Tag Archives: Music

Twenty Years Later

Today was full of work and music. I slept poorly last night, waking up every few minutes to stare at the clock, and to be annoyed that only fifteen minutes had passed since the last time I stared at the clock. I woke at 4 AM, with every intention of writing. Alex was still awake, which meant he was downstairs on the computer, so I gave up that plan and slept another hour (with the fifteen minute wakey-wakey intervals spinning my mind like a machine). I showered and made my way downstairs at 5:30, and Alex was still awake. He had not yet bothered to sleep. Apparently YouTube is very interesting to teenage critters of his ilk.

I told him to go immediately to bed. He had an important recital tonight–his last one of his high school years (if he passes English. He said he would, but that is highly debatable).

Fifteen minutes later, I left for work. It was pretty uneventful day. I made drinks, cooked sandwiches, cleaned bits of the store, at a late lunch, cleaned a bit more, and went home.

I took a short nap as soon as I got home. I needed it, too.

Around 3:00 we loaded ourselves into the car for Alex’s recital. He was doing 4 pieces–all artsong. He wore all black, and looked pretty classy, all things said.

In total, the concert lasted 2 hours. Parts were amazing. Some parts were memorable. I have a feeling that Alex now wishes he had slept last night. He did well, but wasn’t at the peak of his game.

Man can that kid sing loudly. When he turns up the volume he can crumble rafters. One guy sang Schumann’s “Ich Grolle Nicht”, which Alex had done a couple years ago. At the moment of the song’s climax “Und sah die Schlang’, die dir am Herzen frißt,”…. (“And I see the serpent that eats at your heart”), well, that guy sang it in perfectly in tune.  Alex’s interpretation goes from hiss to jet engine in the space of ten seconds. Alex was rough, a bit out of tune, but thunderous, and full an ox’s arrogance.

Alex pays little heed to notes he hits right. But when he hits them… wow. Stand back.

There was another guy who was so painfully bad that he slunk out after his two songs and we never saw him again.

There was a girl whose songs made me shiver in their excellence.

I used to be able to do that all the time. When was the last time I had a song make me go all goose-flesh? Electric music. Music that transcended time, and hit the apex of meaning in your heart. Everything just stopped. How long has it been?

I used to want to be that guy: the one who could hit all the notes. I wanted to sing those thundering high As. I wanted my music to be the top of a tower. I settled for a split-level ranch home. The kind with avocado shag carpet a couple beanbag chairs in the corner. I’m not that guy anymore.  I haven’t been that guy for 20 years.  But when, as a group, Alex’s instructor has the young men go through their pre-concert warm-ups, I have to clench my jaw closed against the urge to Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do with them. When some novice sings “Caro Mio Ben,” I want to sing along, not because I love the piece, but because I was that guy, years ago. That song was my toil for a long time.

This entire post is just me saying, “Wow, remember when I was young, and could hit those high notes?” Me too, man. Me too… Now all I can say is “Great job,” even when it wasn’t so great, and fight back envy. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, I guess.

I want to shake these kids by the shoulders and shout “Don’t waste it.” For God’s sake, keep up all the toil. Sing. Practice. Become.. You can hit those notes that I want to sing. I want you to sing them. Make me cry when you sing them. Make them come to life. Be a proxy note-hitter for us one-time musicians so we can make our coffee and write our blogs, and remember those days.

That’s all life really is: grabbing the high notes with one hand, and your testicles by the other, and making it happen while you’re young and you still have both.

Not that I don’t have testicles, mind.

No, I haven’t been drinking.

Now that we’re teetering on the precipice of too much information, I will end this post. Hope you all have a great week, and seize… everything. Seize it while you can. Make it all count.

And happy high school graduation to my son, Alex.


E Papa Waiari (Uncle Waiari)

“Again!” Said Mrs. Biesen.

We all groaned, raised our sticks to ready position and the record player began again.

Maku e kaute Ō hīkoitanga
Māku e kaute Ō hīkoitanga

Our butts were sore from the gym floor and we should have known our stick routine by now. She expected perfection and I couldn’t even begin to coordinate those sticks.

Look at the girls in the video above. That could have been me. Except, I was a skinny fumblehanded third grade boy with the all manual grace of a newborn moose.

My partner was Mark. He wasn’t making this easier. He was a little kid, maybe in second grade, to my immensely powerful third grade. He had long, blonde eyelashes, and gawked at everything around him. He could never remember that Thursday landed between Wednesday and Friday.  “What was that day again?” Mrs. Biesen would drill him, and he’d pound his head “Thurthday! Thurthday! Thurthday!”

He had lost both his front teeth. I bet he could catch a french fry in his mouth if I threw it across the gym, but he couldn’t catch a stick from a scrawny boy sitting crosslegged, 2 feet away.

In his defense, neither could I.

That was the Maori stick game. And we were so. dang. bad. at it.

It started out simple, clacking the ends of the sticks to the floor and then alternating by smacking them together.

We would slowly add other moves.  Slap the partner’s stick with your stick. Throwing the stick in your left hand to your partner’s left hand, while your partner did the same. Our sticks would inevitably collide midair, like two missiles that just happened to occupy the same space at the same time. The other kids did great. Doing feats of stickrobatics like twirling them in the air, tapping both twice to the left of your body, and tapping both to the right of your body.

I’d like to say that this was for GIRLS. Girls were good at this, and knew how to make things fly in the air. All the girls I knew had great handwriting, while my penmanship looked like the giant bulbous tangles of seaweed puked out by the pacific ocean. Girls could play the piano, and do those fantastic clapping games.  Some girls did the cat’s cradle thing, with a long knotted piece of string, making jacob’s ladder and other impressive string shapes. Also, I never knew that it was a game Girl Scouts were told to learn in their Girly, Scouty literature.

I’d like to say it was a girl’s thing, but I would be wrong. I found out decades later that he Maori tribes taught their BOYS to do the stick thing (they called it tītī touretua), so they could practice working with dual spears. Passing, capturing, stamping spears. To instill fear in the hearts of other tribes. Their sticks were 3-feet long, and they played the game standing up. As the tempo of the chant increased, those who dropped their sticks dropped out of the game. Good lord, the Maori sped the game up! I’d also like to point out that in “to-ure-tua” the Maori morpheme “ure” means “penis”. O, yeah, boys game.

I liked the song.Check out the video above. It reminds me of a 1970s evangelical church service almost.

What’s funny is I never GOT that it was in a waltzy, six-eight time. Maybe that’s why I had so much trouble tossing those dreaded sticks. My mind, and apparently the cadence, FORCED me to think the thing was in 4/4 time, and I (and probably Mark) were doing the stick patterns on the wrong BEAT.

Mrs. Biesen wanted us to perform our stick in front of the parents. Yeah, Right.

My partner Mark and I would never be in the Stick-o-lympics. We would never even leave the gym, if Mrs. Biesen had her druthers. I could feel her angry, red breath on my neck every time she walked by me. I could almost feel her wiry hair dripping disdain onto our performance.

I explored all the options. Was it because we were boys? Because he was 8 and I was 9? Maybe because the sticks were too skinny? My hands were too wide? Whatever the reason, I grew more and more frustrated, until I threw sticks at Mark.

Maybe I threw them a little too hard. Mark started crying. Huge tears ran his vacant cheeks.

It wasn’t his fault, you know.

Mrs. Biesen kicked us both out of the gym. We spent the rest of Music period running laps around the field.

Much preferable to the silly stick game.

I never learned to manipulate the dumb sticks correctly. It gives me hives just thinking about it. I’m a lover, not a fighter, man! And definitely not a dancer.

One final thing.

This is a *really* cool version of this song. Makes me love all things Polynesian. Listen to it. I urge you.

Music History

Just throw your hands onto the keyboard and see what happens. Don’t think, just type. That’s my motto!

Continue reading Music History

The Second War and my Grandparents

I woke up late today; really late–a little before 11 AM. I guess I needed the sleep. Between moments of bad colds, and work, and euthanasia, I guess I was just worn out. I haven’t really been able to fall asleep recently until after 1AM.

Continue reading The Second War and my Grandparents

Choir Days

Last night, I drove with The Lady to the annual Pyramid Concert. This is the moment where the High Schoolers try to convince the Junior High kids, who in turn convince the elementary school feeder schools, to join choir. In my estimation, since the thing was 45 minutes long (for we parents who had to sit in the bleachers), the whole thing was an overwhelming success.

Continue reading Choir Days

I remember Joni

I remember Joni. Do you remember her?

When I was a kid, she was a subject of much praise in Evangelical Christian circles because, after diving into shallow water in 1967, Joni Eareckson she was left paralyzed from the shoulders down. She learned to paint and write by holding a brush/pen in her teeth. She recorded several albums of her music, and Billy Graham (1979) even made a film of her life.

Continue reading I remember Joni

Singer, Sing Me a Song, Pre-AutoTune

Today, on my way home from work, I compiled a list of several rock & roll standards where i noticed that in the absence of AutoTune, the singer was horribly out off pitch and nobody seemed to care. Don’t get me wrong. I love all these bands (yes, I even like Cher) but wow. Just… wow. Some of these are a bit painful.

I remember reading awhile back, I think it was Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh, talking about the effects American Idol has made on the American music scene. the gist of his interview was that singers are no longer allowed to just sing… They have to sing in tune, with perfection. Anything else has become not really worthy of a listen.

Well, here are a number of songs that, despite the “ouch” factor of intonation, are still worth a listen.

The Doors–Riders on the Storm

C’mon, Lizard King! You could sing better than that! Okay, maybe you couldn’t. Good thing we still like the song. My brain is squirming like a toad.

Sonny and Cher–I Got You Babe.

Is it ironic that the woman who popularized AutoTune as an art (as well as an industry standard) would make this list? (remember Cher singing Believe?) No, not really. And her husband is the most nasal voice in rock, until he was superceded by Tom Petty). “And when I’m sad a clown. And if I get scared, you’re always around…” Ouch. Hair-pullingly bad.

Hootie & the Blowfish – Only Wanna Be With You.

This is a perpetual problem with Mister Hootie (listen to Time for more out of tune awesomeness) but this song may not have a single accurate note throughout. Ouch. That’s how you make 16 certified platinum albums.

Tommy James and the Shondells–Crimson and Clover

That and the ear-befuddling forte/piano vibrato make for a bit of torture. Good song. Famous execution. But it’s hard listening to it for more than, say, the amount of time it takes to play 1/2 of it on the radio.

Queen–Somebody to Love

I love Queen; in fact, I love this song. But the last run, my god, hold it together, Freddie! I cringe. CRINGE I say!

Led Zeppelin–Fool in the Rain

The Whole. Song. Seriously, Robert Plant. One of the most iconic voices in Rock, and you do this? Another example of a great song where… God did you hit a single note on pitch?

And, while we’re at it, maybe it’s the latin/reggae thing that befuddled the Mighty Gods of Rock, what’s with D’yer Mak’er, from 7 years earlier? Another great track that was hurt by a lackadaisical (yet iconic) vocal delivery.

Please understand I’m not trashing these performances (well, maybe Robert Plant, just a little). I enjoy these pieces. I even do a little car-dancing when I hear them come on the radio on my drive to work.

I’m just pointing out how much our standards have changed. Or have they?

Did Ella Fitzgerald ever miss a note? Or maybe I just don’t want her to.

Honorable mention: here’s a few that I will link, and you can listen to at your leisure.

Tom Petty. Free Fallin’

Mungo Jerry. In the Summertime

Jefferson Airplane. White Rabbit