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 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

UUMN 2015 Conference, July 25

This was the last full day of the 2015 UUMN Conference. There was a lot of singing today. A lot!

The little breakfast place I've been frequenting wasn't open yet, so I walked a little farther to Starbucks and picked up a breakfast sandwich before heading to Boston Common for another early morning guitar practice. It was a bit on the chilly side. I guess if you're traveling to Boston, you should pack some long pants and a light jacket, even if it's summer. I've really enjoyed practicing in the park. There is a lovely pond, complete with ducks and swans. There are older Chinese people practicing Tai Chi, joggers, dog walkers, statues, fountains, and weeping willows (my favorite tree).

This morning's service was the UUMN's annual Service of Remembrance, held in yet another historic church, King's Chapel. You really get a sense of history in these beautiful old churches. Honoring the UUMN members who have passed away that year, the Service of Remembrance is always moving.

Following the Service of Remembrance, I practiced in the park for another hour and then attended choir rehearsal. Although the choir is chock full of great singers and the music is lovely, these types of ensembles are always a little nerve wracking. We aren't used to singing with each other, we're just now getting used to the conductor (who is wonderful), we have rehearsed three times, and we are singing in tomorrow's service at Arlington Street Church. All that being said, I know we'll do just fine.

Following lunch (and more practicing!), every workshop I attended involved sight-reading choral repertoire. I stopped singing after a certain point, because my voice was getting tired. Not only was my voice tired, I was fading fast. I had no idea you could doze off while singing. Still, I stuck around to listen, and I have a list of terrific pieces for my choir to sing.

I left the conference a little early. I was wiped out! And I wanted to make sure I could rest up before this evening, because my best friend from high school lives in the area, and we had plans to meet for dinner. My friend, Mark, showed up around 6:00, and we walked…and walked and walked. We had planned on Italian food on the North End, but every restaurant we checked was all booked up. We settled on a seafood place, which turned out to be a good choice. The food was delicious! Some friends were giving me grief for coming to Boston and ordering shrimp a couple days ago, so this time, I went for clam chowder and cod. The meal was actually pretty healthy…if you don't count dessert. I knew my diet would go off the rails today; I had planned on it, actually! At least the walking burned off quite a bit of it. It was really great to catch up with Mark.

Now I'm back at the hotel and will soon be packing my stuff. I'll be attending a service tomorrow and singing with the Conference Choir. After that, I'll be able to spend just a little more time in Boston tomorrow, because I booked a 7:55 flight. I'm not planning on doing any touristy kind of things, because I'll have my bags, but I can at least hang out in Boston Common one more time and maybe linger in a local restaurant.

I've enjoyed this conference immensely, and I'm in love with Boston. I honestly feel like I could live here – not that I'm making plans. There's the little matter of finding work! That being said, I may keep my eyes open. This is a great city.

Friday, July 24, 2015

UUMN 2015 Conference, July 24

Today's UUMN Conference started earlier than usual for me. I practiced in the park at 6:00, and then I was part of a focus group that met for breakfast and explored experiences with fair compensation guidelines for music professionals at mid-sized Unitarian Universalist congregations. This is not something I typically think about at 7:00 a.m. About a dozen of us were asked lots of questions and encouraged to share experiences and thoughts about a variety of issues related to fair compensation, including how our pay compares to the UUA Fair Compensation guidelines, the hours we are paid to work versus the hours we actually work, level of education and training compared to the religious education directors and ministers at our various congregations, whether or not we are truly perceived as professionals by other staff and the congregation, and much more. I already knew I was treated well at Northwest UUC, and I found myself feeling pretty good about my work situation. Our minister, Terry Davis, treats me very well. We plan services together, and she has made it clear to me on many occasions that she enjoys having me as a colleague and that she considers the music to be just as important as the sermon and other parts of Sunday services. My pay is almost smack in the middle of the UUA Fair Compensation guidelines. I suspect that I work more than the 15 hours for which I am paid, but I'll find out for sure when I begin the next church year, because we're all going to be tracking the time we spend doing our jobs at Northwest.

One thing we all agreed on is that most of the congregants have no idea what kind of planning and preparation goes into pulling off the music on a Sunday morning, not to mention the years of training and practicing. The reason many of us can sight-read a piece of music well is that we've spent years in the practice room. One of the participants had a great quote. When a good musician plays a piece of music well, he says "That piece took twenty years to perform. You just heard the last five minutes."

After the focus group meeting, we went to the morning service. It was really nice to hear an organ in such a grand, historic space as the Arlington Street Church. Wow! One effective part of the service was a series of short quotes, punctuated by Native American flute. I'd like to try something similar at Northwest. We are going to be adding an early meditative service once a month. I bet we could try this in one of those services.

I skipped the annual meeting that followed the service, opting to practice in the park for another hour, and then I returned for the Conference Choir rehearsal. We rehearsed the music in greater depth today. Our conductor has a knack for being picky but pleasant. I took one thing away from rehearsal that I'd like to try with my own choir. We work on vowel sounds in our warm-up, and I try to talk about vowel sounds as we rehearse the music so that we can achieve a better blend. I now plan to occasionally have the choir leave out consonants altogether and sing only the vowels so that we can really hone in on vowel sounds.

After choir rehearsal was lunch and another guitar practice session, and then the workshops began.

The first workshop I attended was "The Risky Business of Congregational Singing." It was essentially another workshop on creative hymn leading. At first, I was afraid that it was going to be somewhat of a repeat of the "leading from the keyboard" session that I attended yesterday, but I learned plenty of new tricks and tips. I find that I'm doing a lot of things right, but there is always something to add or improve. Here are some ideas from the workshop that I would like to try when I get back to my own congregation:

  • If a song or hymn needs a verbal introduction, have the accompanist play quietly while I talk.
  • Some of our hymns are short and have only one verse. Repeat the hymn, interspersing readings (similar to how the Native American flute was used between readings in the morning service).
  • Train any helpers (especially leaders of rounds) in microphone technique.
  • Some hymns can be effectively sung a cappella.
  • I assign a hymn leader from the choir on my Sunday off. Have the hymn leaders practice leading the upcoming Sunday hymns at the Wednesday night choir rehearsal.
The second workshop I attended was "Using Technology to Build and Sustain a Thriving Music Ministry." We discussed how to effectively use current technology during services and to prepare for services. Much of this was familiar to me, but I still picked up a few things. The topic of projecting lyrics came up. Not many in the room had experience in projecting lyrics, including me. I'm becoming less resistant to the idea of projecting lyrics – as long as we still have the option of using hymnals. We also discussed how projecting can be used for non-musical items, such as displaying the Order of Service on a screen, video, pictures for the children's story, and using images to enhance the sermon.

We closed out the day's offerings with a Choral Repertoire session. Today, we read through several challenging pieces. Several of these difficult pieces tripped us up! We didn't read anything that I felt I could take back to my choir, but I still enjoyed the sight-singing practice.

I'm attending three sessions tomorrow that will explore choir literature, including a workshop entitled "Unique Rounds for UU Choir" and two reading sessions, one of which will focus on smaller choirs. I'm sure to find some gems for my choir tomorrow.

Looking ahead to next year, I spoke with the person who chairs the conference planning committee to let him know that I would be happy to lead a contemporary group next year.  I was disappointed to find that there are no plans to continue having an official Conference Band like there was last year. I was under the impression that it was going to continue. Since that isn't going to be part of the picture, I told him that I would love to lead a workshop that focuses on how to get a contemporary group started. He seemed interested in the idea, so we'll see how it goes. After this third year at the conference, I feel confident enough that I feel like I have something to offer, and that I can take a more visible role in the UUMN.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

UUMN 2015 Conference, July 23

This was the first full day of the 2015 UUMN Conference. It started off with finding a nice, inexpensive breakfast place just around the corner. Boston and "inexpensive" are rarely associated with each other, so I was glad to find this place. My church is footing the bill for this trip, but that doesn't mean I need to go to all the pricey places. After all, I want them to pay for next year's conference in Madison!

Boston Public Garden – my practice space
for the next few days.
One great thing about the location of our hotel is its proximity to Boston Common/Public Garden. This is perhaps the best practice space ever. Right after breakfast, I walked over to the park and practiced for a little over an hour.

We have three host churches for this year's conference: Arlington Street Church, First Church Boston, and First Lutheran Church of Boston. All are within easy walking distance of the hotel.

We began the day with a service at Arlington Street Church, a beautiful historic building. This being a Unitarian Universalist Musicians conference, there was a lot of music. Each year, I am awestruck by the sound of 200+ musicians, mostly professionals, joined in song. The power of all those voices truly moves me. There are times that I have trouble singing because I find myself getting choked up by the experience. Another wonderful thing about this conference is simply being around so many professional church musicians. Most of us are the only music professionals in our church, and being surrounded by all of these people is a reminder that I'm not alone.

I skipped the plenary session that followed the morning service and practiced some more in the park. The speaker visited Northwest UU Congregation a few months ago and led a three hour workshop, so I didn't feel the need to hear her again. That being said, the topic is an important one: Sexual Boundaries and Professional Ethics. Let's just say that the workshop I attended was an eye opener, and I'm certain that most the people who attended her presentation felt the same way.

Following the plenary session was the Conference Choir rehearsal. What a treat! We are working on four pieces for Sunday morning. Our conductor, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, is excellent. We spent most of our rehearsal reading through the music and getting the general gist of it. We'll dig into it more in the next two days. Aside from making great music, I like to use these rehearsals to learn tips from the guest conductors. There is always something I can take back to my own choir.

After rehearsal, we had an easy walk to First Church for lunch. Along with about 200 other people, I didn't really know where I was going, but I followed the herd and got there just fine. I used the down time at lunch to practice some more, and then it was time for the workshops. The workshops are held at First Church and First Lutheran, which are conveniently across the street from each other.

There were a lot of good workshops to choose from. For the first one, I chose "Leading Hymns from the Keyboard." The focus of this workshop was to help pianist and organists develop ways to lead hymns more effectively from the keyboard. Keyboard players are generally at a disadvantage if they have to lead congregational singing, because they are hidden behind their instrument. It didn't matter that I wasn't a keyboard player; I still picked up some good tips. I was happy to learn that, as a hymn leader, I am already following most of the workshop leader's suggestions. For example, I have no problem using a microphone and filling up the sanctuary with sound. I don't drag the hymns. I like to spice up the hymns by adding a swing beat or turning a tried and true hymn into a bossa nova.

There are some other things that I can add to my bag of tricks as a hymn leader. For example, I have never given my congregation any kind of special information or context about the hymns we sing – mostly because I don't know the context myself! To remedy that, I just ordered Between the Lines: Sources for Singing the Living Tradition. This is an excellent resource for learning more about the hymns we Unitarian Univeralists sing. Another thing to consider in hymn leading is what our workshop leader called "paperless" singing. Paperless singing can be leading a simple hymn by rote, or it can mean projecting a hymn onto a screen. I've been resistant to projecting lyrics, but I might be open to projecting lyrics with music (if it's legible). I'm attending a workshop on technology in worship services tomorrow, where, among other things, I'll learn a little more about projecting lyrics and music.

The second workshop I attended was "The Second Voice Change: The Aging Voice," led by Don Milton, the music director at UU Congregation of Atlanta. There was a lot of good information here, and the workshop was well attended. As a general rule, church choirs tend to be comprised of older members. I have a couple exercises to bring back to my choir, as well as another good reason to practice. Just like exercising your body, the singing voice needs exercise. A daily, systematic practice routine is essential to keep the voice in shape. Voice muscles lose any new gains in strength, flexibility, and endurance after 48 hours. Any vocal improvements that my singers make during a Wednesday evening rehearsal will be lost by Sunday morning! Fortunately for my choir, exercising the voice doesn't have to mean practicing their parts – although I would very much appreciate it if they did! To exercise the voice, you can simply make noises. You can practice by making noises in your car as you run errands. Just be careful at a stoplight if you have your windows down.

One major thing I took away from Don's presentation is that I really should take voice lessons. I sing pretty well naturally, but to be honest, I could use some improvement in teaching others how to use their voices properly. I can correct notes and rhythms all day, but I have trouble explaining to a new singer something as simple as using head voice. If I can get with a vocal teacher, I can learn how to work with my singers more effectively.

The last thing I attended today was a Choral Repertoire session, where we sight-read through a bunch of new repertoire. I like these sessions. It's a great opportunity to scout out new music for the choir, and I enjoy sight-reading anyway. Today's session focused on music by fellow Unitarian Universalist composers. There were some real gems in there, but some of the pieces would be pretty difficult for my choir. Still, there were a couple that I'll consider ordering.

There is a worship service tonight, but I skip the evening services. I learned after my first year that I simply can't go to everything and maintain my health. Instead of attending the service, I worked out, ate dinner, and then started writing this blog article. This hotel is attached to a real gym! I was expecting the usual handful of treadmills and a stationary bike. Instead, I was delighted to find a full fledged gym. After my workout, I got a call from my best friend from high school, Mark Stanaford, who lives in the area. He's going to make reservations at an Italian place on the North Side. I have no idea where the North Side is, other than it must be north of where I am staying, but I have read that if you want truly great Italian food, the North Side is the place to go. I'm really looking forward to meeting up with Mark!

Tomorrow will start early. Before the actual conference day begins, I'm taking part in a focus group to explore fair compensation guidelines and practices for mid-sized congregations. Then there will be a morning service, choir rehearsal, and more workshops and a choral repertoire session. I can't wait!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

UUMN 2015 Conference, July 22

At my first UUMN Conference to two years ago, I caught a cold. At last year's conference, I had a persistent cough and couldn't participate in any of the singing. Third time's a charm, I hope. My voice is strong. I'm healthy (knock wood), and I'm ready to fully participate in the conference choir.

Today was mostly a travel day, with a big UUMN Conference meeting at the end.

You'd think that with all the touring I did when I was an Air Force musician, I'd have the traveling thing down. When I was an Air Force musician, however, I drove the truck, and I didn't think about how much I was packing. I had plenty of room in the back of the equipment truck to toss my gear. I definitely overpacked for my first two UUMN conferences, but not this year. With a carry-on and a Traveler guitar, I could skip the baggage check, and I took the train to the airport, which meant no driving at all. Yay!

The flight was uneventful, and I took a cab to the airport. I'm glad the cabbie knew where he was going, because I would have had some major problems navigating Boston! I picked up my conference package at the registration table and then hung out in the lobby for quite a while, because I arrived at the hotel pretty early.

I went out for seafood and got a shrimp dish. I've already gotten a lot of grief about getting shrimp instead of lobster or something more local. Hey, so I don't know my seafood! It was still mighty tasty.

I pulled out my guitar to run through some basic scales, but I had forgotten to loosen the guitar strings before the flight and had problems with the high E string. Fortunately, I packed an extra set of strings. Crisis averted.

I just came back from the big meeting. There was a reception after the meeting. There are a lot of, let's say, effusive people at a typical UUMN conference. I'm not one of them. I made my appearance, even forced myself to talk to two people I've never met, and then high tailed it out of there.

Tomorrow is when the good stuff begins. I'm looking forward to singing with the conference choir, not just for the musical experience, but to watch a master choir conductor and learn a few things. There are plenty of workshops that look interesting. I'm ready to get this thing started!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

UUMN 2015 Conference, July 21

Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving for my third UUMN conference (Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network). Being a last minute packer, I just packed my suitcase. I'm traveling light this year, with just a carry-on and my Traveler guitar.

I'll be blogging about the conference from day to day, partially as a way to share my experience, and partially as a way to take notes and remember all I'll learn.

Tomorrow is a travel day with a meet and greet in the evening. I'm flying from Atlanta to Boston, which is a relatively short flight – much shorter than the trip to San Diego last year. I enjoyed San Diego, and I'm equally excited about Boston, partly because I'll be in the same time zone!

I'm looking forward to this conference, and I can't wait to share it with you. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Seven String Transfer

Tonight, I began the slow process of learning to play my Godfrey and Guy duo material on the 7-string guitar. I came up with a great sounding accompaniment for Take Five. I patted myself on the back before reminding myself that I have well over one hundred more songs to relearn! I also spent time working up Black Coffee and I'm Beginning to See the Light, and I'll start in on Girl from Ipanema tomorrow.

Funny how just one more string can change the landscape. I love the extended bass notes that the low A string offers, but taking advantage of those notes often requires rethinking a chord voicing or comping in a different area of the neck than I have been using for a particular song. The new chord voicings that I'm learning aren't that difficult, but the little changes start to add up, and my brain eventually overloads.

When I play the traditional 6-string guitar, there are certain devices that are burned into my muscle memory so completely that I can play them without a second thought. Those devices transfer to the 7-string, but I have to think about them again as I learn to incorporate the 7th string into the mix.

With this first set of songs, I'm starting the process of reprogramming my muscle memory. As I work through a mix of swing, blues, and bossa songs, I'll gradually get comfortable with the 7th string and the possibilities it opens up. The process won't take quite as long with the next set of songs. By the time I've worked my way through a couple dozen songs, I'll have worked up a handful of useful licks and tricks, and things will get easier and easier…or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Comping is one thing. Then there is solo playing. I've worked up a lot of solo arrangements. I'm going to have to totally relearn those solos. That'll be interesting.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fortunate One

At last night's weekly Godfrey and Guy gig at Noosh, a customer asked the manager to ask us to turn down the music. I don't believe that the customer is always right. We use the volume knob judiciously, and as a guitar/voice jazz duo, our music tends to be gentle, with a lot of space. The rest of the customers were so loud that we could barely hear ourselves. Maybe the customer felt like the only thing she could possibly control was the music, because she certainly couldn't tell the other customers to be quiet. We grumbled through the rest of the night about this.

As I woke up this morning, I reminded myself that, despite the occasional annoyance, I'm very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing. As a matter of fact, things are really coming together this summer, and I find myself doing exactly what I want to be doing. I teach private guitar lessons three days a week, hold down two weekly gigs, and work part time as a church music director.

Am I satisfied? Well, not really. There is always another hill to climb. I'd like to find another weekly Godfrey and Guy gig. I'd like round out my student roster by filling in the remaining slots on the days I teach. I'd like to land a few more corporate and wedding gigs. I'd like to build the Godfrey and Guy duo into a full fledged jazz band. But honestly, things are humming along. It feels like the pieces of my life's puzzle are finally coming together. I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing, even if I have to turn to volume down sometimes.