Shearing Sheep

While working at Keyboard, I did a number of interviews with well-known artists. Usually over the phone, because I don’t fly. George Shearing told me a story when I interviewed him, a story that struck me this morning as apropos.

Shearing was blind. He also had a sense of humor. As a young man, he had played piano in an all-blind jazz band (a nice publicity gimmick, and I’m sure they were pretty good too, and appreciated the work). This would have been in his native England in the 1930s, at a time when jazz bands typically had a dozen or more players.

On one occasion the band was onstage, ready to start their show. The audience were in their seats, but the curtain hadn’t yet been raised. Suddenly one of the musicians called out, “Wait! Don’t open the curtain!”

“Why not? What’s wrong?”

“I dropped my glass eye!”

So the curtain stayed down while a dozen blind men put down their instruments and crawled around on the floor searching for the glass eye.

I recalled that story this morning while thinking over last night’s rehearsal of the Livermore Symphony. It was a first rehearsal of new material, and a certain amount of groping was to be expected. But the conductor had chosen difficult repertoire, pieces that could never be played with confidence by at least half of the members of the orchestra no matter how much rehearsal they had. Asking them to sight-read accidentals and tricky syncopations at tempo … no.

I’ve learned lots of new material while rehearsing with pop groups. What you do is, you go over and over and over a single piece until it starts to come together. You don’t hop from one horribly mangled passage to another without pausing to improve it. That’s just a way to make more bad music in less time. What I heard didn’t sound like musicians rehearsing; it sounded a lot more like they were crawling around on the floor, searching for a glass eye.

Music & Witchcraft

Last night I started re-reading Truth or Dare, a book of politics, spirituality, and magic written by San Francisco witch Starhawk. The book is kind of a mishmash, but she has some awarenesses that are worth mulling over. It’s been sitting on my shelf for 20 years, and I find that the me of 20 years ago underlined lots of stuff in pencil — some of which has since trickled down into my basic world view.

I picked the book up on a whim, because I need a fresh perspective on how to manage my alleged career. My usual view of things just isn’t working. My usual view is that everything sucks, and nothing can possibly make it right. Rather than simply succumb to rampant negativity, I’m willing to consider even off-the-wall or off-the-chart inputs.

It quickly struck me that the way musicians (and especially talented local musicians) are treated in this culture has everything to do with the patriarchal, hierarchical power structure within which we live.

Read more

Local Musicians & Ringers

Now and then I play in the Livermore-Amador Symphony. I try not to make a habit of it, but I’ve done about four concerts with them, so I may as well admit I’m a part-time member. (But see the Footnote, below.)

Tonight the principal cellist sent an email asking if I’m going to play the December concert. If I’m not going to, he said, they’ll have to hire a ringer (a paid semi-pro) so that the cello section will be strong enough.

Here’s the puzzle: I’m expected to play for free. Nobody is offering to pay me. But if I can’t do the gig, they’ll hire someone and give them money. Read more

Things Fall Apart

A week ago, my PC had no trouble sending audio to the Yamaha Motif via Yamaha’s mLAN (firewire) connector. It had been working flawlessly for a year or so, ever since I acquired the Motif.

But then something bad happened. I don’t know what it was. Suspicion centers on the M-Audio Firewire 410 audio interface driver, which I foolishly installed in order to do some secondary testing while reviewing the Roland Fantom, and on the fact that I’ve been moving the Syncrosoft dongle back and forth from this PC to the laptop. Or maybe it was when I moved the Motif physically, and tugged a little bit on the Firewire jack. But no, I don’t see how that could cause the symptom I’m seeing.

Uninstalling and reinstalling the Yamaha drivers, which I’ve done twice, isn’t helping. The installer thinks it’s doing its job, but afterward Device Manager tells me the mLAN 16E2 driver has not been installed.

The moral of this story is, don’t write product reviews using a hardware system that you actually use for creative or productive activities! When you get your computer music system up and running, lock the motherfucker down! Don’t install anything, don’t change anything, don’t update anything. Just make music.

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted by not following this advice. I need a part-time IT employee just to maintain my system in a trouble-free state — and yeah, I’m going to pay that person a competitive wage to work on my system. Sure. No problem! The magazines I write for pay for articles at such fantastic rates, I have money to burn.

Footnote (Oct. 11): A Yamaha technician suggested updating the mLAN firmware in the Motif. Why this should allow the driver to install, I wouldn’t know — but it worked. My system is now happy again, and so am I. It takes so little to make me happy!

Money & Community Service

I can think of lots of wonderful things I could do to enhance (if only a little) the lives of people in my community. I could give free concerts. I could teach stuff to kids at the library after school. I’d love to do both.

But where would I find the time? I’m way too busy scrambling around trying to earn enough money to pay my rent.

And failing. I’m paying my rent out of my savings. I can go on this way for quite a while, but it’s not a stable situation. I need to earn more — significantly more. But there seems to be no way to do even that, let alone a way to earn more and also have more free time!

The roots of my own economic malaise date back at least ten years. Read more

Dongle Dangle

Doing the technology shuffle this week. I’m reviewing Spectrasonics Omnisphere — possibly the most anticipated software release of the year — for Keyboard. And they want to get it in the earliest available issue. So I have this deadline.

Omnisphere requires a ridiculous 50GB of hard drive storage. None of my drives has more than 25GB available. So I phone Sweetwater and ask them to overnight me a 500GB Glyph drive.

The Glyph drive they sold me last year works like a champ. But an hour after I hook the new one up and start installing Omnisphere, the drive craps out. I’m freaking out, because … did I mention I have a deadline?

So they’re sending me another drive. But that’s only a small part of the technology shuffle. Omnisphere also requires 2GB of RAM. My main machine, which is now four years old, has only 1GB. So the time may finally have come to migrate my entire work setup to my MusicXPC laptop, which has 2GB of RAM and also a Core Duo processor.

There are good things about this change, and bad things. Mostly bad, as it happens.

Good: I’ll have dual monitors and a system that has a lot less mung festering deep within the Registry.

Bad: I’m going to have to reinstall a couple of dozen programs, including a few that are probably not supported by the manufacturer anymore (if the manufacturer still exists). Also migrate a ton and a half of data.

Read more

Those Zany Statins

Doing a little online research into statins. I’ve become very suspicious, not only of the possible role of statins in my own problems, but of the medical establishment (in my case, Kaiser Permanente) that prescribes them so blithely.

I’ve had high cholesterol (at least it’s “high” according to the standard definition used by doctors) for 30 years. But I had always resisted the idea of taking medication, because I had no other risk factors for heart disease. Finally, last year, I allowed my Kaiser physician (Dr. Combitsis) to persuade me to take 40mg of Lovastatin daily. Sure enough, my serum cholesterol level dropped dramatically.

But that may not be the whole story.

Read more

Meditation for Today

There is, within the compass of human experience, no reason even faintly credible to believe in God. But if there were such a reason, it would surely be the piano music of Bach. Nothing that is known comes as close to that ideal.

Kaiser Cement

The story so far: Our hero is experiencing significant depression. To the point of paralysis, anger, despair, and minor mental impairment. Rather than consult his semi-regular therapist, who is not licensed to prescribe anti-depressants, he decides to try using the Kaiser Permanente system.

He is paying $600 per month for Kaiser health coverage, whether he uses it or not. And while that may seem a lot of money (it is a lot of money), his plan has a high copay. Each time he visits a Kaiser provider, he shells out $50.

Today’s $50 was a colossal waste.

Read more