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.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Rest of Your Life

Tonight at the grocery store, the cashier misspoke. Handing me the receipt, she told me, "Enjoy the rest of your life." That is my intention.

Sometimes people look back at their high school or college glory days and say that was the best time of their life. Those were good days for me, and college in particular was the best time of my life…until now. I've had some unpleasant years, including my short and spectacularly bad career as a band director and my last year or so in the Air Force. (Nothing against the Air Force. I was just in a bad situation.) Don't even get me started on Cleveland.

These days, I'm finding that I spend my time mostly on things I like to do. I still enjoy music engraving, which is still my main source of income. I spend a lot of my days practicing guitar and rehearsing with a variety of groups, including a jazz combo, an originals band, and a big band. I'm slowly but steadily making inroads in the Atlanta music scene, and my gig calendar is full. My roster of private students is growing steadily as well, and I'm confident that by the end of the year, teaching will make up a respectable percentage of my income.

My weight and health issues are finally under control. I'm at a healthy weight, looking and feeling better than I have in years, and feeling more confident in general. I originally began running to accelerate my weight loss, but running has now become more than just a means to stay healthy. I love running nearly as much as I love music, and I look forward to my "running mornings."

I've made more friends in the past two years than I made in the previous ten years. Without even trying, I seem to have connected with the right people at the right time. Part of this is because I'm meeting more people as I play more gigs, but most of it is because I've removed some emotional barriers that I've always used to keep people at arm's length.

Even though my yearly income places me squarely in the "poor" category, I am rich in friends and music, and I plan on nurturing and growing this special kind of wealth as the years roll on. I had a good laugh at the cashier's slip of the tongue, but I became more grateful for what I have as I thought about her words. Whatever your situation is, whatever your passions are, I hope that you, too, will enjoy the rest of your life.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Balancing Act

I don't know if there is such a thing as a foodaholic, but if there is, then I am one. Believe it or not, losing 124 pounds was fairly easy. I'm extremely goal oriented. Once I've set my sights on achieving something, there's usually not much that can stop me. Now that I've met my goal and am at a healthy weight, I'm finding food to be a challenge again. About a week after reaching my target weight, I found myself bingeing, telling myself that since I'm doing so much distance running, I'll automatically keep the weight off. This is the kind of mindset that reversed my weight loss efforts the last time. I may be running a lot, but it's still a numbers game. No matter how much I run, if I consume more calories than I burn, I'm going to gain weight again. Having learned from past mistakes, I put a stop to the bingeing right away.

I can certainly consume more food than I've been able to eat in the past year, but not so much that my middle starts to expand again. I'm not counting every single calorie anymore, but I'm still mindful of the types of food I eat and my portion sizes. I don't bring junk food into the house, and my cupboard is potato chip free. My will is weakest at night, so I'm maintaining my "don't eat after 6:00" rule as often as practical. In general, if I eat four small meals per day of around 500 calories, I'm in pretty good shape.

While I may always be dealing with food issues, at least I've rekindled my love of running and exercising in general. Running was originally a means of shedding pounds, but now it's a passion nearly on par with my love of music. I'm planning on running two half marathons this year, I want to be able to run 20 miles straight by the end of the year, and next year I'd like to run a marathon. After that, who knows?

I just love food! While I don't have to be as restrictive now as I was when I was in weight loss mode, I still have to be vigilant. The adjustments in my eating will take some experimentation, but I'm confident I'll find the right balance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Don't Get Drunk

In negotiating with a client for this weekend's gig, I asked two inevitable questions: Can we bring a guest? Will there be food? His answer was that yes, we can each bring a guest, but they have to dress appropriately. (This is for a black tie affair.) We can also eat the food, but, as he wrote, "I am comfortable with you bringing a family member as long as everyone is responsible in consumption of food and alcohol. Last year, the band ate and drank everything we had, so they left a bad taste in people's mouth."

This isn't the first time I've heard this kind of warning. Last year a corporate client told my band that we were free to visit the buffet between sets, but "please don't get drunk." This was ironic, considering I've had exactly one beer in my entire life. She seemed a little surprised when I told her I didn't drink, as if I had destroyed her stereotype of a working musician.

This illustrates that being a professional musician is about more than just being able to play circles around the competition. Equally important is the way you conduct yourself on and off stage. This Saturday, InTown Band will play a cocktail set at 8 and a dance set at 10 at the Cherokee Arts Center. We'll have an hour break, during which we can eat and mingle with guests. During our break, we're going to be "on the job" just as much we are when we're onstage.

As for me, I'm not the hottest guitar player in town, but there's something to be said for showing up on time, properly dressed, and on my best behavior. A great audition or demo will get you a gig, but acting like a pro will earn repeat customers.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

LSD

A highlight of the week is my LSD run, and no, it's not what you think. To a runner, LSD is "Long, Slow Distance." This is a weekly run that is at least 1.5 times as long as your average run. I'm currently running 4-6 miles on a given day during the week, but my long run is at least 10 miles. For some, this may seem masochistic. For others, my 10+ miles is just an average workout.

LSD is a must for a distance runner. The way to build endurance is to, well, endure. It's an incredibly challenging workout. You don't want to go for an LSD run more than once a week unless you're trying to run your body into the ground. There are probably some ultra-runners out there who would disagree, but one LSD run per week is plenty for us mortals.

The LSD run also teaches you mental toughness and patience. You must maintain a slower pace on an LSD run, or you simply won't last…or maybe you will last, but you'll wish you hadn't! At the beginning of an LSD run, I curb my enthusiasm, running purposefully and slowly. Yesterday I ran 11 miles. It felt like I was moving at a snail's pace, but once I hit 5 miles and realized I had 6 more to go, I was congratulating myself for maintaining a reasonable pace. Running an 11:30 mile may seem very slow. Well, it is very slow, but believe me, if you run at that pace for 11 miles, you'll feel it!

About 15 years ago, I was a pretty speedy runner, training mostly for fast 5K and 10K races. Even though I'm not nearly as fast these days, I'm able to run longer distances because I've learned the value of slowing down. Back then, I used a stopwatch so that I could push myself to run faster and faster. Today, I wear a GPS watch that keeps track of my pace. Instead of using it to push the tempo, I actually use it to slow down on my LSD run. If I find that I'm running faster than a certain pace, even if I feel strong, I'll slow down until I reach the pace that will allow me to go the distance. As I continue running, I'll naturally become faster as I grow stronger, but this year is all about endurance. One of my goals is to be able to run 20 miles by the end of the year, and I've already worked out a training plan.

The Long, Slow Distance mindset is part of my musical life, too. As a guitarist, I want to be able to play like Joe Pass, Frank Vignola, or Martin Taylor. The reality is that I sound good for someone who's only been playing seven years, but I'm nowhere near their league. All I can do is maintain my slow, steady pace and go the distance. Each day, I run through scales and patterns, practice sight-reading, work on improvisation, practice music for upcoming performances, review my solo arrangements work on new arrangements, and so forth. Every practice session is like logging another mile in my LSD guitar run. You never know, someday I might wake up and realize I can run with the big dogs. Until then, it's one step at a time.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Teaching Again

A couple months ago I hung out my shingle as a private guitar teacher. To be honest, I didn't feel called to teach, or that I was serving some kind of high purpose. I needed the money! Since I began playing guitar, I've cut my freelance music engraving business way back. I had decided to make another run at a performance career, and I knew that I had to create enough practice time for myself to achieve a certain level of mastery on the guitar. As a guitarist, I improved in a hurry, but the trade-off is that my finances have suffered. I decided to begin teaching as a way to improve my money situation.

After I graduated from college, I bombed as a band director. I was an excellent conductor, but I couldn't deal with a room full of kids. On the other hand, I really enjoyed teaching private trombone lessons, and I was a good teacher, too. I had a high school student who came to me with a crappy tone and very little technique. By the time I was done with her, she was one of the best high school trombone players in the state.

Although I started teaching guitar for the money, I'm beginning to find other rewards, and my love of private teaching has been rekindled. I've only been teaching some of my students for a few weeks, but I'm already beginning to see progress. It'll be fun to see where they can take their guitar playing in another year or two. Unless it's recorded, a performance is ephemeral, and even then, a recording is a poor substitute for experiencing music in person. On the other hand, the skills and knowledge that I'm passing on to my students will stick with them for a long time, maybe even a lifetime, and you never know if you're helping train the next big superstar.

Right now I make house calls, traveling to each student's home to teach. My apartment isn't the ideal spot to teach. I just can't imagine mommy being willing to leave her 10 year old son or daughter with the large 44 year old man in the basement. My initial goal is to recruit 20 regular students. I'm off to a good start. I've only been teaching a couple months, and I have 7 students on my roster. As my student list grows, I'll eventually reach a tipping point, when it's going to be too much of a hassle to drive around. At that point, I'll look for a nearby music store or teaching studio to use as a base of operations. The downside will be that the store will take a percentage of my lesson fee. The upside will be that I won't have to drive all over creation, allowing me time for even more students. Also, if I teach in a store, the students will have easy access to any equipment or music they'll need.

I'll keep up the music engraving for now, but grand plan is to make a living solely from performing, teaching, and royalties. (I have an idea for a book.) One way or the other, I plan to make a living with a guitar in my hands.

Transition

I've accomplished my weight loss goal. Last April, I weighed 323 pounds. Today I weigh 199. Now it's time to switch gears. I've had a weight loss mentality for so long that I'm finding it hard to believe that I don't need to diet to lose weight anymore. I'll most certainly lose a few more as a result of my distance running addiction, but I don't have to be as strict.

While I have to change gears, I don't want to throw it into reverse, thinking I can just eat whatever the hell I want. Fortunately, my weight loss diet wasn't too crazy. I ate normal, healthy foods as I was losing weight. I just didn't stuff myself silly. Now I'll be comfortable eating the same foods, except I'll be able to eat larger portions. I'll be able to indulge now and then if I go out, and holidays won't be such torture.

I still plan on weighing in once a week to keep tabs on myself. If my weight drifts above 200, I'll know to cut back a bit. Since I'll be training for half marathons and eventually marathons, I suspect the weight will no longer be an issue.

The weight loss was enjoyable in a weird sort of way, but I'm glad that chapter of my life is over. I'm ready to move on.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sweet Revenge

This morning I finished a personally satisfying run. Last November, I ran up and down some hills that I had no business tackling. It was the first time in over 15 years that I had tried to run 6 miles, and I just wasn't ready to handle that distance and those hills at the same time. I ended up with shin splints and had to ride the stationary bike for over a week while my legs recovered from that misguided run.

Today was different. I got my revenge, conquering the hills that conquered me. I didn't even intend to run those hills this morning. Today was supposed to be a standard five mile run around a regular loop in the Avondale Estates neighborhood. I ran up Forrest, only to find that my way was blocked. There were signs telling me that the road was closed, but I didn't think that applied to runners until a police officer got out of his car and told me I had to turn back. I turned around, trying to decide which direction I wanted to go. I have a special knack for getting lost, even in my own neighborhood, so I wanted to be sure I didn't turn this into an epic run trying to find my way home.

I chose a direction and soon found myself running the same hills that kicked my butt a few months ago. I couldn't help but think that the first hill used to be bigger. I motored up the hill, no problem, and decided to retrace the hilly route I followed in November. I was surprised to find that all the hills seemed smaller. They were still challenging, but I was able to run them all well within my comfort zone.

The improved hill running is a result of better fitness and improved technique. I'm continually amazed at how the body adapts to the demands you put on it. As long as you  don't overload it with too much at once, your body will gradually adjust. If you sit around like a slug and eat chips with a Ben and Jerry's chaser, your body adapts by getting fatter. I speak from personal experience. If you gradually increase your running mileage and include some hills in your runs, eventually you'll be able to easily run most hills and not feel like you're inducing a stroke.

For those of you who don't run, you may not be aware that there is a technique that helps you run up hills more easily. If you're running long distances, you don't want charge up a big hill, because you'll sap your energy and have problems with the rest of your run. If you try to sprint up the hill, the hill will win every time. Instead, you lean forward and take small, quick steps. To me, it feels a little like you're running up a long series of tiny steps. It feels funny at first, until you realize that you're already halfway up the hill and your legs still feel strong. As I run up each hill, my mantra is "Baby steps. Quick turnover. Flow."

Between the improved fitness, better technique, and an unexpected detour, I discovered that I'm a much stronger runner than I was just a few months ago. There will be more hills to climb in the future, and I'm looking forward to meeting new challenges. (You can click here to check out this morning's running route.)