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, April 28, 2011

Yoga Newbie

I recently took my first yoga class. It's a different form of exercise than my usual fare of running, cycling, walking, and strength training. I knew there would be a great deal of stretching, which is why I attended the class in the first place, but I was surprised to find that many yoga poses require a certain amount of strength, and there is also an emphasis on balance. I struggled with the flexibility poses, but I did surprisingly well on the poses that required balance and coordination.

There are a lot of poses in yoga, and I hardly remember any of them. I do remember "downward facing dog" and "cobra." There was also something about a cat, a pigeon, a warrior, and a sequence called the sun salutation, which I hardly remember at all. I suppose I'll learn them as I go.

I already knew that I needed to work more on my flexibility, but as the class started, it became woefully apparent just how tight my muscles were, especially my hips, lower back, and hamstrings. I displayed all the flexibility and grace of a 44 year old man who has been a couch potato most of his adult life. I remember one pose where the teacher told us to hold it, and then inch forward until our muscles told us to stop. Well, my muscles were already informing me that there's no way they were going to stretch any further. Just getting into the starting position was enough stretching for me!

Fortunately, yoga class isn't a contest. I was the obvious beginner in the class, as well as the elder statesman. I'm pretty sure I was at least 20 years older than everyone else in the room, and while most of the students seemed to effortlessly flow from one pose to the next, I struggled the whole way. At times I looked ridiculous, but nobody laughed. Everyone was working at their own level, and my level happened to be total beginner.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of the class. In my younger days, I was into bodybuilding for a few years. Although I enjoyed the bodybuilding training, I didn't always like the atmosphere of the gym, especially when some testosterone filled dude would start yelling and grunting. The yoga class was tranquil, and since I'm not exactly rolling in money these days, I also appreciate the minimal equipment requirements. All you really need is a mat. Even I can afford that!

It's fun to be a beginner at something again, knowing that I'm about ready to tap into a new world of knowledge. I'm not really taking yoga for yoga's sake. Instead, I'm using it to gain some flexibility to balance running and cycling. Still, I find it interesting enough that I want to learn more. I just ordered a beginning yoga DVD so I can learn some of the basic poses at home, and I'm looking forward to coming back to my new yoga class once a week.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Silver Comet

This afternoon, I took a nice, long run on the Silver Comet Trail. This trail is terrific! In Atlanta, you have to deal with traffic all the time. I often run on the Stone Mountain Path, which is close to me. It's a good place to run, but even so, you're nearly always running near a busy road. The Silver Comet Trail is different. It's 61 miles of unbroken path. There are a few places you have to watch for cross traffic, but you don't have to run alongside any busy roads. In Atlanta, this is about as close to running on a country road as you can get.

The Silver Comet Trail starts at Mavell Road. I knew I was in for a good time when I pulled in and saw scores of people moving and shaking. Most were cyclists, but there were a few runners, walkers, and rollerbladers, too. There was a large parking lot, but I had trouble finding a spot. I guess weekends are pretty busy on the Silver Comet. Thankfully, there was also a public bathroom. I unpacked my water bottles, GU, and an emergency Cliff Bar. It was 85° with 35% humidity (only April!), so I added some Hammer Gel to half of my water bottles for electrolyte and sodium replacement. After stretching and walking a bit, I fired up my trusty Garmin and headed out.

Considering that this was a long run, and that this was a hot day at noon, I started out too fast. I ran 10-minute miles the first two miles, which is a little speedy (for me) for an LSD (long slow distance run). After that, I settled into a saner 11:30 pace. This may not seem very fast, but an LSD run is all about pacing and patience. The workout creeps up on you gradually, and if you go out too fast, you'll pay for it in the last half of the run. I probably started out too fast because I was influenced by the energy of everyone around me. You'll always run faster in a race, because there are people all around you pulling you along. After spending most of my time running early in the morning alone, I experienced a similar feeling today on the trail. I was thankful I had the Garmin to help me rein in my pace. Running on the Silver Comet periodically may be a big help as I prepare for my first marathon. It's going to be easy to start my marathon too fast, and that's a distance that I might not complete if I spend too much energy in the first part of the race. Running the Silver Comet with all those people around can help me learn to control my competitive urge and pace myself in traffic.

After I settled in, the rest of the run was wonderful. I'm a stereotypical solitary runner, and someday I'd even like to spend some vacation time running some lonesome trails in the American Southwest. That being said, it was also fun to be on the trail with all those other bodies in motion. There were old people and young, super fast cyclists and a little boy who had just taken off the training wheels. (He crashed every hundred feet or so, but the little guy just kept getting back up! He and his dad were just about 50 yards ahead of me on the trail going at about my speed. Little did they know it, but they were excellent pacers.) There were athletic bodies, fat bodies, and bodies like mine which were somewhere in the middle. What we all had in common was that we were out there moving and shaking on a hot Sunday afternoon.

It was a terrific run. I ran much of the trail on the grass next to the asphalt. I like running in dirt and grass when I can. The uneven surface helps strengthen my feet and ankles, and the softer surfaces are better for my joints. I intended to run 12 miles, but I had so much fun that I added an extra 2, for a total of 14 miles. It's too bad that the Silver Comet is so far away. (I went there today because I happened to be in the area for a Sunday service.) On the other hand, this will make my Silver Comet runs that much more special. If I'm up that way for a gig or rehearsal, I'll see if I can work a Silver Comet run into my schedule. This will also be a good place for really long runs. I'm working up to being able to complete a 20-mile run in the next few months, and I plan on running 50 miles on my 50th birthday in another 5+ years. I think both of these important runs will be on the Silver Comet.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Embarrassing Moments in Music History

We all have our moments when we wish we could crawl into a hole and hide from the world. As musicians, our lives can be intensely public, so we often get to share our most embarrassing moments in front of an enrapt, often bewildered audience.

One experience in particular has been permanently seared into my brain. I was a student trombonist at the University of Illinois, playing with the U of I Symphonic Band, which was the top group of five concert bands. Our conductor, James Keene, was your stereotypical hard nosed conductor. You simply didn't want to make a mistake when Professor Keene was waving the stick. It was an honor to be in that band, but it was also a high pressure situation.

We had been rehearsing Arnold Schoenberg's Symphony in B-flat. This is an incredible piece of music, and it's incredibly difficult to perform. It was nearing concert time, and we had never managed to play all the way through it without falling apart. This rehearsal was about a week before the concert, and Mr. Keene wanted to get through the piece, come hell or high water. He told us that we simply weren't going to stop. We were going to pretend it was concert time and play all the way through it.

Surprisingly, it all came together. Not only did we make it all the way through, but the band sounded marvelous. It was magic. We worked our way to the final, glorious chord. The only thing that could have possibly ruined this moment was…me.

I was holding my last note (an F above the bass clef staff), playing as loudly as I could. While Mr. Keene was holding the chord, a little voice of doubt made me look down at my music to be doubly sure I was playing the right note. The split second I looked away, Mr. Keene gave the final cut-off. The next sequence of events took no more than a few seconds, but it seemed like minutes to me. Time slowed down. I looked back up, not yet aware that the entire band had stopped playing. Mr. Keene was looking at me funny. I knew something was wrong, but my addled brain couldn't figure out what that strange sound was. I realized that the strange sound was me, playing an excruciatingly loud F all by myself. Making a sound like ripping sheet metal, I tore the trombone away from my mouth and stared bullets into my music stand. Nobody said a word. That was the last note of the rehearsal. I quietly packed up my horn and slunk away.

The moral of the store? Always watch the conductor!

Another fine moment in music history involves a trombone trio at a friend's recital, but that's a story for another day.