About Me

My photo
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, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sticking With It

Lately a few of my Facebook friends have posted status reports on their diet. I've read comments like, "Oh God, I start my diet tomorrow," "Man, this is gonna suck," and "I'm so hungry."

I absolutely guarantee their efforts are doomed to failure. If you want to start a successful weight loss campaign, you can't approach it with the idea that your diet is some sort of penance that will finally be over once you reach a magic number on the bathroom scale.

Unless you're a masochist, there's only so long you'll be able to take self-punishment. If you're already in the "poor me" mindset when you're following your diet, you'll feel even worse when you slip up. (Trust me, I've had plenty of experience in this area.) Then, one of two things will happen: Either you'll punish yourself further by redoubling your diet efforts, or you'll break and give up your diet. If you're doing dietary penance, you will eventually give up and gain weight again.

Also, don't think that the diet will be over once you've reached your magic weight, and that you can then start eating all the "good" food you've been denying yourself. This is another recipe for disaster. All that "good" food is what made you gain weight in the first place. Again, I have plenty of personal experience in this area.

Rather than punishing yourself with a fad diet that no human could possibly stick with, think of it as altering your eating habits. There is plenty of good food out there that also happens to be good for you. Gradually alter your eating habits, and by the time you've reached your goal, you won't even feel like you're on a diet. (And even though this blog entry is about diet, I must strongly state that it'll help you enormously if you add moderate exercise into the mix. You don't have to follow my path and become a born again long distance runner. Try 30 minutes of quick walking. If you don't think you have time for 30 minutes, then go for 10. It's better than nothing.)

I'm not qualified to tell you what to eat on your diet, but here's the simple approach that's helped me lose 122 pounds so far.

  • Breakfast. Usually 1) cereal (non sugar) and skim milk, or 2) granola (3/4 cup), berries, and a big glob of plain non-fat yogurt, or 3) oatmeal (no sugar) with a little honey mixed in.
  • Lunch (usually my biggest meal). Some kind of lean meat (usually chicken or fish) and a big pile of vegetables. Another common meal is a large salad (very light on the dressing).
  • Dinner (usually a smaller meal, and usually early…around 5 p.m. In general, I try not to eat after 6). A repeat of breakfast or lunch, but with smaller portions unless it's a salad. As long as you go very light on the dressing and don't blanket it with cheese, you can generally eat as much salad as you want.
  • If I eat out, I order a side salad instead of fries, and I've trained myself to look for grilled items and salads on the menu and ignore fried foods.
My approach to diet is very basic. There's nothing magic about it. I simply eat healthy foods in reasonable portions, and I do my best to stay away from sugars, fried foods, and processed foods. I do get hungry on my diet, but that's because I'm running a caloric deficit to lose weight. Although I get hungry, I never feel like I'm starving or denying myself. Once I've reached my target weight, I'll be comfortable sticking with this way of eating, and I'll be able to eat larger portions because I'll be maintaining weight instead of losing.

Rather than approaching your diet as a negative ("It sucks to be so hungry"), approach it as a positive ("I'm finally going to turn my health around."). A positive outlook and a simple eating plan will go a long way toward helping you stick with it and turn you into a successful weight loss story.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Changing Tastes

As of today, I've lost 120 pounds. I only have three more pounds to lose before I reach my major goal of 200 pounds. As I continue to run and work out, I'll probably lose another 10 pounds or so. Once I dip below 200, I don't have a specific weight in mind. Through healthy eating and plenty of exercise, my body will gradually settle down to its own ideal weight.

Most people will tell you that when you lose this much weight, you can expect to be more energetic, have greater mobility, and feel more confident. This is all true, but one surprise is that my taste buds have changed. Last April, when I first began a concerted effort to lose weight, I constantly craved all the foods I had been gorging on for the past 15 years: chips, pizza, burgers, fried foods, sweets of any kind, and my favorite treat of all, Ben and Jerry's ice cream. For about a month, I fantasized about these foods constantly. It took real effort to avoid these foods and switch to a cleaner diet.

Somewhere along the way, I actually began craving foods that were good for me. At first, I attributed this to sheer hunger. It's not that I'm starving on my current diet (far from it), but when you're running a caloric deficit, you're going to get hungry. I just figured that if you're hungry enough, just about anything tastes good. I first noticed this when I went for sushi with a friend a few months ago. I never used to like sushi, but I gave it another try, and, lo and behold, I like it now. Later, I noticed that I was craving vegetables. These days, when I go out to eat, I walk into a restaurant hoping they have good salads or a wide range of grilled entrees.

It's not that I wouldn't want to snarf down a bag a chips or a pint of Ben and Jerry's if someone brought them to me, but I just don't search out these foods anymore. I think part of the reason I didn't enjoy eating the healthier foods was that the super rich junk food interfered with my palate. When I first changed my diet, my fantasy was that after I reached a certain weight, I would treat myself to Ben and Jerry's or some pizza, but even that has changed. Instead, I'll be treating myself to some new clothes and running gear, and once it warms up, I'll get my bike fixed up so I can use it for weekend rides and local errands. I'll certainly enjoy ice cream and other treats now and then, but in moderation.

All you dieters out there take heart. If you've just started watching your calories, you're probably craving junk food right now. Keep the junk food out of the house so it's not easily accessible. If you go out to eat, order a salad instead of fries. I know you're longing for some candy or some tasty fried goodness, and unfortunately, you're going to continue craving them for a few weeks. Such is life. Just focus on making good choices from meal to meal. Stick with it, and you'll eventually discover that healthy eating has become a habit.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

All Shook Up

Atlanta is thawing as I write this. Most of the winters I've seen in Atlanta, including this one, are pretty mild. It'll occasionally snow, but it usually melts the next day. Last week was unusual in that we had a pretty good dose of snow, coupled with a week of subfreezing temperatures. With around 10 snow plows for a city of half a million people, Atlanta was brought to a standstill for a week.

With rehearsals canceled last week, I was left with a clear calendar. While many Atlantoids were going stir crazy, I was taking advantage of the extra alone time to woodshed a show book. For you musical civilians, to "woodshed" is to practice something over and over and over and over until you get it right…and then you practice it a little more just to be sure.

I'm going to be playing in Act3 Productions' All Shook Up in March. I'm really excited about this. When I was a trombone player, pit orchestra was my favorite kind of playing, and I'm thrilled to have my first of what will hopefully be many opportunities to play in pit orchestras as a guitarist. That's the good news. The bad news is that the guitar book is very difficult. Keep in mind that All Shook Up is based on the music of Elvis, so it's not like the guitarist can hide in the mix. I would have preferred to reenter the world of pit orchestra playing with an easier book, but you have to take the opportunities that come. (Also keep in mind that I've only been playing guitar for seven years. Maybe in another seven years I'll look back and chuckle at how difficult this book seemed at the time.)

When I first opened the book and listened to the sound track, I was overwhelmed. Essentially, the book is page after page of tricky guitar lines. Really, there are two guitar parts, a lead guitar and a rhythm guitar, but I believe I'm the only guitarist in the show, so once rehearsals begin, I'll have to figure out which is more important, the lead line or the rhythm part. For example, if a sax or trumpet is doubling my lead line, then I may serve the ensemble better by switching to rhythm guitar.

There is so much tricky music in this book that there's no way I could absorb it all overnight, so I had to figure out a way to start chipping away at it until I could play the book. First, I simply hacked my way through the book a few times. On the third pass, I wrote down the pages that would need special attention. Some of these pages have parts that are difficult enough that I need to drill them every day. Others aren't quite as tricky, and as long as I play each page every 2-3 days, I'll be in good shape by the first rehearsal.

In my list of pages, the left hand column is for pages that I need to practice every day, and the right hand column is for the pages that I can cycle through more slowly. I spend twice as much time working on the left hand column, so if I have 90 minutes to practice, I'll practice the "easy" pages on the right for 30 minutes, and then I'll woodshed the pages on the left for an hour. You can see that a couple entries in the left hand column have been scratched out. Those have improved enough that I've moved them to the "easy" column. Eventually I'll be able to scratch a few more out and move them to the other side.

To some, this may seem like an anal retentive way to approach music, but I had to figure out a way to learn a lot of difficult music in a hurry. My initial goal is to not embarrass myself in the first rehearsal, and my ultimate goal is to sound great come showtime.

I'm enjoying the challenge this show book presents, and I'm finding that it's helping me improve as a guitarist overall. I'm also kind of hoping that my next musical has a tamer guitar part…lots of "boom-chucks" would be nice!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Year, New Opportunities

Around this time last year, I decided that 2010 was going to be "my year," and I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out. I laid the groundwork for what I believe will eventually be a successful second career in performing. I made dramatic improvements to my health by dropping 116 pounds. I should be down to my desired weight in another few months, and I'm planning on running two half-marathons this year and a marathon in another year or two. I've met new friends, and for the first time in over 20 years, I feel like I've found my little place in the world.

I'm not stopping there. I have a tendency to always be pressing forward. As happy as I was with 2010, there's plenty more to accomplish. 2010 was a year for laying a strong foundation, and I'm already looking ahead to see what else I can do.

As far as opportunities, 2011 is already off to a great start. Just two days ago, I became the guitarist for the Atlanta Swing Orchestra. Logan Thomas, who has been the guitarist for the Atlanta Swing Orchestra for 8 years, took a new job that has him traveling a lot. Logan decided that he wasn't going to be able to dedicate the time to the ASO that he would like, so he called me and asked me if I wanted to switch roles, with me being the main guy and Logan subbing. (This is a case in point for my relationship-building approach to finding gigs. If I was the type of sub who was constantly angling to take take the spot, you can bet that Logan wouldn't have called me!)

Now, being the guitarist with the Atlanta Swing Orchestra certainly doesn't mean I can quit my day job – not that I have one. The band doesn't play a lot of gigs. What it does mean is that I have a weekly opportunity to play big band rhythm guitar, which is far and away my favorite type of playing. It also means that I may have more small group gig opportunities simply by spending time with 16 other musicians.

Another exciting opportunity is playing in a pit orchestra for a musical in March, when I'll be playing in Act3 Productions' All Shook Up. First of all, when I was a trombone player, I loved playing in pit orchestras, and so I'm thrilled that I have an opportunity to do some pit playing as a guitarist. On top of that, I've heard nothing but good things about Act3 Productions. It's a fairly new company (just over a year old) that already has good reviews. As far as I understand, they've had a regular guitarist, but he moved to Nashville. If I do a good job with this show, I should slide right into that guitar spot. Assuming it's successful over the long haul, I'm essentially getting in on the ground floor and can grow along with Act3 Productions.

Playing with Act3 Productions is about more than just playing shows. Just as with the Atlanta Swing Orchestra, it's an opportunity to be with other musicians and continue gaining experience and building a reputation for being professional and easy to work with. With Act3, I'll be meeting a new circle of musicians, which will eventually lead to more playing opportunities.

We're still in the first half of January, and this is already a promising year. I can't wait to see what the rest of 2011 brings!