible lip changes and valve combinations.

When I initially read that description, I did react with surprise. After a while you just pick up the horn and start playing. It becomes second nature. It is natural and you don't think about why and how you do what you do. To describe it as King does gives a whole new dimension to what we do.

But, and this is important, I think, when we get that nonchalant or even carefree about our playing, we can find ourselves at a loss. That may have been the underlying secret insight I got a year ago at Shell Lake. In a brief moment of instruction from Bob Baca my whole way of looking at what I was doing as a musician changed. I know now that part of what happened was to take what had become natural and allow it to grow and change. When we are satisfied with how we are playing, we can get stuck and not move on.

For years I had been somewhat satisfied. I believed that perhaps this was as far as  I could ever get. I was wrong. I am grateful I was wrong. I also found that it takes patience and persistence to move on to new levels. The suggestion that I could have a daily routine of long tones, chromatics, and scales brought me back to basics. In playing those long tones I have to listen, not just blow them. I have to hear the chromatics move. I have to be aware of the steps and half-steps of the scales. Yes, I am memorizing the scales; I am become familiar with the shape and movement of the sounds. But I don't just rattle them off so I can get on to something else.

THAT was a whole new understanding of practice and the road to improvement. It has worked- and for that I am grateful. And, yes, it does lead to second-nature playing because these routines and exercises become deeply ingrained in my brain and neural wiring. It is my whole musical self learning, melding, and growing together.

That's how we learn and grow in anything important. But we can never be lackadaisical about it. All these are gifts. Yet if we don't use them and improve them, we can get stuck. I like where music has taken me. I can hardly wait to see what's next.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Some Views From the Bridge


I have been doing some traveling again, back on the east coast. Had a great time the other day as I did something I never thought about doing before: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Like the Golden Gate, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of those iconic places. A few months ago I heard about the possibility of walking across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. So I planned it. Here are some of the pictures I took. A fun day with good memories.


View of the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center.

View of the Brooklyn end of the bridge.

Walking above the traffic. Lots of people had the same idea.

Lady Liberty still welcoming immigrants with her golden lamp!

Two more icons:
The Empire State Building (left) and
The Chrysler Building (right.)

The lines of the bridge almost cry out to have their picture taken.


The neighbor bridge to the north-
The Manhattan Bridge

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Different Wagers- Certainty or Mystery?

I came across this quote a few weeks ago in the book, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick. It made me stop and think:

I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.
― Richard Feynman
In reflecting on it I thought also of another somewhat related and quite famous bit of philosophy known as Pascal's Wager:
a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).
-Wikipedia
I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. It all has to do with mystery and wonder and awe. When you make a wager like Pascal's you are potentially closing the possibility to finding new ways to relate to the spiritual. One of the reasons I often have problems with the fundamentalist mindset is that it is so rigid, so fixed, as if all the answers are right there in front of you. All you have to do is believe the right way and it will all fall into place.

In some ways that is what Pascal's wager leads  us to. You just have to stick with the rigid and clear beliefs. Of course, whose explanation of those beliefs do you stick with? In Pascal's time- even more so than ours- it would have been The Belief as explained by The Church. Today we would have to ask which church or even which branch of which church in which country?

I like Feynman's insight. He  is not looking to make sure he gets to heaven or stays out of hell. He is, in essence, taking the second part of Pascal's wager- and betting that will be okay. As an intuitive person of amazing depth and insight, Feynman could look at what was happening around him- and be okay with what he didn't know.

So here's that closing piece from Feynman, one more time. It might be fun to ponder and meditate on this one for a while.

I don't have to know an answer.
I don't feel frightened not knowing things,
by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose,
which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

A 50-Year Memory: Video for September

The summer of 1966 came to an end. I was a college freshman.

On the Billboard Top 10, September began with a week of Scottish psychedelic- arguably the first of the "psychedelic" style.
Donovan was the star, but on the recording, two who would be BIG with Led Zeppelin- Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones along with jazz drummer, Bobby Orr.

Sunshine Superman


The rest of the month belonged to Motown! The Supremes were #1 for three weeks.

You Can't Hurry Love

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Only in WIsconsin?

Cheese and Fireworks.
Makes sense to me.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Tuning Slide: Jazz 8- What It's All About

There are two kinds of music.
Good music, and the other kind.
-Duke Ellington

Back in week one I wondered where to begin with this series on jazz. I am still wondering and asking that question. Eight weeks is nothing in the great flow of this music. In it’s past century, jazz has transformed American life and been transformed by it. Yet its power has never diminished. Hearing a Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, or Buddy Bolden recording today is just as transformative as ever. The music lives! I could explore all the ideas and sidelights of jazz for the rest of my life and probably only scratch the surface.

I turned to Wynton Marsalis for some insight, then, as I came to this incomplete ending to the series. I have mentioned his book, written with Geoffrey Ward, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (2008, Random House). It is a good introduction to jazz on a popular level. In his opening chapter he describes his experience in learning and experiencing jazz:
This is some of what I found:
The most prized possession in this music is your own unique sound. Through sound, jazz leads you to the core of yourself and says “Express that.” Through jazz, we learn that people are never all one way. Each musician has strengths and weaknesses.

Jazz also reminds you that you can work things out with other people. It’s hard, but it can be done. … Jazz urges you to accept the decisions of others. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow- but you can’t give up, no matter what….

On a basic level, this music led me to a deeper respect for myself. In order to improvise something meaningful, I had to find and express whatever I had inside me worth sharing with other people. But at the same time it led me to a new awareness of others, because my freedom of expression was directly linked to the freedom of others on the bandstand.
—pp. 11-12.
Marsalis clearly understands the inner power of music to make each of us who play it more than we are without it. Each of those paragraphs speaks to us as musicians. First he talks about us finding our “sound.” On one level this means he skills and development of our technique. Because it is “jazz” we find a freedom to develop and express that. While there may be variations, it is very difficult for a musician to express those sounds in a “classical” piece.

Second Marsalis sees the interpersonal musical interactions in jazz as a great paradigm for getting along with others. You can’t take your horn and go home in the middle of a gig because you didn’t like the way the tenor player took the theme. Instead you have to pay attention to the tenor’s message and expressions and see where it fits into your experience. Maybe that will mean developing a contrasting style or building the theme on a different chord. But you can’t deny the tenor player the right to his freedom of expression. It could start an interesting dialogue- musically on the bandstand, afterward while relaxing, or as a metaphor for how you can learn to interact with others day in and day out.

Third, Marsalis makes the obvious- and essential connection. In order for these first two to happen, we have to dig into ourselves. And we must respect ourselves. We must believe that in our solos, duets, or even just section work, we have something worth sharing. Maybe my section work as a fourth trumpet doesn’t get out into the crowd like the solos do. But how can I make that chord sound out when I have the one “blue note” in the section? How do I play that note so it enhances the sound of the section and the band? Do I believe I have a right to make that simple statement in that single note? Next it leads me to pay attention to the rest of the section and the group and give them the same freedom I want for myself and the same respect I would hope to get from them.

Marsalis then adds:
The value of jazz is the same for listeners and players alike because the music, in its connection to feelings, personal uniqueness, and improvising together, provides solutions to basic problems of living. -p. 13
Couldn’t say it any better! So I won’t.

One more thought comes out of Marsalis’s reflections. First, though, to introduce it, here is a quote, again, from Duke Ellington:

Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom…
In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom
and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved,
and the music is so free that many people say it is the only
unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom
yet produced in this country.
-Duke Ellington

Here’s where Marsalis takes the same thought. He puts jazz into the flow of American life, not just in the past 115 years, but representative of the flow of our overall evolution as a nation:
Knowing jazz music adds another dimension to your historical perspective…. Jazz music is America’s past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves to come. It can remind us of where we fit on the time line of human achievement, an ultimate value of art.
-p.13
The melding of musical styles, melodies, and history may be nowhere more clear than in jazz’s development. European folk styles from the colonies and songs from Africa laid foundations of rhythm and emotion. The Black Church added the preaching style of call and response. Ethnic roots of Irish music and New Orleans parades gave movement to the musicians. Listen closely to jazz and these will echo from the past and into our collective subconscious imagination. Feel it move YOU.

But even more to the point may be the role jazz itself played in the 20th Century in creating a revolution in racial acceptance. When the music began, and for decades after that, it was impossible for white and black musicians to play together. Even when they could it was impossible for the black musicians to stay in the hotels where white musicians did. Movies were edited so they could edit OUT for southern audiences of the black musicians scenes showed them playing with their white colleagues. Jazz music’s influence on the civil rights movement is an essential part of its long-term success. Miles Davis saw this when he said:
Jazz is the big brother of Revolution. Revolution follows it around.

We have covered a lot of ground very superficially in these eight posts. Any one of them could be the start of a series on its own connecting music as a whole and jazz in particular, musicians and listeners, and finally, music and life. Jazz plays an important part in my life and will continue to do so. I keep learning and experimenting. It is a never-ending joy and experience. There will be more jazz posts as part of the regular weekly writing here on The Tuning Slide. I hope it will continue to open new paths for you as it has for me.

It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.
-Dizzy Gillespie

Monday, August 22, 2016

In Memoriam: Toots Thielmans

Toots Thielemans
1922-2016

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Just Another Short Comment....

Big news from France in the past week or so has to do with clothing and beachwear. There is this piece of clothing worn by Muslim women called a "Burkini". It's purpose is to maintain their modesty while still being able to go swimming at the beach. Well, it seems that France has outlawed the wearing of the Burkini in its post-terror-attack world.

I personally don't have an investment in what France does, or doesn't do when it comes to beachwear. I think it's an unusual law, an unusual approach to the terrorism concern, and just a downright silly argument. But, hey, it's their country.

But I have this one comment about it all:

I actually am NOT surprised that France is saying it's illegal to wear TOO MUCH clothing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Tuning Slide: Jazz 7- Everyone's Music

I merely took the energy it takes to pout
and wrote some blues.
-Duke Ellington

I said toward the end of last week’s post on big band music that jazz musicians need to know the roots of jazz. We are the heirs of an incredible tradition:
• Dixieland and ragtime
• Big band and be bop
• Hard bop and fusion
• Latin and free jazz
But there’s one more- perhaps the underlying roots of much American-based music.

The Blues.

I’m not sure we can understand jazz without at least knowing something about the blues. It is often the first type of music a jazz musician is encouraged to learn. The chord progressions are simple and repetitive. Yet it informs, shapes, colors, and even defines Louis Armstrong and George Gershwin, Robert Johnson, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It is a music of life as it is experienced every day. Wynton Marsalis called it “everyone’s music” and said this about it in his book, Higher Ground:
The blues trains you for life’s hurdles with a heavy dose of realism. John Philip Sousa’s music is stirring. It’s national music of great significance. But Sousa’s is a vision of transcendent American greatness: We are the good guys from sea to shining sea. The blues says that we are not always good. Or bad. We just are. (P. 52)
It’s roots can be traced to the late 1800s in a melding of African-American work songs and European-American folk music.
Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes (or "worried notes"), usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch, are also an important part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove. (Wikipedia)

Robert Johnson is perhaps the paradigm for blues musicians. Only in a bargain with the devil himself could music of such power and emotion develop. The Faustian story of such bargains is as old as human mythology, but is reserved only for the most incredible and impressive accomplishments. Johnson’s artistry in a short lifetime was powered by the incredible and impressive sound of the blues.

It’s simplicity is what makes it so infinitely malleable. That basic three-chord, twelve-bar progression can be the basis of every emotion. It can express the depths of sadness to the heights of ecstasy. They can underlie Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess or the “Alleluia” in a worship service. B. B. King can bend them into dozens of melodies or W. C. Handy folds them into the "St. Louis Blues." When you have finished listening to a blues, you know you have been touched by that which is greater than any of us. (See the list "Greatest Blues Songs" at Digital Dream Door)

The Blues contain so much joy and
sadness at the same time.
-Bill Charlap

In that way, the blues can be our own personal guide into ourselves. An essential element to any of us who want to play music- blues, jazz, rock or classical is to be some kind of self-aware. It may only be within our own experiences of emotion that we can put that into our music. Or maybe the music itself digs into our psyche and finds those emotions and blends them into itself. I have no doubt that music is THAT alive and THAT powerful. In the blues is the foundation of what that means. Marsalis says it begins in “pain” but it will always have that element of “things will be better” someday. Even in the blues there is a sense of hope. That, I believe is the hope that lies within us, the view that we can get through this. Sometimes it’s hard to find, but it is there.

This is where the music and life intersect with the blues. It can be very difficult for any of us to live in the midst of pain and uncertainty. Somehow or another I believe we have to find outlets for our feelings, ways of expressing our common humanity. The alternative to that is dangerous to our health and happiness. We stuff it; we put on a “happy face;” we deny our concerns, our fears and our needs. The more we do that the more unhealthy we become. Blues becomes a way to let that out either though listening, singing, or playing. Part of that comes from the very repetitive nature of the blues form. We can fall into the rhythm and the groove to be carried along to new places in life and soul.

One other piece of the blues (as well as jazz, in general) is its place in the American story. It may be easy to overlook the fact that this music is a gift to our national spirit and soul from an oppressed people. It is very much American music. It’s an expression of soul in spite of pain, hope in spite of fear, grace in spite of hate. Wynton’s thought that it is “everyone’s music” is beyond argument. Perhaps in these days of fear, pain, and hate, the blues can lead us into some new ways of sharing with each other. Perhaps we can hear the pain and be willing to do something about it. Maybe we can see the hate and refuse to allow it to conquer. In the end we can allow the American soul which includes all of us of myriad ancestries, faith expressions, racial identities, or sexual understandings. In that we will hopefully discover the power of the blues.


The Blues are the true facts of life expressed in
words and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding.
-Willie Dixon

Monday, August 15, 2016

A 50-Year Memory: Video for August

(Sorry for the delay. See yesterday's post for my "excuse.")
August 1966.
I turned 18-years old, but in those ancient days I was still not old enough to vote.
August 1966.
My last month at home before heading off to college.
August 1966.
Probably for me one of those pivot points between what was and what would one day be.
August 1966:
"Wild Thing" by the Troggs topped the charts for the first week of August, but then the Lovin' Spoonful took over with Summer in the City.

(One of the few John Sebastian songs where his voice doesn't sound like it's smiling all the way through.)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Neglectful- Not Lazy

For all my fan(s?) I am hereby apologizing for the past three or more weeks of neglect to the wanderings. Partly I WAS wandering.

  • I spent part of a week as vespers leader at one of our church camps for elementary age kids. It was my first trip back as a camp staff in well over 10 years- and the first time ever (after 45 years in camping ministry) with this age group. I was a blast. Some for the kids, some for the opportunity to do some exploring of faith sharing, but most significantly to reconnect with an old and special friend and a couple former campers from over 20+ years ago. Basically for vespers I told stories of heroes and "she-roes" of the faith, connecting with the program leader's (my old friend) theme. Great week.
  • I was home for a few days and got ready for the Vintage Band Festival in Northfield, MN, with the Polished Brass Quintet. These performances started the second week when I wandered off to the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop. Prior to the week (and the previous camp) I was highly engaged in getting The Tuning Slide blog posts from the past year into a book format. I published it through some crowd-funding help and the participants were very appreciative. The week itself was even more awesome than last year when I got kicked into high-gear with my trumpet playing. I have lots of ideas and thoughts for the next year of the Tuning Slide which now has it's own domain name and web-site: www.tuningslide.net. That took time, too.
  • In the week I have been home I first had one of those special opportunities of life- getting together with a childhood best friend. We reconnected several years ago on Facebook and finally had the chance to get together as he came through Rochester on his way west. We had some amazing times sharing where we were and where we are today. The fact that he is a "traveling Santa Claus" just made it all the better. Exciting!!!
  • A week ago I realized I was on a 12-day deadline to finish editing my Christmas stories book to get it published on Kindle and Nook by the end of the month. In so doing I decided to do a hard-copy publish as well through Amazon's Create Space. Here's the link to pre-order the Kindle eBook. (The Lost Jesus. Nook and hard-copy on Amazon will be available soon.) More time.
My "To-do" list has hardly gotten any shorter. I still have a day or two of work on completing the publishing of the Christmas book. I have a video from the church camp to put together and get out to the participants. I want to get our videos from the Vintage Band Festival finished and posted. I have the weekly deadline of The Tuning Slide. No wonder I have not completely retired from my "career job"- I need to go to work to slow down.

Put this all together and I have been neglectful of these Wanderings. Not a good way to treat your writing outlet of over 13 years. (I even missed posting a first day of August video. I will make that up this week.) I am not planning on stopping this blog. The thoughts and reactions I post here are not the kind of posts I feel are appropriate to also post on The Tuning Slide. I do think that things are going to slow down a little bit. We will be doing some traveling in the next six-weeks and should be back to some photography, which has also been neglected.

So thanks for hanging-in with me. I haven't forgotten to write or wander. Stay tuned. We still have over two months until the election- and that is worth writing about.