About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plan B: A Pirate's Life for Me?

The church job didn't work out, so we're on to Plan B. I've had Plan B in the back of my mind for over a year, and I've decided to act on it. Upon reflection, I think my Plan B should have been Plan A all along.

Plan B is a cruise ship gig. I feel I would do quite well in a variety of situations: solo singer/guitarist for a cocktail lounge, guitarist with a small combo, or as a guitarist with a house band. The house band provides a variety of music and often backs up special guest artists appearing on the cruise. The house band also requires that you be an excellent sight reader, which is one of my strengths.

Researching these gigs, I've looked into the pros and cons. In my own situation, the pros far outweigh the cons. I'm single with no pets, working as a freelancer, and living in an inexpensive studio apartment. My goal all along has been to become a full time working musician again, and this would be a major step in that direction. Room and board is taken care of, there are exercise facilities, and the schedule in general is fairly light, especially compared to some of the work I've done in the past as an Air Force musician. Even the freelancing can get pretty crazy at times. It would be nice to have a regular performance schedule with days off.

There are cons, too. Because contracts are generally 4-6 months, a lot of "land projects" would have to be put on hold or dropped. I'm not sure what would happen with my music engraving business, although if I found that I really loved playing cruise ships, I wouldn't have any problem with letting the engraving go. InTown Band is a project I've been involved in for years now, and we would have to discuss my role in the band if I started taking cruise jobs. Most likely they would have to find another guitarist and singer, although I would still want to be involved by writing songs for the group.

As I understand it, when you audition for a cruise line, you're not necessarily auditioning for a specific job on a specific ship. Instead, the audition puts you in the system. Later on, you get the call when a job opens up. It could be in a week, or it could be in a few months.

I'll be applying for a passport very soon. There are probably some local cruises I could work without one, but having a passport will qualify me for more jobs. Once I get my passport, I'll stop researching and start auditioning. You never know, next year I may be blogging from a ship.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Losing It #14: Why Run?

A couple days ago, I read a funny status update on Facebook. It went something like this: "When I see a jogger smiling, I'll give it a try." How many runners look like they're having fun? Not many. There's one particular runner I see most mornings, huffing, puffing, shaking his head and willing himself to run up the hill. It looks like every step is agony, yet he runs day after day. Why?

Personally, I don't have any logical reason for running. I've been walking every morning for nearly 6 months. Through diet and exercise, I've steadily lost weight (86 pounds, 37 to go). My resting heart rate has dropped from 90 to 60 beats per minute. I look and feel better than I have in years. Everything has been working great, yet I feel the urge to run. Why? When it sometimes hurts, why?

The short answer is that it feels so good when I stop! But there's a longer answer.

I can only speak for myself,  but one reason I run is because it's real. So much of what I do is spent in the virtual world – in my brain, really – updating my website, sending out performance notices, engraving music, and so forth. I construct a little world in my head as I work at the computer, but if you want a heavy dose of reality, step outside and take a run. There's nothing virtual about running. You feel it right away! You'll feel your muscles working and your heart pounding, and you'll develop a deep appreciation for oxygen. Take a run and you'll quickly discover where your physical limits are. Keep running consistently and soon you'll feel your body getting stronger.

My frame is more suitable for a linebacker than a distance runner, but I prefer endurance activities. You can develop a lot of mental toughness through endurance sports as you keep going and going. It's not far removed from the same mindset you need to develop technique on a musical instrument. You don't see the results right away, but after a time, if you stop and look back, you'll be amazed at how far you've traveled.

At this point, I'm running a lowly 2.8 miles three times a week, broken up here and there by a couple bouts of walking. In another couple weeks, I'll be able to run 3+ miles without a walking break. I'm not stopping there, though. In 2004, as I was starting to learn how to play guitar, I set a goal of becoming a professional level guitarist by 2010. Now, as a beginning runner, my goal is to run a marathon by 2015.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Freedom and Opportunity

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that "My dog died, I didn't get the job, and I walked out of a crappy gig. So why do I feel so good?" After some reflection, I have an answer: freedom. Yes, I feel disappointment and loss, but there's also a sense that new opportunities are just around the corner.

You can read about my bad gig in my post No Mas! I never thought I could be so angry that I would walk out on a gig. I was ticked off the day it happened, but later I felt good about how I reacted to the situation. In a very real way, I demonstrated that I was worth more than this gig had to offer. I've been playing every gig I can possibly find, partially to gain experience, and partially out of fear that if I'm not filling up my calendar, I might not be as attractive to potential clients. I've decided to be choosier about the gigs I accept to make room for better opportunities.

When I didn't get the music director position at UUMAN (click here for details), I felt an odd mixture of disappointment and…relief. I think I would have enjoyed the job. Everyone seemed nice, I had a great experience there, and it seemed tailor made for me. They said they were looking for someone who wasn't in the traditional classical choir conductor mode, who could teach the congregation how to use the Singing the Journey hymn supplement, and could offer a diversity of music, including world music, folk music, and jazz. Well, I demonstrated that I can do all of that, and I've been a classical musician far longer than I've been a jazz guitarist. Nevertheless, they hired the candidate who conducted with a baton, played a Brahms piano piece for his solo, and had the choir sing a traditional Lutheran "Amen" at the end of the service. It seems the UUMAN music search committee chose to stay within its classical comfort zone.

Knowing that UUMAN chose a candidate who was even more classical than the previous music director after expressing their interest in diversity, I feel a sense of relief at not winning the job. Another reason I feel some relief is that I've been a freelancer for a long time. I haven't had a job in nearly 15 years! I would have done a great job, but it would have been a big adjustment to keep a regular schedule. I would have had to give up a few projects to make room for the UUMAN job. As a matter of fact, last night I played a sweet gig that I would have had to forgo for choir rehearsal. The job would have been nice, but now my schedule remains flexible and open to all possibilities.

The third crappy thing that happened this weekend was that my dog, Bear, died. I played a gig Friday night, and he was fine. I came back to find him motionless. He was in his his usual sleeping position, so I can only assume he died peacefully in his sleep. Bear had slowed down a lot over the past several months, so it wasn't a big shock, but it's still an adjustment to not have him around.

Although I miss Bear, at the same time, some new avenues have opened up. For example, I've often thought about cruise ship gigs. I could find a job playing in a combo, or I could be a solo act in a piano bar setting. I'm also an excellent sight reader, which is a job requirement for the cruise ship house bands that play as back-up for big name performers. The only problem was that I would be gone for 1-2 months at a stretch, and I would have had to figure out what to do about Bear. Now that Bear is no longer with me, I'm beginning to research cruise ship gigs. If it turns out that I like playing cruise ships, I can envision playing two months and coming back to Atlanta for a month off, or even playing a couple months and then spending a month traveling around visiting family (mooching).

I've had the sense that big changes are coming for me. I assumed it was the UUMAN job. Since that didn't pan out, it's obviously something else. It may be a cruise job. It may be some other opportunity that comes out of the blue and smacks me upside the head. Whatever it is, I'm not going to just wait around for something to happen. I believe in creating my own luck. It's no coincidence that most of the "lucky" people in the music business are also the hardest working.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

No Job

I've been adding occasional updates about my interview/audition for the music director job at Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North. Unfortunately, I did not get the job.

My audition went very well, and I enjoyed the experience. My inside source tells me that the other candidate was a classical musician. I'm a little confused by UUMAN's decision because I was told during my interview and subsequent conversations that UUMAN was looking for someone to break out of the traditional classical mode and present more diverse, contemporary music. Still, this isn't about contemporary vs classical. They may have liked the other candidate's experience more, or perhaps they felt he was somehow a better fit with UUMAN's vision. Whoever the winning candidate is, I congratulate him, and I hope that he is able to take UUMAN's music program, which is already good, and make it flourish.

Whatever the reasons for UUMAN choosing the other candidate, I still feel great about my audition. Looking back on the experience, there is not one thing I would have changed. I couldn't have represented myself any better. If a similar position opens up in an Atlanta Unitarian Universalist church, I will be one of the first to apply.

I've spent a lot of time and energy on this interview/audition, and I spent last week recuperating while the other candidate auditioned. While I've been focusing on the job hunt, I haven't spent much time on the gig hunt, so it's time to get back to it and start making calls again.

No Mas!

Today I walked out on a gig. I was to provide solo background music for a cake competition. This was a non-paying gig, but the plus side was that it doubled as a wedding networking event. I've had positive experiences with other networking events, and I've usually booked paid gigs with the people I've met. I had no reason to believe today would be any different.

My first clue that this might not be the ideal gig was when I arrived (an hour early as usual) and no one knew where I was supposed to set up. There was apparently no thought given as to where the FREE background musician should be. It was as if they'd forgotten that I was even going to be there. I was assured that I would have a spot to play and a table to display cards and brochures. Didn't happen.

There was only one area where I could fit, so I carved out a space to play behind some of the vendors. I even found a table that I could use to set out my business cards, not that it did any good. Because I had to set up behind the vendors, there was a physical barrier between me and anyone who might want to pick up one of my cards. My reason for playing the event (networking and advertising) was negated before I even played a single note.

On top of that, I was asked to turn the music down not once, not twice, but three times. You could use any number of adjectives to describe my solo style, but "loud" isn't one of them. The first time I was asked to turn down? No problem. It wouldn't be the first time I've misjudged the volume level, and I'm more than happy to accommodate by lowering the volume. The second time? Annoying. I've never been asked to turn down twice. Even so, I turned down again, even though I could hardly hear myself. After I was told to turn it down a third time, I came to the conclusion that if the event staff could hear me at all, it must mean that I'm too loud. As a background musician, I understand all about playing at a low volume level, but it has to be heard to some degree, or I may as well not even be there. My music is soft and understated, but there's an art to what I do. It ain't Muzak.

I was playing for free, and it was not worth my time to continue playing at an inaudible level for three more hours behind a physical barricade. You either want music or you don't, and it seemed to me that they didn't want me. After being told to turn down for the third time, I finished my song, packed my gear, and left. The vendors, who were sitting directly in front of my amp, were enjoying my music and were quite surprised to learn that I was too loud.

I'm easygoing. I get along with just about everyone I've ever met. I'm accommodating, and as long as I'm treated with respect, I'll go the extra mile to help you out. But I have a switch that you don't want to flip. I left without making a scene. A couple vendors asked where I was going, so I explained, and they understood. As a matter of fact, one of them was so upset that she told me she was going to complain on my behalf. I'm thankful that none of the event staff tried to stop me, because my low simmer could very well have come to a full boil.

Not to be arrogant, but I think I'm pretty damned good at what I do. I don't have blazing technique, but I can make my guitar sing, and my voice isn't half bad, either. Not having played the guitar for very long, I've been taking every playing opportunity that comes up, simply for the experience. Now it's time to cut back on the "for exposure" gigs and make room for better opportunities.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Losing It #13: Steady On

I've lost over 80 pounds so far. I started at 323. This morning I weighed 242, and I'm getting closer and closer to my goal of 200 pounds. This is a time that I have to be steady and stick with the plan. In the past, when I've reached this weight, for some reason I've often let it slide and started packing on the pounds again.

The last time I went on a weight loss campaign, I made it down to 235 before I gave it up. I didn't give up right away. It started slowly. I had started running again, and I told myself that I could handle a pint of Ben and Jerry's once a week. I justified the weekly indulgence by figuring that running would magically melt the extra calories. I stopped losing weight, but at least with the running, I wasn't gaining any weight. Then I caught a nasty cold and was too weak to run for about a week. Of course, I wasn't too weak to eat ice cream! After a week of non-exercise, I had lost momentum. Soon I stopped exercising altogether and started eating more junk: ice cream, chips, and fast food. A year later, I was even heavier than before.

I also experienced some frustration with my running a couple years ago. I could feel myself getting faster. I began to think that I could recapture my glory days and maybe even come out of nowhere in local races to place in my age group. One morning, as I was feeling particularly fast, two chatting high school girls blew by me like I was standing still. Talk about a reality check! Instead of dealing with the fact that I wasn't nearly as fast as I use to be, I started to lose the motivation to run.

This time around, I don't plan on making the same mistakes.

  • I know that ice cream is my Achilles heel. As much as I love the stuff, not a bit of ice cream has passed my lips for nearly half a year. So I'm running again and sticking to good eating habits.
  • I've gotten over the fact that I don't run fast anymore. I'm content to enjoy the exercise, and I'm focused on running lightly and easily. If a flock of gossiping high school girls passes me on the road, good for them.
  • If I get sick and can't run for a while, that's okay. I can walk. If it turns out that years of obesity have left my knees in a sorry state, I can walk. I enjoy walking almost as much as running.
The biggest mistake I made the last time I tried to lose weight was trying to do it all by myself. Aside from gigs and rehearsals, I'm a hermit. I live alone, and I prefer to do most of my activities alone. I exercise alone, too. Although I spend a lot of time by myself, that doesn't mean I have to be alone in my weight loss campaign. This time I have a lot of people behind me. I've posted fitness updates regularly on Facebook and in this blog, and in return I've received lots of support. Not only that, but many of my friends have started losing weight, too. Even though we're not dieting and exercising together in person, I feel like we're together in spirit.

This is the point where I typically hit the wall, but I'm determined not to let that happen again. I just need to be aware of my tendencies and to know that, recluse that I am, I get by a little help from my friends.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Audition

I've just lasted through what must be the longest, most involved interview process ever devised for a quarter time job. The job is music director for Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North, or UUMAN (pronounced like "human"). If I get the job, I'll be directing the choir, putting together instrumental groups for services, taking part in the planning of worship services, and in general overseeing the music at UUMAN.

After being one of two finalists selected from the interviews, I rehearsed the choir, met with a handful of choir members for lunch, and then participated in this morning's Sunday service (conducting the choir, singing a solo, and leading the hymns). If you factor in preparation time, interviews, this morning's service, and driving, I've probably spent over 15 hours preparing for this 10 hour per week job.

Fifteen hours is a lot of time to spend proving that you're ready for a quarter time position, but I've enjoyed the process. For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed a job interview. The choir and instrumentalists were a joy to work with, and I met a lot of nice people this week.

Overall, I feel terrific about my audition. I wrote the arrangement for the choral anthem and recruited a handful of instrumentalists from the congregation to complement the choir. Last Wednesday's rehearsal went quite well, and the choir sang superbly this morning. The instrumentalists were enthusiastic about being asked to play, and they did a great job. I can't say enough good things about the piano accompanist, who played beautifully and was absolutely great to work with. My solo was well received.

My audition is over. This week, it's the other person's turn to go through the wringer. Although I'm happy with how I performed musically, the job isn't just about musicianship. It's also about how well I work with the choir, the staff, various committees, and the minister. I have a good feeling about this job. If it turns out I don't win it, it won't be because I had a bad audition. As a matter of fact, this is probably the best audition I've had in my life. There may be intangibles that come into play such as personality or general experience. They may see something in the other candidate that clicks with UUMAN and makes them a better fit.

There's nothing I can do about all that. All I can do now is congratulate myself on a good audition, and then kick back, relax, and wait for the results. UUMAN wants to have a new music director in place by September 20, so I'll hear back from them soon enough.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Losing It #12: Running Man

I'm officially hooked on running again. After walking off the weight for five months, I began running again. I'm not running a lot: just Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I'm combining walking and running. For now, it's about half and half: a combined total of two miles running and two miles walking.

The first week I began running was painful, but it was a good kind of painful, if you can believe such a thing. I've developed a certain amount of strength though taking long walks (4-8 miles), but running is more intense. By the end of the week, I felt myself getting a bit stronger.

Today, after two weeks of running, something magical happened. Running felt easy. My legs felt great, and I wasn't breathing much harder than I breathe when I walk fast. Even the hills didn't feel so bad. My footsteps were light, and I felt like I was just gliding along. There were times I didn't want to stop. I did make myself stop, though, from time to time. I've dropped 80 pounds, but I still have 43 to go, so I'm still heavy for a runner. Running is stressful enough without the excess weight. I'm very careful to take walking breaks to prevent injury. Eventually, I'll be able to run three miles at a stretch, and then we'll see how it goes from there.

The best part about running is that I enjoy it. When I first step out the door, my reason for running is to continue to lose weight. Once I'm warmed up, I'm running because it's fun. I was a fairly fast runner in my glory days. I may never be fast again, but I don't care. I lope along at a happy glide, and it feels great.