There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

No Freebies!!

My wife and I play in a woodwind quintet that we founded and that has been in existence for 12 years. The members are all musicians of exceptional talent and abilities. Here in Pig's Rectum USA demand for live chamber music is limited, but we do eke out a few paying gigs each year and visit nursing homes and hospices gratis. Our repertoire is large enough that we can play for four hours without repetition (add an additional two hours for Christmas specific music). Our quality is such that during the Christmas season one large upscale national department store hires us year after year as the ONLY group that they pay to provide atmosphere. Our training and experience is collectively in excess of 200 years.

Nevertheless, we constantly receive requests to play for free. I think that I have mentioned elsewhere that one of my wise teachers advised me “never play for free, people will think that is what you are worth”. These requests always mention that this would be “good exposure for the group”. At my age I have had decades of exposure! When does it start to pay off? Would anyone have the gall to call up a plumber and say “Our pipes are clogged up and we need your services. We can’t pay you but it will be good exposure.”? The very concept is ludicrous. Yet people who make these requests can get very bent out of shape when you refuse to provide free entertainment.

The worst part is that most of these requests come from large non-profit organizations who are throwing a huge fund raising banquet or similar bash. The money expended on venue, food, decorations speakers fees, etc. etc. etc. must run into many thousands of dollars, yet $250 for live music? Can’t be done. It would be a different matter if the organization in question had previously established some kind of relationship with the group they approach, but it is as if they pull names out of a hat. “Hey this is Jenny with Millionaires for Muskrats and we’re throwing a gala. We’d like for you to provide about an hour of background music during the banquet. You’d be expected to donate your services of course.” Of course? Why of course? Is it so universal that musicians are considered to be all but orgasming over the possibility of an hour of unfunded labor that it is just assumed that requests for free services are taken for granted? I’ll have to try this at the local bar. “Hey I’m Rich with Donuts for Dachshunds, I’d like for you to provide me with a keg of Heineken’s finest. You’ll be expected to donate this item of course.” I doubt if I’d even have time to see the bouncer coming.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Are you people nuts?

Anyone who doubts that the human race is collectively losing its mind has only to observe the juggernaut of absurdity known as black Friday. If any single event exemplifies the extent to which our national holidays have been corrupted by greed and a total abandonment of common sense it is this orgy of materialism. Even the media, which suckles at the teat of retail advertising, is becoming repulsed by the whole repugnant spectacle as this article on indicates. Retailers are ruining the holidays.

It was bad enough when stores opened at 6:00 AM and eager sheep began lining up the previous evening but now retailers driven by ravenous mammonism cannot wait even 24 hours to revel in the squander mania of the crowds with pockets so fairly flaming with cash that they begin lining up days in advance. Retail employees are now required to forsake their homes and families during Thanksgiving Day in order to participate in the plundering. Rather than observing a day in which to give thanks for what we have already received, retail merchants trample tradition in the mud of avarice while demanding more, more, MORE.

And for what? It seems all too easy to decry a materialism where demonstrations of parental love seem to require vast expenditures to acquire extravagant playthings that will be unused and forgotten before the first month of the new year is out; where only the newest and most flamboyant entertainment delivery systems are suitable to display in our living rooms and where every living human being must be equipped with an electronic pacifier whereby they can keep in contact with other humans without actually having to deal with them face to face.

The fact is that the fruit of the frenzy for which people are willing to die (witness tramplings and similar tragedies of past events) is largely crap. Chinese and Japanese manufacturers turn out stripped down versions of products already burdened with built in obsolescence produced especially for this event so that people will willingly stampede to purchase an item on which they will “save” the cost of a Big Mac.

The psychology of black Friday is subtle and insidious. Once inside a temple of trash, mob mentality takes over and all thought of what is actually needed gives way to the desire to load the cart with anything perceived as a bargain. Additional incentive is the element of competition. Seemingly normal housewives will revert to feral behavior struggling over a bin of trinketry.

I could go on – but to what end. Thanksgiving is morphing into a demonstration of what is the very worst about American capitalism. Black Friday. Indeed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

So long Mitt, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

So our long national nightmare of the 2012 campaign season is over and the republicans have been handed yet another clue that the demographic they appeal to is shrinking and their fragmented party can’t seem to do anything about it. To the contrary they almost seemed to flaunt it in picking as their party’s nominee a man who not only could not shake the image of a rich arrogant white man but seemed to have no desire to. Maybe the fact that Romney’s religion teaches him that he will someday be an equal with God made him feel that it was his destiny to be President of the United States. Even while winning the first of the three debates his persona was one of a condescending know it all surprised that he even had to deal with his uppity opponent. His plans for a fireworks display over Boston Harbor and his failure to prepare two speeches for election eve as did Obama indicate that he believed that he could not lose. Only when the rest of the country already knew he had lost did he, after an hour and a half’s delay, finally deliver a hastily prepared concession speech which ironically was the most sincere and human of the entire campaign.

Throughout the campaign Romney seemed to believe that no matter what he said publicly or privately he would prevail in the end. Caught in outrageous lies nearly daily he persisted in spewing enormous whoppers right to the end when even the head of Chrysler had to issue statements deploring his fantasies about sending the jeep unit to China. Behind closed doors he said things to supporters that he should have had second thoughts about even revealing to his closest aides. The 47% statement was beyond all comprehension for someone who had been in the political arena as long as Romney. His shameless pandering as he put on the spray tan for a Hispanic audience, affected a southern drawl for an audience of good old boys, and posed as an arch-conservative for two years only to repudiate it all and turn into a moderate in the final 30 days of the campaign underlined his belief that what he said and who he was had no bearing on his perceived coronation as leader of the corporate states of America.

Never since Richard Nixon had the republicans fielded such a dishonest slippery conman, but it seems that Americans have learned something since then. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Even though half the electorate is below average intelligence there were enough in that half perceptive enough to see through the fakery. Mitt Romney could have easily done a walk on in a revival of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas singing “Sidestep” but without the humor of Charles Durning. It could have been his theme song.

Now if we can just figure out a way to get elected legislators to do something that benefits the country instead of pouting over who is in the White House.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

There are times...

when you just want to scream out of frustration. This election season is one of them. We've got Todd Akin in Missouri talking about "legitimate rape" and demonstrating abysmal ignorance of elementary human biology. We've got Mini-mitt Ryan and his dog torturing boss trying to set up a Republican platform that denies abortion to even victims of incest, rape (which they refer to as "forcible rape" - I guess as opposed to "fun rape") and mothers whose health is in danger. We've got congressman Steve King in Iowa who refuses to think about rape unless he has personal experience of it (maybe there's a big bear out there that could help us out with this) and refers to multicultural organizations on college campuses as being composed of people who "feel sorry for themselves". Airheads Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are still making pronouncements that any number of slack jawed yokels are gleefully parroting and Rush Limbaugh has just announced that if Republicans want someone not to run for office, he can make sure that they don't (who’s really in charge??).

Yet evidently there are actually women, millions of them, that are going to dance off to the polls and vote for an administration that promises to push them back to an era sometime before World War II. There are millions of struggling middle class workers who cannot wait to cast their ballots for people who openly admit that they wish to increase their tax burden in order to lighten their own. There are many thousands of young people that are willing to support fetus protection but think it is perfectly alright if they and their friends be sacrificed as cannon fodder in future Iraqs and Afghanistans. And all of these people agree that it doesn't matter how long it took Bush and his billionaire banker buddies to create the current economic crisis, Barack Obama should have solved it all in four years even though opposed by a congress that refuses to do little more than pass their own pay raises.

Albert Einstein once said "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." Al, once again you nailed it. I don't know if there is a word for government by the stupid, but I fear that we are about to find out how it works. Or maybe it's too late. Google "government by the stupid" and you get 220 million hits!

I take this very personally. At the beginning of the Bush administration I was looking forward in eight to ten years to retiring. Then came the destruction of my retirement accounts by the unregulated robber barons of the banking industry. So I am still working. Now at the end of Obama's first term I'm back where I was eight years ago. If things continue as they have I might have a chance to retire in a couple more years though at a significantly reduced standard of living than I anticipated BB (before Bush). If Romney is elected and succeeds in gutting Medicare, reducing Social security and letting the bankers run wild again I'm sure that I will have to die at my desk.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Republicans are attempting to create a slave class that will support the one percent that controls the wealth in the United States. Let’s take a look at what creation of a slave class would involve.

1. Create an educational system that turns out citizens incapable of critical thinking and who will follow orders and accept their lot to work at mind numbing jobs to produce wealth for their overlords. This has already been largely accomplished. Teachers now are required to do little more than practice crowd control while turning out students that can barely pass standardized tests.

2. Place the burden of economic support of the government squarely on the shoulders of the slave class and exempt the ruling class from same. In progress.

3. Eliminate meaningful health care for the slave class while also eliminating birth control. This lets members of the slave class die off when they are no longer productive while ensuring continued production of future workers. An avowed goal of the Republican Party.

4. Create a police state where constant surveillance, suppression of free speech and control of mass transportation enhance feelings of helplessness in the slave class. Traveled by airline lately?

I’m not going to belabor this as it seems glaringly obvious. I remember in the 60s when a whole generation felt it was nearly in their grasp to make a brighter, friendlier future there was a radical group called the Weathermen. Though mistaken in their methods, their name came from the saying “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.” For those of us that are still able to and are still allowed to think the direction of the wind is all too clear.

For one who saw the promise of the bright passionate youth of the 60s die, the thought that we may be on the verge of a totalitarian government supported by what would amount a modern reincarnation of feudalism makes me wonder what new horrors we may be exposed to before the transformation is complete.
And now that the convention is over all I can say is - Seriously republicans? Seriously?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cell Phone Tyranny

I have consistently resisted the societal pressure to turn my entire telephone experience over to the not so tender mercies of the cell phone industry. My wife and I both have cheap pay as you go cell phones that we only use when we are either on the road or in case of emergency. The cost of both is around $18 a month and we have more minutes stored up than we will probably ever use.

I have a many reasons for this stance. I do not wish to become assimilated and like the Borg have this device seemingly grafted to my head as I see so many of my fellow humans have. I do not want the temptation to be “that guy” that I hurl obscenities at while he endangers my life as well as his weaving back and forth in traffic while he tries to both drive and engage in inane conversation. I absolutely refuse to even contemplate engaging in “texting”, a pursuit which – if random samples I have seen are any indication – has been invented in order to give the mentally challenged some means, however primitive, of communication. I long for the days when phones were used for the purposes of communication and not as a pacifier substitute.

Currently phone jammers are illegal in the United States. In spite of that I am mightily tempted to order one from Europe. Jamming phones might be the only way to return some people to consciousness. How about the mindless twit shouting into her cell phone on the elevator? I’m so thankful that your friend’s cystoscopy went well; or the 400 pounder blocking the aisle at the supermarket while regaling others with instructions to the kids on how to clean up the dog poo; and the self important blow hard that absolutely has to “take this call” in the middle of a business meeting and lets his co-workers hear the details of his offspring’s stomach virus. Right now phone jammers simply cause phones to lose the current call and prevent outgoing connections. I’m waiting for a model that not only jams the call but emits an eardrum shattering shriek. I want to make these dolts think twice before returning the phone to their head. Any rogue techy who wants to cobble a jammer like this together in their basement will have me in line for delivery.

Just out of curiosity, what is it that makes people think that they have to shout to be heard on a cell phone? I can hear your end of the conversation from fifteen feet away. It reminds me of the movies where the rural phone of the thirties is shown, the mouthpiece jutting from a box on the wall and the earpiece on a cord held to the ear with a character hollering “Gertie! Can ya hear me Gertie?!” Presumably the user doesn’t entirely trust the technology and hopes that somehow the soundwaves they are emitting can make it to the listener’s ear on their own. I don’t think that the cell phone provider commercials with the guy saying “Can you hear me now?” have helped this situation.

Finally, the cell phone providers do it to you without either a dinner or a kiss. A friend has a cell phone from a well known national provider that rhymes with horizon. Stuffed with too much hot technology, the phone’s touch screen stopped working. Company rep says: a) this is a known issue, b) phone is over a year old so no warranty, c) contract only allows discounted phone purchase every 20 months – so you can either pay full price for a new phone or I’ll sell you a used one (very likely to develop the same problem). What’s wrong with this picture? You’re locked into a contract with these thieves, your phone develops a “known issue” (translation: we bought a bad batch of phones) and the company tells you your only recourse to have a usable phone for the remainder of your contract is to buy a new phone at full price or take your chances with a used one. And I thought extortion was illegal.

Cell phones – feh!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Down Side

I've posted in the past about the rewards of participating in amateur musical organizations. Today's post looks at the other side.

Earlier this sping I found myself digging deep to find reasons to continue in my community orchestra. I really would like to find them because my wife almost literally lives for orchestra and I want to share things like this with her. We have had some really great moments as a result of both of us participating in the same organization and we have shared some disappointments as well. It has done our relationship good.
Frequently when someone is confronting a quandary people will advise them to make a list - or rather two lists, one of the pros and one of the cons.

First the pros:

Performance can be very rewarding. Many of what could be called the "peak experiences" in my life have come during a variety of performances. Sitting next to a fabulous horn player during a performance of Alfred Reed's "The Hounds of Spring"; being in the midst of the huge volcano of sound that is Orff's "Carmina Burana"; being brought very near to tears during Elgar's "Enigma Variations"; having the rare privilege of participating in a dreamlike performance of the finale of Act I of "La Boheme"; conducting a community theater performance of "Gypsy" where the tiny amateur pit orchestra became more than the sum of its parts and rode its unexpected newfound standard for 2 hours; standing on stage after a solo performance with my instrument in my hand realizing I had just knocked it out of the park; all examples and there are more, but really surprisingly few considering 50 odd years of performances. These moments when you become more than yourself, become outside yourself, become part of the music do not occur often but they are heady indeed and reassure one that something about this is just "right".

Playing a wind instrument is good for you. It provides cardio and respiratory health benefits.It takes you away from routine and relieves stress. It is impossible to play well and concentrate on problems at work or home.

As mentioned before, it is something to share with someone close to you.

It can be a social activity and provides connections with others in the group - a sense of shared enterprise and camaraderie.

Now the cons:

It is affecting my health. I have to fortify myself with strong antacids and IBS calming drugs before I go to rehearsal.

It is incredibly frustrating. Without getting into specifics, at the end of rehearsals I don't have relaxation that the feeling that something good has been accomplished would impart. Instead my blood pressure is up, my head aches, and I feel that much of my time has been wasted, that there is lack of respect for the sacrifices I make to belong to the group and that unreasonable expectations are constantly foisted on orchestra members.

I get so worked up by the inefficiencies of what I have just given 2 1/2 hours to (or 3 or 4 or 5 or whatever length of time I am expected to put up with in order to get to go home) that I cannot relax and I wind up venting my frustrations to my wife who I am sure is getting tired of hearing it not to mention it can't be healthy for her to be worried about my state when there is nothing she can do about it.

I think it is obvious that in order to continue the payoff has to be greater than the distress, but when performance quality is sacrificed to the perceived aggrandizement of the group, the payoff becomes sad and disappointing. Frankly I don't care how many people in Des Moines have heard of the orchestra yet will never attend a concert, I care about quality of performance - not quality of performance as judged by people that are attending to watch their kids perform or even as judged by the regular audience of music lovers - but quality of performance where I myself can walk away thinking "we did the best job we were capable of". It has been a while.

Our season ended in early May. I was so soured on the experience I did not get the old bedpost out of his case until a quintet rehearsal late in June. This really saddens me as I have spent many enjoyable hours alone with the bassoon in my practice room. Currently I am returning to an earlier interest in classical guitar as a way to fulfill the need I seemingly have to express myself musically. The orchestra's programming for the next season is highly motivating, however, with several masterworks scheduled that I have yet to perform and one concert devoted solely to Richard Wagner. I'm hoping that another meeting with the quintet and determination to renew my relationship with the bassoon will help me put a more positive slant on the coming season. But if things don't improve dramatically in the realm of respect for the musicians and efficient use of rehearsal time it is likely to be my last.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lawn Mowers - Spawn of Satan

When I was quite young, perhaps between 6 and 9 years old I was sometimes permitted(!) to mow my grandparents' yard using the only implement then available, the rotary push mower. For those who are too young to have first hand knowledge, these implements of destruction were heavy appliances equipped with a rotor on which were mounted from four to six blades which spun and mangled grass when enough forward propulsion was supplied by means of human muscle being applied to the wooden handle. Pushing one of these with enough force to both make it progress in a forward direction as well as spin the rotor took every bit of effort a young lad could muster. Frequently while straining over this contraption I wished for something better, something more modern. Sometimes we are cursed by getting what we wish for.

My family's first power mower was a gold colored Lawn Boy which my father pushed home proudly from the dealer who lived only two blocks from our house. Glittering in the sun it promised adventures in lawn care hitherto undreamed of by boys previously indentured to creaking rotary antiques. Alas, it was not to be. Although that first day the shining new Lawn Boy started on the very first pull it was to be the last time for such compliance, thus foreshadowing a lifetime of combat to come. I made the trip to the dealer's garage many times over the next few years where he would disappear with the Lawn Boy into his shop. Usually after about 20 minutes of clanking and swearing I would hear the machine cough to life and be sent home to mow. Eventually it got to the point where he would bring the mower out to me still running and tell me that I should probably not shut it down if I wanted to get any mowing done that day. I became a familiar figure in the street trudging the two blocks to my house with the mower merrily roaring away. This led to many a taunt from passing cars of teenagers about how well I was keeping the grass down on the blacktop. In my youthful innocence I would think "someday I will have a mower of my own and it will be a good one." Ah, the foolish dreams of youth.

Now many many years later I have owned many many mowers. I have also owned and used many other gas powered tools - chain saws, weed whackers, snow blowers, stump grinders, sod cutters, and lawn aerators to name a few. Based on this record of experience my conclusion is that the lawn mower industry's goal is to screw the customer hard and long. Maintain your chainsaw properly and it will give you years of willing service. Follow the manufacturers advice and your snow blower will get you out of your driveway with great reliability. But no matter what you do, no matter how diligently you pamper and service your lawn mower, it will fail time and again and at the worst possible moment. And it does no good to insist that you get what you pay for as, over the years, I have come to such a white hot hatred of lawn mowers that money is no object if I could obtain one that was reliable. Starting with budget K-mart mowers and progressing over the years through Craftsman riders and pushers to the current state of the art Snapper, no matter what you pay, no matter what the sales literature insists, lawn mowers are designed to move heavy, unwieldy chunks of metal as quickly as possible from the dealer showroom to the city dump.

Mower manufacturers are devishly clever in devising ways for mowers to fail. First it goes without saying that the day you bring the mower home will be the last time the mower starts as advertised. During the life of any mower arcane rituals requiring priming, pulling, cursing, and procedures from the sacred texts known as owners' manuals will be necessary to bring the machine to life. During my own long history I have had mowers defeat my efforts to start them in a variety of ways; starter rope breaking, starter recoil spring breaking, engine seizing, magneto failure, fuel line obstruction etc. Mowers that have any part of their mechanism driven by belts will slip the belts and/or tear the belt to shreds at least once annually and frequently more often. Self propelled mowers will throw belts, break c rings, jam, throw bearings or become clogged with debris. Any part of the mower that is expendable needing periodic replacement will be hidden behind shields and proprietary fasteners and will be so inaccessible that special tools and dental mirrors will be needed to effect a replacement.

My latest demonic entity is a top of the line Snapper self propelled mower less than three years old bought at daunting expense. I thought that Snapper, having fended off the attempt by Wal-Mart to absorb it and being built in the United States, deserved my patronage after the latest Craftsman's starter mechanism failed like a cheesecloth pup tent. In the showroom I mentioned my doubts about lack of either primer button or choke. "New technology." said the satanic minion attending us "It will start on the first pull everytime." And once more I believed and broke out my checkbook. It did start on the first pull. Once. Taken back to the "we service what we sell" folks they assured us there was nothing wrong with it and demonstrated starting on the first pull. Unbeknownst to me, it will start on the first pull once hot, but no power on earth will make it start when cold except yanking the rope at least a dozen times and then letting it sit for up to 20 minutes before trying again.

In the owner's manual I was warned that the oil must be changed after so many hours of use, so I attempted to change it. Of course the oil plug was concealed by the housing - but not to worry, the manual assured me that you could drain the oil through the filler spout by turning the mower upside down. Yes folks, I do possess a modicum of commmon sense, but there it was in the manual - turn it upside down and drain it through the filler spout. So I did. Huge mistake! Knowing what I know about the useful lifetime of a mower I would have been better off just to run it until the congealed, gritty old oil ruined the engine. After this fiasco it took two days of effort and supplication before it deigned to start again. Then, as soon as it started spewing huge clouds of oil smoke it broke a retaining clip on the self propelling mechanism and pushing it became a task for the World's Strongest Man competition. It's going to the shop tomorrow. Do I have high hopes? HA!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Playing for Nothing

I majored in music education in college. I picked music because there was little I enjoyed more than making music (with my friends - thanks Willie). During my final two years while I was playing piano, bass, sax, clarinet, bassoon and trombone at every opportunity and conducting every group I could that I was not actually playing in, my clarinet teacher gave me a piece of advice that I have come to recall many times in the years since. "Never play for nothing", he cautioned me, "people will think that's what you are worth."

I've been on both sides of the pro/amateur musician profile and in previous entries in this blog I've gone to some lengths to explain the rewards of bringing live orchestral music to those who otherwise could never afford to attend and providing full pit orchestras in venues that could never afford the pros. Evidently full pit orchestras will soon go the way of the dodo everywhere as even shows appearing on Broadway are making every effort to replace musicians with digital synthesizers while musicians' unions make futile efforts to preserve these jobs. So even as amateur musicians are working to provide and preserve music performance that is either rapidly vanishing or becoming prohibitively expensive, organizations and individuals who recruit amateur groups to enhance their productions are doing their very best to demoralize and discourage the very people they depend on to complete their audience's experience.

Our local ballet company has been trumpeting their pride in that our city finally has a year round professional ballet. Be that as it may, for a live orchestra this professional company still turns to the amateurs and it is easy to see why. For a recent engagement there were three rehearsals and two performances. The going terms of the musician's union local would be $90.00 per person per 2 1/2 hour service. $90.00 X 40 musicians X 5 services is $18,000.00, a sum that would leave this company, like many throughout the country, using recorded music were it not for volunteer musicians.

Faced with these facts you would expect volunteer musicians to be treated with respect and gratitude. Nothing could be further from the fact. Instead they are treated like galley slaves. Four to five hour rehearsals with no breaks are the norm. With no constraints on time or costs, rehearsals are disorganized and the musicians sometimes wait idle up to forty minutes while problems are worked out that could have easily been addressed in technical rehearsals requiring no live music. Promises as to rehearsal length are made and quickly broken. Offers of buffet lunches in return for early rehearsal times for people who all have day jobs are made and not realized. Musicians arrive and leave for each rehearsal and performance without a single word of appreciation from either those in charge of, or participating in, the production.

Lest I be accused of picking on this particular organization, this has been the norm in various summer theater productions as well. It has brought home the perception that one of the reasons that musicians' unions exist beyond the obvious remuneration consideration is that union contracts force those in charge of productions such as this to realize that a musician's time has value and is to be wasted at financial peril.

My own perception is that money alone is not entirely a substitute for respect and gratitude, but it helps. People that wish to treat others like indentured servants should expect to pay for the privilege. If you can't afford to pay, then consider doing without if you can't extend common courtesy to those you wish to exploit.

My teacher was right. In spite of our huge contribution to these local performances, somehow because we play for nothing, far too many people think this is what we are worth. Personally I have been burnt too many times and am getting to old to expect things to ever change. I'm going to have to rethink the cost/reward equation of doing these things in the future.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guide to Musicians in the Wild

Anyone who has ever participated in an amateur band or orchestra becomes familiar with a similar roster of musicians. Stereotypical these descriptions may be, but stereotypes would not exist without a plethora of real life examples. The following is a list of the musicians you will be likely to find in your community band or orchestra.

Casey Concertmaster: First chair violinist in the orchestra or first chair clarinet in the band, this personage elevates the concept of big frog in a small pond to a near art form. Always eager to demonstrate their superiority to the rank and file as well as insinuating not so subtly that the conductor can't possibly appreciate the difficulties of their instrument, they are always bouncing out of their chair to correct tuning, demonstrate bowing, question the judgment of first chair players in other sections and in general produce a constant undercurrent of irritation in their peers.

Tracey Tenthumbs (percussionist): These people began dropping equipment in elementary school and have been honing their clumsiness ever since. They stand surrounded by an array of implements of cacophony that they cannot resist fumbling with even when their current task is simply to do nothing and do it silently. As they grow older and more skilled their intrusions into the softest most delicate passages of music grow from simple stick dropping in their tender years to the upsetting of trap tables, falling into bell trees, drop kicking cymbals and flinging wood blocks onto timpani heads as they mature. There is no end to their creativity and they can be counted on to introduce some new mood crushing burst of noise at the most inopportune musical moments.

Auntie Authority: Usually a geriatric member of the string section, considers longevity to be the equivalent of wisdom and wastes no time letting everyone in the orchestra know that she is in general disagreement with everyone else including the conductor and concertmaster. Often echoes conductorial instructions as if in disbelief: Conductor "This section is in three." AA (incredulous): "It's in three?"

Lynn Lookatme: Often a dual role with Auntie Authority, Lynn Lookatme loses no opportunity to hold up the rehearsal with trivial questions to the conductor on issues that have long since been resolved. Many of these questions are held in reserve until the dress rehearsal. If the opportunity seems right, Lynn stands to ask these questions so no one will be in doubt as to who is so diligent. Other attention grabbing devices include standing and looking around aimlessly, turning around in the chair to demonstrate one of her favorite technical quirks (for a string playing Lynn an unneeded bowing demonstration is always good for an interruption) or asking a question immediately after it has already been answered.

Tommy Trombone: Tommy has neither any ability to count nor even a particle of relative pitch sense. At rehearsals he will reliably either come in early or fail to come in at all. When Tommy does make an entrance the notes emanating from his instrument are likely to be aleatoric (musician-speak = random). In spite of being the frequent target of correction by the conductor, Tommy remains unfailingly cheerful.

Vick Volume: Always a brass player and most often a trumpeter, no matter how early Vick arrives for rehearsal he will warm up without letup until the rehearsal starts and always at a fortissimo level. Vick seldom occurs alone and is often in the company of Lee Leatherlip who has the same warm up habits. The faulty intonation of some woodwind players is often due to hearing damaged by sitting in front of these two.

Owen OCD: Will invariably be an oboist. Anyone who can deal with the dreaded oboe reed has to be OCD.

Ashley Airhead: Always friendly, agreeable and technically highly skilled Ashley drifts into other planes of existence during rests and is constantly surprised upon missing entrances. Frequently found in flute sections.

Lesley Latecomer: (may be related to Lynn Lookatme) Lesley cannot make it to rehearsal on time. Has no conflicting appointments or emergencies. Just cannot get their ducks in a row because a total lack of organization. Has absolutely no shame or consideration for others. Week after week arrives after rehearsal has begun and then proceeds to step on feet, knock over stands, kick instruments and bang their instrument on other's heads on the way to their chair.

Darby the Delusional Diva: Under the impression that they are so skilled that they do not need to show up for rehearsal they attend 20% or less of rehearsals ensuring that at some time during the performance they will make an gaffe obvious to everyone in the audience. This does nothing to change their high opinion of themselves. Darby thrives in an atmosphere of permissive conductors and gutless boards of directors.

This brief menagerie is made up of the ones that come quickly to mind. Anyone have any favorites to add?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Is God a Republican?

A nonsensical question certainly. But the present primary season here in the US certainly has many trying to persuade us that if God is not a Republican, since He can't vote He wants all of us who are not abject sinners to place a Republican in the White House. (For the rest of this rant, let's try to forget that one of the messages of the Bible is that we are ALL abject sinners whether we hail from Texas or not.)

The message currently employed by the evangelical right is that any of us deluded enough to vote for the other party have called the wrath of the almighty upon this country and unless we return to the Lord as defined by the eventual party nominee (which of course is presumed to be the message bearer) and elect that nominee as our president so that under his leadership laws can be passed to ensure that every United States citizen adheres strictly to the Biblical interpretation peculiar to his denomination or sect, our country is going to perish in hellfire (or at least a series of tsunamies or hurricanes both of which have lately been ascribed to the picque of a God with His nose out of joint).

I think it speaks volumes about the desperation of the republican party that "I should be president because God approves of me." has become a viable campaign strategy. With a total dearth of new ideas on how to relieve the country of its current economic woes while still financing the killing of muslims and other innocent bystanders the republican hopefuls have nothing better to offer than "I know God better than you do."

And, unfortunately, people who have more fear than intelligence are buying this steaming load. What the evangelicals' darlings are espousing is the gradual institution of a theocracy. They really hate to have to dance around it, but for those who still remember a document called the Constitution that pesky establishment clause keeps them from outright proclamation of the Southern Baptist candidate. Let's bear in mind that soon after the establishment of a theocracy comes the purging of heretics.

Of course the critical observer has to laugh at the self induced paths of hypocrisy this produces. We have a Mormon candidate proclaiming that his being a Mormon won't in the least influence his decisions and policies. In my opinion that brands him as not much of a Mormon at all. If you really have faith you should definitely let that faith guide your hand in leadership. Which means that the stance of the gentleman from Texas who basically openly says "Every American should be forced to adhere to Bible teachings as I understand them" is the more honest of the two (dare I say "God help us."?). Then we have the spectacle of at least two of the candidates admitting that they used to be wrong (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!) but have seen the light and now can be trusted implicity in spite of: 1) now saying that they stand for things they loudly denounced in the past or, 2) claiming that in spite of being unethical servants, adulterous mates and unfeeling ogres they are now really good guys.
How gullible are we?
Judging from early results here in the land of sheep, pretty gullible.