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.

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.