Sunday, December 20, 2009

Modern Musical Lessons?

Sometime in my university music education, someone impressed the significance of keeping up with musicalogical trends. Some years later, I fully understood this significance. However, I now feel it equally important that classical music educations should include the current popular cultures and trends. My undergraduate 20th-century music history class ended before Elvis was born!!

There is an apparent arrogance with musicologist in researching the history of music. Very rarely do you see research of 20th c. topics. I feel it is short sighted of us to ignore the recent and current popular cultural and musical ideologies. With music changing so rapidly, we have much to learn to fully understand where we are going. I have to say, it is almost a betrayel of educational responsibilities if universities do not offer a class or classes in current music and performance practices.

I suppose to understand musical trends one must understand social trends. And, to predict a future trend, one must fully understand the historical paths and project a future based on where we have been and what we have accepted and denied as social and musical "norms". Perhaps I just described a successful Marketing campaign, but I hope I have also ignited some interest in current musical trends. Now we can take this to the next level and discuss music technologies, because much "new" music is electronic and perhaps a bit aleatoric. But, I'm currently interested in what can be recreated in a live performance.

Hmmm, perhaps I'll ponder this more with a holiday cookie.

Cheers and cookie up!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life Lessons - Careful what you ask for...

Recently, a young friend asked me what life lesson I could impart to her. She said, and I paraphrase (because sometimes I feel my partially photographic memory is fading like an old black and white photograph although I'm far too young to be complaining about such things albeit, here I am, but I digress), "is there anything you could tell me that you wish you knew when you were my age?". This gave me pause. It was an open door. Do I dare walk in? How much do you say? As a teacher, I was now set loose to offer my wisdom. Well, in retrospect the answer I gave her was probably a cop out. I told that there are many things I could tell her - MANY things and the more "lessons" I shared, I told her, the less important they would appear. Sometimes less is more. So, I said simply, "take advantage of your time in school and learn everything you can. School is fleeting and through out life you will say, 'rats, I wish I would have paid better attention in that class'. Or, 'Geez, I took two semesters of astonomy and I still don't know where Leo is!'".

What I really wanted to do is give her a long list of things to watch out for, when to be aggressive and when the passive approach is more effective, the importance of a knowing a second language, being versed in multiple disciplines, and essentially the value of a liberal arts education. That would have inundated her. So, I told her that one bit of wisdom.

Admittedly, I told her that I will share things with her every now and then as the situation presented itself. But, really who doesn't do that anyway?

What one thing would you share with a college-aged curious individual? What would you tell someone that you wish you would have known when you were back in college?
(Don't drink the blue stuff!!" is too easy an answer!)

I love that my friend is going through this wonderfully healthy stage of craving information. However, careful what you ask for...

Blog on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Differences Between a Cold and H1N1 "Swine" Flu

OK, readers. It's time to talk H1N1 again. Apparently this darn flu is spreading more rapidly than the health professionals know how to handle.

Remember the obvious preventative actions:
1) wash your hands
2) repeat #1

I can't tell you how many times I see guys in public restrooms that DO NOT wash their hands after they do their business. Jeez, so you take an extra minute and a half longer in the stinky room. Get over it and wash your hands!

Okay, so let's say you find yourself (with clean hands) coughing and you start thinking, "oh no, I have the dreaded Swine Flu! Oh no, oh no! Head for the hills!" Now stop and think, do I really have it?

Here are the primary differences between a cold and the H1N1 "Swine" Flu (click chart to enlarge):

If you really think you have it, then seek medical attention.
For now, wash your hands frequently. If not for you, then for everyone else you come in contact with. Thank you in advance.

Be safe. Be happy.

The above chart was sent to me by a friend, but it can be found at this website:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Top 5 Qualities to Strive for in Life

Top 5 Qualities to Strive for in Life

While looking out my window and seeing the absolute beauty in nature, I find that my mind wanders to searching for the big picture or the answer to the answered question. Although I will not be discussing Charles Ives “Unanswered Question” at this point, it is an interesting piece worthy of conversation…perhaps later. At any rate, here are my thoughts as I examine ways to improve myself.

I narrowed it, albeit naively, to the top 5 qualities one should strive for in life. These qualities will help you socially, professionally, and probably land you a job if you are true to yourself. In every day life we run across people that at takers and not givers. People that do not value a good day, but rather take advantage of others while the day is good are the ones I’m addressing. I’m speaking of that bum that cuts us off on the highway, or jerkoid who tries to rip you off at the cell phone store, or most recently, the moving company guy who delivers your furniture late, damaged, and dissolves himself of responsibility (long story, but again, another blog for another time).

Here are the 5 qualities to hit that sweet spot in life.

1. Intelligence
No doubt about it, intelligence is important to survive in life. I’m not just talking about book smarts, but street smarts as well. As important as it is to be informed in many areas of life as literature, fine arts, math, language skills, it is also important to have the know how to survive in the urban wilderness. This “street smarts” is essentially modern Darwinism – the survival of the urban fittest. Only the resilient and the wise tend to rise to the top.

2. Integrity
Integrity is one of the illusive words that too many people just do not understand. Truth, honor, and faith are qualities of integrity. Truth and honor are both self explanatory (I hope). With faith, I am referring to that faith you can have in others for doing the right thing and for others to have in you. Faith is that others believe you will complete your task as promised. Faith is that others believe you will pay your debts on time. And, faith is that you are truthful and honorable to your fellow person. This is non-negotiable.

3. Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm = excitement and drive for life. Isn’t always more enjoyable to be around people who are enthusiastic about what they are doing, excited by their project or activity? This is extremely contagious and equally important.

4. Curiosity
If you are always looking for answers to problems or find yourself solving issues, resolving contentions, or even just wondering what’s around the corner, then you have got this one covered. They say that curiosity is the spice of life and I’d have to agree.

5. Diversity
A diverse individual is one that is multifaceted in interests, open-minded, tolerant, patience, and able to see beyond what’s directly in front of them. This is probably the most difficult attribute one can strive for because it calls for a diverse outlook in life. People will judge you by who surrounds you. Only you can choose your friends. Choose wisely. Keep a diverse outlook and remain open to feedback, information, ideals, and even religion.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The 3 Ps - not 3 Bs

Last night I went to a cocktail party honoring the founding board members of an organization in Houston called Children At Risk. My mother, Betty Oertel, was among the group being honored. The party and conversations were engaging and enjoyable, but one toast really stuck with me. Jim Mickelson, The first CEO of the C.A.R. said he prescribes to the 3 Ps for success. Of course I related that with the three Bs of composers (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms). However, in today's economy and current state of unemployment, this rang strong with me.

The three Ps are a formula for an organization's success.
Policy + Politics + Passion = Power
Power to change the world to make it better...and in this case, make it better for the children in Houston.

How can this be applied to the world of music, business, or even personal success?
If you know the policy - the facts surrounding the topic and you are familiar with the politics or discussions surrounding the topic and you know you have a committed passion about the topic, then this will empower you to success! It is simplified here and I hope I haven't cheapened Mr. Mickelson's statement with this blog entry.

The most important aspect is the passion. Have passion in your work and for your desired outcome. If you are not completely committed to your project, you will have a more difficult time in reaching your goal.

Getting power is typically a political agenda and can have negative implications. Power or empowerment is important to success, not for manipulation, but for giving yourself the confidence to succeed, for creating a positive environment poised for success, for having the knowledge and ability to bring the appropriate people together at the right time and place to achieve the goals at hand.

If the 3 Ps do not fit your world, then give it some thought and create your own formula to reach you or your companies goals.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Be Safe. Be Smart.

Hello all,

I've been away from the blog for too long. Moving can be brutal, but unpacking and organizing is a bear!

At any rate, the old N1H1 (aka swine flu) is still out there and apparently not getting better. I recently read in a Time Magazine article online that the vaccine will be available mid-October 2009. Okay, so if you're not going to get the vaccine, let me just remind everyone of some basic common sense rules to follow. These will keep you healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, maybe not the wealthy part, but certainly healthy!

1) Wash your hands frequently. Wash your hands especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, before and after working out, and anytime your hands touch something that everyone else touches also. This may sound neurotic, but a little neurosis is healthy at this point, don't you think? I can't tell you how many times I see males use public washrooms, but fail to wash their hands after doing their business. Jeez. Is it *that* difficult to wash up afterwards. For everyones sake, clean up please.

2) Re-read #1 and take it to heart.

3) Go back to #2

4) This is the difficult one, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water, and take a daily vitamin. Do this when you are healthy! Do this daily. Don't wait until you're sick to do this, then it's too late you're already sick.

When the vaccine is available mid-October, the CDC recommends the following people be first in line:

Pregnant women.
Those in households with babies 6 months old or younger.
Health-care workers.
Everyone from 6 months to 24 years old.
People ages 25 to 64 with conditions like asthma.

If you get the flu and don't know whether it is "the" flu or not, stay home. Do not go to work or school. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Tamiflu - Works and is most effective in the first 48 hours of illness, the drug works against symptoms of the new H1N1, but seasonal flu is resistant to it.

Relenza - Not for young children but effective against both seasonal and 2009 H1N1 flu

For more information and my sources for this post, please visit:,28757,1924276,00.html

Reality check:

It is everywhere now. Be safe. Be smart.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Power of Music

In our society, music serves many purposes. It surrounds us continually. It is in the grocery store, the mall, stores within the mall, work, music on hold, music playing at restaurants, you name the location and music is present.

Music is no longer used to exclusively to entertain. It is now used to motivate people to buy, sell, smile, frown, relax, and yes - even to learn skills. So, how many people actually listen to music just to listen... with no agenda? For a while, people discussed the "Mozart Effect" where one listens to the music of Mozart and they become instantly smarter. There is merit there. Music is a collection of organized sounds presented in a coherent and hopefully, pleasant form. It's organization of music that stimulates our brain. How does one decide what note will follow the last? Or, how long the duration of note should be sustained and to what intensity? What makes it interesting?

When one is able to create a logical order of sounds in a fashion that is enjoyable by many, you'll find a musician. Next time you find yourself anywhere out of your controlled environment, listen to the music surrounding you and determine what the motivation or point of the music. Usually, at restaurants, it will be to stimulate an appetite, at stores it is to stimulate the spending and excite the customer about the products displayed.

Take control of the music that is within your control. Listen to what you want and enjoy it for what it can do to you and millions of others.

Funny, with music everywhere, it is sad that musicians can be paid so poorly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Part II: Body Language – The Unspoken Word. What do I do with my hands?

This blog entry may be a bit dry for those not interested in ensemble conducting. Feel free to hit the snooze button again.

Body language and the use of the hands.
The questions: Does the fingers mean anything while conducting, do they serve any purpose? And, how does the conductor manage their hands when not actively being used?

Two good questions rarely discussed. Firstly, when using the hands, are the fingers open and spread apart? Are they closed and cupped? Or, perhaps the hands are somewhere between the two. The thought here is all about the psychologically transmitted and perceived communications. In essence, closed fingers resemble tight controls, organized, and a bit stifling. Open or spread fingers is just the opposite. It usually signifies loose controls, unorganized thoughts, and too many directions to follow. So, where does that leave the conductor, somewhere in the middle? What communication is intended? Find something comfortable perhaps with fingers together with a one or two spread. Think about the music and the response desired, then decide on what your hand and fingers should show. Next time you go to the ballet, look at the dancers fingers. What message does it convey. Next time you see a mime, notice how the fingers communicate volumes. The same applies with conductors and conducting.

Secondly, what to do with the hands when not actively used? Do they drop to the side, held neurotically to the body, or what? Actually, the best action is…no action. Forget about the hands, they will take care of themselves. The more a young conductor focuses on a static hand, the more it becomes a problem and the quicker it gets in the way of the music. This may seem like a weak answer, but let the hand drop when the music permits...naturally, if at all.

This blog entry is brought to you by: Short and sweet with a "straight to the point" philosophy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Body Language - The Unspoken Word

Body Language - Positive, Negative, or Simply Informative?

Two events sparked my current blog addition. This article on body language ( and looking at my friends photography blog ( Visual images spark a message to the brain. Do you know what you're telling your ensemble with your body position and posture?

Body language is the conductors most significant vehicle for communication. Unfortunately, there are so many young conductors out there that are simply learning the beat patterns and basic ensemble language skills. Get beyond the patterns and think about what needs to be musically communicated.

Since conductors rely on unspoken communication, it is important to recognize what is being communicated. Make sure your communications are conscious decisions and not reflections of your poor mood or attitude.

Let's start with the primary avenue of communication, the hands. Some messages are obvious, cue the oboes by gesturing in their direction just before their entrance. This is straight forward and clear. However, what if the cellos have an important entrance at the same time or slightly after the oboes? It would get awfully cumbersome to give two quick cues back to back. You can easily get caught up in becoming a traffic cop instead of music inspiration leader. One solution would be to cue the oboes while facing the cellos or vice-versa depending on the significant of both passages. After cuing the oboes you can think just look at the cellos for their cue. If you've spent any time in an ensemble you will know this is your cue.

Another quick thought - it may seem trivial, but if the conductor moves their hand up to scratch their nose while conducting (silly, I know) someone may misunderstand this as a gesture to get louder or even worse, as a cue for an entrance. Remember, the musicians are not actively looking at the conductor, they are watching by using their peripheral vision to simply glean the musical "big picture".

This is a rather lengthy topic that I will revisit again soon.
Until then, watch what your saying by watching what your doing.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Friend, Joe Dennison

My friend Joe passed away on July 3, 2009. It was sudden and unexpected. It was a shock.

He was both a consummate teacher and student of life. Joe and I were both Adjunct Professors at High Point University. He taught Social Work I taught Music.

For a few short semesters, Joe studied trumpet with me after university orchestra rehearsals. Over time, we built a healthy friendship through lengthy discussions of university politics, careers, social interactions, and of course, music. Since I was also going through a “transition” with my girlfriend, Joe also got an earful of my woes. We were both good listeners for each other. During the “hour” trumpet lesson, we spent about an hour and a half discussion and playing trumpet, then another two hours discussing philosophy, religion, national news, and generally resolving issues that constantly surrounded us. Joe was one of the most profound individuals I have ever met. With his curiosity for life driving him, he obsessed with learning the unspoken secrets to playing the trumpet. As with all performing arts, there is a specific psychology behind successful performing and in our short time together, we crossed many bridges and solved many problems surrounding trumpet performance. He absolutely understood every idea presented and added an extra dimension of consideration at every turn. Joe was an open-minded and cohesive individual who unconsciously healed all woes with his kindly smile and worldly acceptance.

Although Joe and I met about five years ago, it seems like we have been life-long friends. Because of our busy lives, we were only able to meet occasionally in the last months – usually over breakfast at Mimi’s. However, every time we met, it was like we had just spoken to each other the day before.

I will miss his accepting smile. When we last spoke, we were going to a ballgame together. I’ll miss the game that never happened.

I'll miss my friend Joe.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Orchestral Conductor's Baton

The Conductor's Baton

The conductor’s baton is one of the significant tools that conductors employ to add clarity, precision, and varying character to a beat style. Batons can be extremely personal and if used properly can help a conductor achieve his or her desired results more effectively than with the hands alone.

Baton Balance
No matter the baton you prefer, it is best that the baton is properly balanced to give the feeling of weightlessness and unobtrusiveness when used. The proper balance point is at the seam between the shaft and the handle. One should be able to balance the baton on a finger at this fulcrum point. A properly balanced baton should feel like part of your arm.

What kind of Handle?

There are many considerations when choosing a baton. Common handle options are wood, cork or plastic. Most handles are made of wood or cork. Plastic handles are usually the “freebies” typically found at trade shows. These are the most inexpensive type and least desirable because of poor craftsmanship and design. Cork is easy to come by and easy to shape. However, because of it's lightweight, it is difficult to find a properly balanced baton with a cork handle.

The best method for choosing a handle shape is to see what fits the hand the best. Hand sizes and baton grips vary enough that suitable handles shapes and sizes cannot be generally recommended. The typical handle shapes that can be widely found include: hourglass, inverted hourglass, tear shaped, round ball, and football shaped. One size and shape does not fit all. As far as non-functional or cosmetic features in handles, one has the option of different grains, stains, colors, lengths, weights, diameters, and shapes, especially with wooden handles.

A newcomer to batons is the aluminum handle. These are purported as durable and “aesthetically pleasing”.

What kind of shaft?
The most common shaft choices are made of fiberglass or wood. Other options include shafts that are battery lighted or fluorescent. These more luminous varieties are used in darkened theatres for easy viewing by the orchestra and singers on stage.

Because of its durability and extreme flexibility, the best option for student conductors is probably a baton with a fiberglass shaft. Fiberglass batons range in price quite widely, but they can be found rather inexpensively (~$5 US) online. The downside is that they are slightly heavier and are more difficult to balance with a wooden handle. Fiberglass batons are ideal for students because they are less likely to break in a backpack as compared to wooden shafts.

Wooden-shafted batons are preferred by most conductors because of the light-weight and well-balanced design. Additionally, wood-shaft batons are so easy to make, that vendors are plentiful and widespread. Quality, both high and low, is also widespread. Buyers beware. Ultimately, what feels right, is what works best. The more exposure and practice with batons, the more comfortable and discerning one will become.

Lighted and fluorescent batons are used in theatre pits for better visibility for both the instrumentalists in the pit and actors on stage. Lighted batons usually carry battery packs – if the batteries are kept in the handles than that extra weight, no matter how little, will eventually damage the rotator cuff in the shoulder of the conductor. Be careful of any extra weight imposed on the conductor. Damage to muscles and joints may occur very easily with repetition. An alternative to battery-weighted, lighted batons is a baton painted with a fluorescent coating. Although these may seem effective, they may also be more distracting then functional. Use with caution and ask the musicians after rehearsal if it worked for them. After all, it is for them that you use it.

Computer-chipped “smart” batons are making an appearance in an extremely limited fashion. There are computer programs that use these special batons to read a conductor’s gesture and pass the information remotely to a computer either for evaluation or for computer generated musical performance. One Japanese-based company has a computer-chipped baton for gesture recognition and learning assistance. It is designed to detect and transmit the conductor's beat by way of an electronic signal to a computer showing the music.

Choose the right baton for the right ensemble
Choosing the right baton for the right ensemble is a skill that can be learned rather quickly. Essentially, the larger ensembles demand a longer-shafted baton and conversely, smaller ensembles do not require large, visually-demanding batons. A good starting point is a 12" baton length. If it seems too cumbersome for the ensemble size than move to a shorter length. Or, if your ensemble is spread out with antiphonal brass and large orchestra and choir, then a longer more visible baton may be required.

How to hold the baton
The baton serves as an extension of the arm. With that, the baton should essentially extend the length of the arm when held properly. Occasionally, batons may be held with a slight turn from the wrist, thus creating a very open obtuse angle. Try to avoid extreme angles, that is, angles approaching a hard right angle. Extreme angles can lead to a double ictus between the hand and the tip of the baton thus creating an unclear beat style and audible ambiguity from the orchestra.

There are several acceptable grips, but the most common is with the handle of the baton cupped in the right hand with the butt of the handle resting inside the palm. The weight of the shaft rests and balances on the middle finger. The index finger and the thumb are used as left-right/up-down leverage. Two main positions are utilized with this grip, palm down for easy up and down gestures and palm facing the left for easy left and right gestures. No matter the direction of the palm, the baton remains an extension of the arm.

Keep in mind that many conductors do not use batons. Personally, I let the music choose whether or not I use a baton. But, that may be a topic for another post.



Interesting Notes
Image of balanced baton:
Baton collector

Baton prices found on the Internet
$5-$8 on Amazon
$5 for fiberglass
$42 for aluminum from
$75 for Lighted batons
$23 for Fluorescent batons

This blog and it's contents are copyright protected and sole ownership of the author. Do not use without permission for the author. Copyright 2009.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What is the role of the conductor and why are you standing there??

What is the role of the conductor and why are you here?

This is a typical rudimental and pedagogical question and many young conductors may not have the answer or their answer may not be entirely correct! I once had a professor ask me, when I was on the podium in front of my colleagues who were behind a piano, "Why are you standing there?" At first I thought to myself, "because you TOLD me to!". But, after some ponderings I realized he was asking why was I on the podium leading the orchestra and not someone else! Well, this was a very good question, perhaps odd timing, but nonetheless a good question.

So, what was the correct answer? These days there are really two directions you can take this. However, the answer he was looking for was that the conductor has that position for a reason. That reason is because he/she is the expert. They know the answers to the questions that have not yet been asked. This is accomplished through years of study and preparation, thorough examination of the scores in question, and knowledge of the instruments. This is all very basic information. So, what is the role of the conductor then?

This is where the two directions come into play.
On one hand, the conductor can be a dictator of musical will and fearless leader for all. On the other hand, the conductor can be just another member of the ensemble, musical collaborator, and just happen to be the guy up front.

Both extremes are acceptable, however I find a combination of both are preferred. One can characterize the role of the conductor as a rehearsal leader, group interpreter and discussion leader, traffic cop, cat wrangler, as well as ensemble member, musical collaborator, orchestral musician, and partner.

These are just some key words for discussion and food for thought.

So what was my answer to the professor's question? Well, in my awkward sense of humor I responded to my very dry European professor with a twinkle in my eye, "because I am a DEMI-GOD!". I swear I saw the corners of his mouth rise in a smile. Of course that was just before he shouted, "NO!".


Monday, June 1, 2009

Muppets in Rondo Form?

There are some things in life that are classic. You know, things that are timeless in quality. No matter how much time has passed it is still valued in culture...whether it's a car, a symphony, or in this case a short musical video from the first episode of the Muppets. Mena mena, or however you spell it is simply classic humor. And, I might add in a classic form too. One might suggest that it is presented in a classic (not Classical), but classic rondo form A B A C A D A... The B, C, and D sections are the jazzy parts that change everytime with a repeat of the main idea as A. Check it out. Am I wrong?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Memorial Day 2009!

Happy Memorial Day 2009!

Many of us have personal connections to Memorial Day either through the loss of a family member, friend, or love for country. My father served in the Army during the Korean Conflict. He was injuried but thankfully he survived and met my mother. 

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It is a day of remembrance for those military and civilians who have died in our nation's service.

Recently, at the May concerts of Lee County Orchestra's season finale, they featured a work called Armed Forces Salute. This medley contained melodies of each of the five branches of the armed forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. During the piece, the conductor asked audience members to stand and be recognized when they heard their branches melody. It was really moving to see some of these older gentlemen stand tall and proudly as the orchestra played their song. What a treat and sense of pride it gave ME to see them stand. I have never served in the armed forces, but it reminded me that Memorial Day was really about remembering how far we have come and what we have today because of those who have perished. 

This year, take a moment and pause to think about what Memorial Day means to you. I have recently discovered what it means to me.

Below is an informative link. Click it and give a short read. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

F-Art-ing around with Aleatoric Antics

On Friday, May 1, 2009 (I know - this posting is a bit late), a dear friend performed in a group he affectionately calls, "F-Art". This is a group from his college days dating back to the 70s I believe. It was a group of music major misfits (my words) that were experimenting with new music and music creation. Remember, this was a time of polytonality, aleatory, and good old fashion fun. 

The recital started with my friend Gil playing Schubert and pretending to be rather reserved. Well, one look at the accompanying photo and you'll see that Gil can be anything but reserved. I mean, geez, look at his Santa Claus hair and beard! This guy is a walking music library. Although he is not a musicologist, he has more information in his head than any musicologist I've met in any of the three universities I've attended. At any rate, after he presented some of Mr. Schubert's works, Gil progressively regressed to the F-Art-dom and began his aleatoric diatribe. Although seemingly random passages performed sometimes pantomimically on the piano, Gil would sneak in a musical quotes from old Hannah-Barbera cartoons and common folk songs. And, just when things seemed plaintively benign, he would slam his arms down on the keyboards with full fortississimo force! 

I must say this was a rousing recital of the revived "F-Art" ensemble. 
Kudos to experimentation and a jolly good time of music making. 

ps- the recital was held at a women's clothing shop downtown Greensboro, NC. Wasn't that the cherry on top of the whip cream. Randomness at it's best!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Hello All!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

The holiday commemorates a battle between Mexico and the French on 5 May 1862. The outnumbered and outgunned Mexican army was victorious over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. This event has gotten so large that it has exceeded the borders of Mexico and is now celebrated across much of the Southwestern United States.

How many people can name the date that the Alamo fell? I'm just curious. To the right is a picture depicting the famous battle.

Nonetheless, happy celebrations to all!

Monday, May 4, 2009

N1H1 - Prevention and Good Health Habits from the CDC.

Okay, so this is not exactly a musical note or comment, but it is an educational one. With this N1H1 flu floating around, it is good to heed the advice from health care professionals.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends basic preventative measures to avoid spreading the flu.

1. Avoid close contact.
2. Stay home when you are sick.
3. Cover your mouth and nose.
4. Clean your hands.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits.

The big one in my opinion is number 3. It's important to cover your coughs and sneezes. It is commonly recognized to cough or sneeze into your sleeve and not your hands. Many sources say this helps prevent germs spreading. Whether you do this or not, it's always good to use a hand sanitizer, like Purell.

Now, I'm not some Howard Hughian paranoid germ freak. I just think it is important to be familiar with commonly accepted practices of good health.

Cinco de Mayo is a fun holiday where many people come together in celebratory fashion. And, there is plenty of good live music to enjoy, especially in Austin, Texas!

Happy Cinco de Mayo and everyone stay healthy!


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mozart Effect...have you listened to his Requiem?

Ever heard of the Mozart Effect?  Well, some experts say that it doesn't work or doesn't exist. I'm sure that everyone will agree that listenting to music can be influential on your mood and perhaps even your motivational drive. When I'm driving my car for an extended length, I prefer upbeat music that is engaging. When I'm tired and relaxing with a nice glass of cabernet (Silver Oak is always good...just too expensive), I prefer more cerebral or slower music. Either way, classical music fits the bill. For those new comers to classical music who really don't know where to start their education, I would recommend Mozart's Requiem. First of all, get past the fact that it is a death mass. Think more about the fact that it is music that Mozart wrote when he was in his full maturity at the end of his life. Listen to the different parts of the mass and note the different textures in the music - some feature solo instruments or voices. It can be really calming and/or enthralling to read a little on a classical work before listening to it. You can also find some FREE information online about the work sometimes even with a graphical chart with which to follow.

Many studies (here's one that is interesting: have been made on the Mozart Effect, some with more credibility than others. It seems that there could be an increase in brain power after listening to classical music. Although, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer and I've been listening or actively engaged in creating classical music for well over 25 years. But don't let me through the curve! 

Nonetheless, if music motivates you to study more, or stimulates you towards a stronger vilance, then that's fantastic! Whether it can make you smarter or not, well I'll leave that to the PhD's out there to argue. I can't help but see some effectiveness. One thing for sure, it doesn't hurt to listen to more music, and Mozart is a pretty cool composer. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Educational Plateaus

Learning new skills requires patience. If you've been working at it for a while, it can seem like forever until you get the new lick under fingers, or that new dominant 7th chord arpeggiated just so, or having the keys fall into place under your fingers. Learning new skills requires an understanding of educational plateaus.

Recently I was applying for a really fascinating job that seemed to be "me". What hit home, were the web-based questions that were asked in the form. As I was pondering my responses, I was reminded of a seemingly innocuous conversation I had with a music teacher oh so many years ago. He told me about educational plateaus.

If you graph the learning curve of a new skill -- it really doesn't look much like a curve at all. It falls into what looks more like a series of plateaus. Early on in the learning stages,
the plateaus are fairly steep stepped. The longer you study
your skill, the smaller the plateaus become. But, they're still there.

Understanding plateaus may help you understand your individual learning progress or what may seem like a lack of progress. Keep at it. You will get to the next plateau.

Regarding the job application. I don't know yet.
We'll see.

Speaking of plateaus, I included a couple of pictures in this post that remind me of educational learning plateaus and epiphanies.
At the left are two who are enjoying an Austin sunset over a plateau.
Above, is a still from a fireworks display at a ballpark -- when you look to the sky, sometimes there's more than fireworks -- you never know when an epiphany can hit.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Holden Beach Thoughts on Job Seaching and Big Dogs

Ever been to Holden Beach? OMG, it's Beautiful here. It has been far too long since I've been able to enjoy the "Great Escape" beach house. BTW, I have some really nice friends who let me use their house from time to time to reguvinate from whatever is ailing me.

So what's ailing me you ask, well if you read my first post I'm searching for a job...which is a full-time job in itself if you've not experienced this first hand. If you have, then you know what I'm talking about. It is apparent that the more versatile you are the more likely you'll land a job fairly quickly. Although I feel I'm fairly well-balanced in three industries, it still just doesn't seem to matter. Perhaps the stars are not lined up yet (topic for another blog?).

What are my three industries? Music, Education, Technology. What's nice about this is that I can mix and match each within each other. Music Technology, Education Software, Product Clinicians, Software Training, etc. So, the question still begs...where are the jobs?

So What's With the "Big Dogs" in the Title?

Well, here I am at Holden Beach with a big dog: half dalmation and half boxer. He's really a cool pub - stocky, stout, and cute with a touch of hypertension (he's a mix afterall). Check out his pic above!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Jemez Moutains + Conducting Job Searches = One Happy Place

You wouldn't believe the places you can go to job search...and it doesn't hurt to have a brother with a house in the Jemez Mountains completely off grid with wireless Internet!

So, here I sit at an undisclosed location in the Jemez Mountains contemplating job searches, conducting pedagogy and relocating my home. Oddly enough, when you have no job one would think you have more time. Job hunting becomes a full-time job - except it doesn't pay very well. Also, the more time you have the more the time is filled with little odd tasks that seem to continually pop up.

At any rate, I digress. My job searching is slow going. So, I think I'll write a book on Conducting Pedagogy. There were many things that I learned in the trenches that would have been very helpful to know before hand. Albeit, perhaps I wouldn't have fully appreciated the information so early on, but it would have better equipped me to manage the orchestral conducting world.

For now, I will ponder possible book direction and audience --- and enjoy the beautiful day in the mountains.

Talk to you later.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Great Concert Last Weekend!

This past weekend was the March concert for the Lee County Community Orchestra. There were several works on this program that were quite exciting that included Schubert Unfinished Symphony - I, Mendelssohn Reformation Symphony - IV, a new work by Megan Konizer (nee Ebert) entitled Ruhelos, and Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 2. I've included an excerpt of the Grieg in this posting.

What a good group -- it is comprised of high school students, local teachers and pros, as well as seniors. It is very rewarding to stand in front of this multi-skill-leveled orchestra and get the results that we did. Thank you LCCO for a great concert. What a treat!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Old Manuscripts Found!

Today I was sorting through some old papers and came across some music that my father had written some 20-25 years ago. I should mention that he passed away 15 years ago this year. He played classical guitar (made his own based on a Martin Guitar design and architecture) and occasionally wrote works for solo guitar or guitar and voice. Well, I found two works that he wrote in his handwriting. He wasn't a trained composer or literate musican, but he knew what sounded good and what didn't.

It is a good piece. I think I'll orchestrate it. Would you like to hear it?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pedagogical Preponderance

As my thoughts wander toward ensemble conducting, I frequently think back to my training and how I was really ill-prepared to enter the world of leading an orchestra, band or choir. It seems that conducting pedagogy is not what it needs to be to fully equip a young conductor to handle the situations put in front of them, whether it be musical challenges, personnel issues, or the organization required before and after each rehearsal.

This may be a common vein in my hoe down of a blog, but I have been thinking about this for a while. How do you prepare a young conductor to go before an ensemble and lead effectively, efficiently, and most importantly -- musically? Can you prepare someone fully or are we only able to present them with the most common situations that they may come across? Perhaps the answer is both yes and no. Yes, you can offer a student a most comprehensive education and practical lab from which they can hone their skills. But no, they will likely not understand their education until later...sometimes much later.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

It's all good.

So, with my first post I got a couple of concerned inquires from friends regarding my new or rather absent job situation. Have no fear, this is just a spring board to the next level. Change, in my opinion, only adds variety and spice in life. Plus, it is giving me an opportunity to engage in extraciricular activities...such as blogging!

Blog on.

Speaking of wine, I just enjoyed a delightful glass of 2008 $3 two-buck-chuck Valdiguie. Not bad for a table wine.

Wine on.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Motorcycle Ponderings on Highway 158

You know when you hear a certain melodic pattern a few times, then a few more times, and the next thing you know you're composing a song based on that melodic pattern? Well, I have this cool chime that is frequently exercising it's chime-ness-isity. All I hear now is a minuet. I *must* write this melody down before I explode. Now, I'm not any musical whiz, but I have already developed the main and secondary themes in my head. I'm now working through a modulation. At any rate, this chime is no longer an alert, it is a motive.

Oh yeah, I was thinking about all of this while riding my Honda Nighthawk CB650 today on highway 158 with Megan and Tony following on their nice bikes (she rides a Yamaha Virago, he rides a BMW). It was a gorgeous day today!

Keep the rubber side down.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Modest Beginnings

Well, didn't life just take a turn?
I was walking down the street minding my own business, then WHAM! I was laid off from my job. So, as I have been pondering my philosophical, pedagogical, musical, and financial options, I thought it appropriate and perhaps apropos to start blogging on matters of importance. Knowing me, I'll randomize my content to include the non-essentials as well. Nonetheless, here we go.