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.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 UUMN Conference Last Day

Sunday, the final day of the 2014 UUMN Conference in San Diego. The conference itself was done. All that remained was to participate in two morning services at the 1st UU Church of San Diego. These were regularly scheduled services, heavy on the music, and the regular congregation was in attendance.

The mass choir sounded wonderful. There were too many singers to fit in the choir loft, so the choir sat in the middle of the sanctuary, facing the chancel. The band remained seated on the chancel through the entire service, so when the choir was singing, we had the best seat in the house. The band was a big hit. There were even people dancing in the aisles at times. Do you know how hard it is to get Unitarian Universalists to clap, let alone dance in the aisles?

I compared notes with Susanne, our bass player. We were both grateful for our experience in sitting in front of congregations for extended periods, pretending to be attentive. I like to call it "fake awake." Although the services were nice, we were exhausted. We managed to stay upright during the services, but we were tired, and the sanctuary was warm. Susanne snuck into the choir loft and took a nap between services.

Following the second service was the closing circle. I'm not a touchy feely kind of guy, but even so, I found myself wandering around the circle, hugging people goodbye, and looking forward to seeing them in Boston, where next year's conference will be held.

Some random thoughts and memories from the week:

  • Sitting in a bathroom stall in the Atlanta airport, I was startled by a voice announcement that sounded like it was right outside my stall. "Hello! This is Mayor Kasim Reed. I'd like to welcome you to Atlanta."
  • I was grateful for the chance to play guitar often. I'm uncomfortable socializing, but the opportunity to play with others helped me make connections.
  • The Traveler guitar was my conference buddy. I'm glad I bought that little guitar. It doesn't even compare to a full sized guitar. I was happy to be reunited with my Taylor when I returned, but it sure was convenient to have a travel sized guitar that fit in an overhead compartment and was easy to tote.
  • Two years in a row I have been fortunate to have good roommates. And by that, I mean roommates who are pleasant, interesting…and who go to bed early!
  • My favorite session was the workshop on children's songs, musical games, and dances. I can't wait to spring those on the children at NWUUC.
  • It was nice to see some colleagues who work near me, in particular Don Milton from UUCA in Atlanta and Amber Fetner who is music director in Athens, GA. As always, it was great to see Sarah Dan Jones again.
  • I had booked a red eye flight back to Atlanta, so I figured I had seen the last of the conference goers by the time I got to the San Diego airport. No! I was walking through the food court, looking for an overpriced meal, when I heard "Tom!" There was Amber Fetner. And then there was somebody else, and somebody else. And somebody else.
  • I had a LOT of downtime at the airport. I took a nap and woke up with a workshop idea for next year. I had enough time that I was able to outline the entire workshop. Soon I should see a submission form for workshops at the 2015 conference. If my idea is accepted, I'll write more about it.
Overall, this year's conference was a tremendous experience for me. On the one hand, I had the opportunity to play often and contribute in ways that I am strong. On the other hand, I attended workshops that challenged me, offered fresh ideas, and helped bring up my weak areas. It was a perfect balance. I'm looking forward to being in Boston next year!

Friday, July 25, 2014

2014 UUMN Conference Day 4

Saturday, the third full day of the 2014 UUMN Conference in San Diego.

Heading to a spot by the pool for a guitar warm-up, I had to laugh when one of the other conferences goers looked at me and said "Another terrible day." I have no complaints about the weather in San Diego. I brought a little bit of Atlanta's rain along for my first day in San Diego, and I do mean just a little bit – just a sprinkle, really. After that first day, it was sunny, beautiful, and in the 70s.

We started the day with a remembrance service, which was moving. During part of the service, the worship leaders listed names of members who passed away this year. I haven't been in the UUMN long, so I didn't recognize most of the names. As I continue to come to conferences and participate in UUMN activities over the years, I'm sure to recognize more and more of them. Whether I recognized the names or not this year, they are all an important part of the continuing history of Unitarian Universalism.

After the service, I helped Sarah Dan Jones with a reading session. Her partner, Abby, played piano on most of the pieces, but a few of them called for a guitar. Most of the reading sessions were for choral music, but in this session, we read through Silliman Competition winners, honorable mentions, runners up, etc. The Silliman Competition was established to promote the writing of music suitable for Unitarian Universalist congregational singing. There were some really nice pieces, many of which I'll be ordering. You can click here to read more about the competition and this year's winners.

After the reading session, I scurried over to band rehearsal. By now, the band was sounding really good. It was all starting to click. We rehearsed with the singers for the entire rehearsal this time, putting it all together for the next day's services.

Following rehearsal, I attended Don Milton's excellent session, "Going Beyond Warm-Ups." I got a lot out of this session – a LOT. So much that I was both inspired and overwhelmed. Fortunately, Don is also in Atlanta, and I offered him a deal. I will be buy him dinner if I can bring along a recorder and have him sing through several of these exercises again. I'm looking forward to applying his ideas and exercises to my own choir rehearsals.

I skipped the next session. By now, I was beginning to wear down. I wasn't particularly interested in any of the sessions in the final workshop slot, but I was keenly interested in taking a nap. I managed to find a room with a couch, and I quickly fell asleep.

After my little nap, I attended the final reading choral reading session, which focused on easier unison, 2- and 3-part music. We sang a few pieces that I'd like to order for my choir. Between this session, the Silliman session, and the first choral reading session, which focused on UU composers, I have quite a list of music that I'd like to order. I can't order it all. Pretty soon, I'll have to sift through the list and choose the ones that really spoke to me.

After the reading session, I headed home and once again spent some alone time with the guitar in my hotel room. All workshops and rehearsals were done. The next day, we would participate in two morning services and then say our goodbyes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014 UUMN Conference Day 3

Friday, the second full day of the 2014 UUMN Conference in San Diego. This was my favorite day of the conference.

Like many of us from the Eastern Standard Time zone, I had difficulty sleeping. I woke early, headed outside to practice guitar, and then walked to the host church, the 1st UU Church of San Diego. The walk to the church was only 25 minutes, but most of that was up a steep hill. Practicing guitar at 6 in the morning helped me maintain some amount of finger dexterity. Walking up that hill provided my exercise. And doing both allowed me to feel a certain amount of smugness throughout the conference. If the conference had been extended for another week, I'm pretty sure I would have taken the buses like most everyone else.

After the initial service, I attended an excellent plenary session focusing on creating a good flow in the service. I took away some good ideas from that, and then went on to band rehearsal.

Although there were still some rough patches, the contemporary band was noticeably tighter than it was the previous day. The singers joined us toward the end of rehearsal, which I enjoyed very much. They sounded great, and it was nice to be able to hear the complete arrangements, including vocals.

Following rehearsal, I met with Sarah Dan Jones for a quick rehearsal. Sarah Dan would be leading a reading session the next day, and she had asked me to play guitar on a few pieces. I'm glad we got together. Being jazz oriented, I had a very different concept of the songs than Sarah Dan had! We ironed it out, and I was ready for the next thing, which was Scott Roewe's "Creating a Jazz Service" session.

Dana Decker, who led the contemporary band, had asked if I would be interested in playing for Scott's jazz service session. Of course I was interested, and I was happy to learn that Scott would let me play. I really enjoyed the workshop. Scott treated it as a public rehearsal, showing the attendees how to put together a jazz group and how you can adjust harmonies and accompaniments in hymns with jazz styles. Throughout the "rehearsal," Scott took questions. The band members all had microphones and could chime in when needed. Typical of me, while I don't talk much in "real life," I didn't have any problem piping up on stage with a microphone in front of me. I have to admit that I got lost in one song. I think that we were supposed to play the 1st 8 bars as an intro, but I didn't realize that at the time. I got to the bridge, and realized that something was wrong. There's an old adage, "when in doubt, lay out," which is exactly what I did until I figured out where we were. Unfortunately, this particular song was videotaped and posted on Facebook. I will not provide a link to that video. :)

After the jazz service workshop, I broke down my gear and scurried to Sarah Billerbeck's session, "Sing, Move, Dance, Play: movement activities, dances and music games for children of all ages." That's a long title. It was also hands down my favorite workshop of the entire conference. If all I could have done was attend Sarah's workshop, it would still have been worth the trip to San Diego. This past church year, I attempted to start up a children's choir, but I was met with scheduling challenges. Although I still plan to have a children's choir at Northwest UUC, I can only do so much with 15 hours a week. Instead of a formal children's choir this year, I'm planning on venturing into the realm of RE (Religious Education) and working with the kids in the classrooms. This will be brand new territory for me, and this workshop couldn't have come at a better time. I've returned to Atlanta with a great starter kit of songs, musical games, and dances for children. I can't wait to use them in RE! On top of the great information and resources, the workshop was tons of fun. How can you not have fun in a room full of adults playing, laughing, and literally rolling around on the floor? I left that workshop full of new ideas and buzzing with joy from the sheer fun of it all.

Following the children's music workshop was another choral reading session. This session was focused on more difficult material. It was fun to sing this music, but I won't be ordering from that list. Some of the pieces were pretty difficult, and my choir wouldn't be able to sing it. Someday they'll be able to handle that level of difficulty, but not this year.

There was no service this night. Instead, there was a banquet and talent show, which I skipped. By the time the day was over, I was ready to not be around people for a while. While most everyone else was at the banquet, I was recharging by practicing guitar in my hotel room.

This was such a great day. I played a lot of guitar, which is always a plus, but the best part was the children's music workshop. Nearly a week later, I still smile when I think about it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 UUMN Conference Day 2

Thursday, the first full day of the 2014 UUMN Conference in San Diego. This was the beginning of what would be a magical, exhilarating, and exhausting three and a half days of learning and music making.

Each day of the conference began with a 45 minute service. A few days before the conference, Keith Arnold, a fellow UU musician, asked me to play guitar with a band that was being tossed together for the Thursday morning service. So I got up early Thursday morning to grab breakfast and take myself through a guitar warm-up. Getting up early was not a problem this year, since my body was still used to Eastern Standard Time.

The first service was excellent, and the band sounded good. I was thrilled to participate. Throughout the conference, I found myself playing for and with others often. I loved it! I find it difficult to meet people, even when they are as friendly and gregarious as the UUMN crowd. I'm less inhibited if I'm holding a guitar in my hands. Having the opportunity to rehearse and perform with others helped me make connections with people I may have otherwise shied away from.

After the first service was the annual meeting, but I played hooky. Last year, I went to everything, and I came home with a cold. This year, I purposefully skipped a few things as a matter of self care. I'm glad I did. I'm still exhausted (just slept 12 hours), but I'm in better shape than last year. I need to take it easy this week anyway, because I'm attending an intense week-long piano class teacher workshop next week.

So anyway, after the meeting, which I skipped, I attended the first band rehearsal. This was great fun! This is the first year there has been an official conference contemporary band, and I loved it. We had three horns, two keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and singers. We spent the first rehearsal getting to know the music and each other. All the musicians were terrific and super nice. The instrumentalists in the band were coached expertly by Dana Decker, who has a gentle way of demanding perfection and encouraging teamwork. At home, both inside and outside Northwest UUC, I lead nearly every group I perform with. It was rather refreshing to sit back and have someone else tell me what to do.

After band rehearsal, I attended Don Milton and Anne Watson Born's workshop, "It's Not Just Learning the Notes." I just finished my third year at Northwest UUC. While I'm an experienced musician, I'm just a baby at this whole church music thing. I would say that for the first year, maybe two, I was unaware that a church choir is more than just a music making machine. This is a real community for the singers, and it means a great deal to them, otherwise they wouldn't put up with being corrected for 90 minutes every week. This workshop helped reinforce the lesson that I am constantly learning: that the choir is a community. I came out of it with new ideas for nurturing my own choir's community and building relationships.

Finally, I attended a choral reading session. The reading sessions are a highlight for me, because they expose me to new choral literature. Thursday's reading session focused on choral music written by Unitarian Universalist composers. Throughout all these reading sessions, I made note of pieces that I'd like to order for my own choir.

After the reading session, there was a dinner break and an evening service. I found a Mediterranean restaurant with kabobs. It was okay, but I'm spoiled by the excellent food at Noosh Persian Bistro, where I play every Friday with Godfrey and Guy. Noosh does things with rice that you wouldn't believe. But I digress. I skipped the evening service. As a matter of fact, I skipped every evening service so I could go back to the hotel, practice guitar, and recharge.

The first full day of the conference was awesome, and it just kept getting better.

Monday, July 21, 2014

2014 UUMN Conference Day 1

Last year, when I attended the UUMN conference in Dallas, I faithfully blogged about the experience every night. This year, I purposefully left my laptop at home. I didn't miss my laptop at all, but I wasn't able to blog. I did take notes. This and the next few articles will describe my time at this year's conference, which was held in San Diego.

On my minister's orders, I arrived in San Diego a day early to enjoy the city. There is so much to do in San Diego. I knew that if I tried to do it all, I would have been toast before the conference even began, so I just did a couple things. It just so happened that my biggest music engraving client, the Neil A. Kjos Music Company, was located 5 minutes from my hotel. The editor to whom I most often report, Ryan, picked me up at the hotel and took me on a tour of Kjos, where I met other members of the editorial staff and visited the warehouse and the printing press. It was pretty cool to walk by stacks of concert band music that I had engraved. I used to work for a small music publisher, so I was somewhat familiar with the equipment, but I wasn't prepared for the enormity of their main printing press. When I worked at Mark Foster Music Company, the press occupied one small room. The printing press at Kjos was huge! It was at least 100 feet long. It was amazing to watch it in action.

I realize that visiting a music publishing company isn't exactly a "San Diego-ish" thing to do, but I enjoyed the tour immensely. It was also nice to meet the folks at Kjos in person. All of my work with the company has been handled through email and by phone. After the tour, Ryan treated me to a seafood lunch and then dropped me off at the San Diego Zoo at my request. I spent the rest of the afternoon at the zoo and then took a cab back to the hotel.

That was the end of my free day. The next day was Professional Development Day. I didn't get as much out of Pro Development Day as last year, when we explored creative problem solving in the workplace. This year's theme centered around Unitarian Universalist musical heritage. It was okay, even fun at times, but to be honest, it felt like we spent 5 hours patting ourselves on the back in the guise of exploring our motives behind making music. That's just my personal opinion. I'm sure others got a lot out of it. I think I am more driven by intuition and feeling than the average person, but I'm much more driven by logic and problem solving than most musicians, or at least most UU church musicians.

That being said, there were some beautiful moments in Pro Development Day, particularly whenever we sang. There's nothing like being in a room full of musicians singing their hearts out. The emotional impact of this took me completely by surprise last year, when I could hardly sing because I kept choking up. I was braced for it this year, but it didn't lessen the beauty of the moments when we all sang.

Early in the conference, I realized one thing: I would never eat alone. Breakfast? I sat down alone with my eggs and bacon. Two bites into my meal, I heard the words "may I join you?" Next thing you know, the table is full. Lunch? Same thing. For an introvert like myself, this was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the thought of actually conversing with someone, especially at 6 a.m., filled me a certain amount of anxiety. On the other hand, I was partly at the conference to make connections, which is super easy when you are surrounded by gregarious musicians.

The first full day of the conference began the next day. This would turn out to be a truly marvelous few days, as you will see in the next articles.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

San Diego Bound

At this time tomorrow, I'll be on a plane, flying to San Diego for the annual UUMN Conference. UUMN is the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network.

This will be my second UUMN Conference. Last year's experience was wonderful. I learned a lot from the various workshops, discovered new music in the choral reading sessions, and even got my feet wet as a participant when I was asked to play guitar in a contemporary music workshop. The nicest thing about the whole week, though, was being around a lot of other people who do what I do. When you're a church music director, you are usually the only professional musician where you work. I enjoyed sharing notes with other music directors.

I caught a cold at the end of last year's workshop, partly because I was around a lot of people all week, but mostly because I kept myself really busy, attending every session and trying to get as much out of the conference as possible. This year, I plan on pacing myself a little better. That's what I'm telling myself, at least. I'm playing in a conference contemporary band, playing guitar for a few songs in a reading session, and was asked to play guitar with another group for the Thursday morning service. Aside from that, I'm pacing myself…really.

I'm actually flying out a couple days early, just to enjoy San Diego for a little bit. I'm especially looking forward to Tuesday. My biggest music engraving client, the Neil A. Kjos Music Company, is located in San Diego, not far from my hotel. The editor with whom I've worked the longest will be picking me up for a tour of Kjos and lunch. That'll be nice. I've been a freelance music engraver for over 15 years, but I rarely get a chance to meet my clients face to face.

Tomorrow's flight will be early. I leave Atlanta at 8:15, but because of the time difference, I arrive in San Diego at 9:30, giving me the day to get my bearings and get out a little bit. San Diego, here I come!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Luxury Practice Time

One of the nice things about my job at NWUUC (Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation) is that I have two months off during the summer. Some of this time will be spent in intense learning situations. I'll be attending the annual UUMN Conference in a couple weeks, and I'll be taking a weeklong workshop in teaching group piano to children the last week of July. By then, I'll be gearing up for another church year at NWUUC, planning for piano classes at Tessitura, and welcoming back some guitar students who were away for the summer.

For now, I've had a few weeks with nothing to do but practice guitar. This has been such a luxury! When I was in college, I practiced trombone for hours. Back then, I took it for granted that I would always have loads of time to practice. I assumed a professional musician would spend his time either practicing, rehearsing, or performing. Silly me.

I practice quite a bit, but I normally have to plan around music engraving, teaching private lessons, and my church music director job, not to mention chasing down gigs, keeping up a website, etc. Sometimes a big music engraving project or an obligation at NWUUC will eat into my practice time, and I'm lucky to be able to run through scales and arpeggios.

At present, I'm off for the summer, my teaching schedule is light due to summer schedules, and I don't have any music engraving projects to finish. I literally have all day to practice, and that's what I've been doing. I love it! When I have a totally free day, I'll play guitar in the morning, workout, play guitar after lunch, eat dinner, and play guitar in the evening. It's not often that I have a chance to practice this much, and I'm taking advantage of it while it lasts.

Most people would think it's crazy to spend most their summer holed up in their private studio, but I'm not most people.