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, 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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lessons to Learn, Always

I played two gigs yesterday. One was my regular Sunday evening appearance playing solo jazz guitar at L'Thai, and the other was as part of a band at St. James United Methodist Church in Atlanta. No matter what the situation, and no matter who you are playing with, there is always something to learn.

Lesson #1: You don't know everything.
Harmonically speaking, there is no comparison between jazz standards and contemporary Christian music, but harmony isn't everything. Any musical style has its own idiosyncrasies. In sight-reading a jazz tune, I can draw on my bag of tricks and usually come up with a good comp right away. Is it swing? I'll try some basic Freddie Green comping. If I'm the only harmonic instrument, I'll default to my Joe Pass wanna-be style. Is it Latin? I have a few basic grooves that work for almost any situation. But yesterday's first gig wasn't jazz. While I'm comfortable in a jazz setting, I'm not used to playing contemporary Christian music. It's a different beast. Fortunately, I was playing in a group where the other musicians were all well versed in that style. As the rhythm guitarist, my job was to listen, find ways to fit in, and do whatever the band director told me to do. As I continue playing this service, I'll keep on listening and adapting so that I'll become comfortable with this genre.

Lesson #2: Take care of yourself.
Yesterdays gigs were back to back. I had a rehearsal in the afternoon, played the service, and then drove straight to my restaurant gig. I got home at 10 and putzed around until midnight before going to bed. I think I may have had one glass of water in a 12 hour stretch. Big mistake. I woke in the middle of the night with cramps in both legs and feet, probably from dehydration. Lesson learned – take a water bottle with me on Sundays! Some Sundays will be particularly challenging, with a Sunday morning service, a rehearsal, an hour of down time, and then two more gigs like I had yesterday. I'm going to need to take care of myself, pack a lunch, and bring some water. Maybe do some stretching, too.

My two lessons from yesterday are to keep learning and to take care of yourself.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finding the Path

As a musician, I've struggled through career ending injuries and financial hardship trying to find my place in the world. Going through the rough patches, I've always had a nagging sense that I was close to what I was supposed to be doing, but I wasn't quite there yet. And then sometimes the universe tells you that you are right where you need to be.

When I was a much younger man, I felt that my dual purpose was to be a teacher and a performer. My sense of purpose was ripped away from me when I developed an overuse injury in my upper lip, ending my professional trombone career just as it was beginning. I ended up music engraving full time, working for publishers as a freelancer. I made great money, but I felt unfulfilled until I started learning to play the guitar. Eventually, the guitar playing supplanted the music engraving, even though it brought it significantly less income.

Over the past two years, my roster of private students has steadily increased, and I perform three steady gigs on the weekends. I gained enough students that I decided to cut back on my hours at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation and just run the band while hiring someone else to serve as Director of Music. This was a financially risky move, yet almost as soon I opened up another day for lessons, another six students signed up. I couldn't have asked for a clearer sign that I'm following my path.

As I wrap up my last week as Director of Music at Northwest, I received another signal that all will be well. Carl Fischer, one of the big league music publishers, has an opening for a full time music engraver. Without intending to brag, I am a great music engraver, and I would have a pretty decent shot at this position. A few years ago, I would have jumped at the opportunity. When I learned about the position this morning, I thought "Oh, that's nice," and moved on with my day. I didn't even think of applying. I don't desire anything else.

While I am a first rate music engraver, and the position at Carl Fischer would offer plenty of security, I find teaching and performing both challenging and fulfilling. It is enough. In my early 30s, I lost my way as a teacher and performer, but now I'm back on the path. I don't need to be anywhere else. All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing shall be well.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lots of Lasts

I have been Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation for six years, directing the choir, leading the contemporary band (which I started), planning hymns, and more. This past year, my roster of private students has grown to the point where it is difficult to balance teaching, performing, and my work at Northwest. To make room for more students, we are searching for a new Director of Music, while I stay on the staff in a smaller role, leading the band and being responsible for the use and upkeep of the sound system.

The new Director of Music will lead the choir, plan Sunday morning music (except for band Sundays), and more. He will also be my supervisor. To ensure that I'm passing the choir over to a good conductor, I put myself on the music search committee. It felt a little funny searching for my new boss! At this point, the search committee has concluded the search and made a recommendation to the board. The board has approved our decision. Assuming that he accepts the position, I think we have the potential for a truly excellent new Director of Music.

With my tenure as Director of Music winding down, I'm experiencing a lot of lasts this month. A few days ago, I led my last choir rehearsal. Tomorrow is my last Sunday leading the choir. I had my last staff retreat this past week, and my last staff meeting will be this week. The following Sunday will be my last Sunday as Director of Music. I am experiencing a mix of excitement, relief, and wistfulness as these "lasts" come and go. I'll miss Wednesday choir rehearsals, but even as I let the choir go, my private teaching practice is blossoming. The scales balance.

To make for a smooth transition, I've typed up a checklist that I'll go over with the new director to help get him oriented: a tour of the music library, the choir roster, how to use the sound system, how I handled my weekly and monthly "to do's," and a few other things to help him get settled.

I'm looking forward to seeing what our new Director of Music does with the choir, I'm looking forward to focusing more on teaching, and I'm optimistic about the future of the music program at Northwest UU Congregation.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Furry Friends

In my private teaching practice, I travel to each student's house to give lessons in guitar, ukulele, piano, or music theory. Teaching is a joy, but an added bonus is meeting the pets. Here are some of the furry friends I get to meet every week.

Cooper the giant poodle.

First up is Cooper, an extremely friendly poodle. It's hard to tell from this angle, but Cooper is really tall. I'm 6'2", and I don't have to bend down to pet him.

Karma, all bark and no bite.

Next is Karma, a black lab mix. Karma is all bark and no bite. Whenever I ring the doorbell, Karma barks and barks. When my student's mom opens the door, Karma still barks and barks, which is her way of showing that she's happy to see me (or anyone else who walks through the door). Once the lesson starts, Karma curls up nearby. If she sits close enough, she gets an occasional scratch during lessons.

Knox, friend to all.

Knox is another black lab. Knox thrives on attention. I'm his best friend until somebody else walks through the door. During lessons, Knox will sometimes butt in, just to let us know he is available if we would like to scratch his ears.

Miso, the dog-like cat.

Miso is a cat with the soul of a dog. He actually seems more dog-like than the dogs in the house. Unlike most cats, Miso will come when you call him. Miso will sometimes try to climb into a lap, regardless of the fact that we are each holding a guitar.

Pepper, shaggy and elusive.
Pepper is Miso's "brother." Pepper is the big, blurry dog. I never remember the other one's name. I've known Pepper for at least 6 years, but he doesn't generally let people touch him. It's only been in the last year the Pepper has let me pet him. I am honored.

I'm Poppy, pet me!
Poppy loves attention. If I accidentally make eye contact with Poppy during a lesson, he'll be in my face, wanting to be pet. While I'm playing guitar, he'll sometimes poke his head between my left arm and the guitar neck. Notice that Poppy's tail is blurry in this picture. His tail is usually in motion.

I've decided you're okay.
Now pet me.
I don't see Rio often, but he got in toward the end of this lesson. Because he doesn't see me often, he's still not sure about me. Once he decides I'm okay, he's just fine with an ear scratch.

Rosie, world's friendliest dog.
And finally, here's Rosie, possibly the world's friendliest dog. Rosie greets me at the door, and then immediately flops over for a belly rub. During lessons, she sits on the couch with my student, well within petting range of both of us.

So those are most of the critters on my route. I'm adding several students to my roster this month. I'm looking forward to meeting more furry friends.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Goodbye Treehouse, Hello Hobbit Hole

I've lost track of how long I've lived in my apartment, which I affectionately called the treehouse. This has been my favorite apartment. It's small, but I don't need much room. It's above a garage, which is mine to use for storage. It's surrounded by trees. There are a few windows that make me feel like I'm in the canopy when I look outside. It's cozy and suits my needs. I was prepared to hunker down in my little treehouse for many years to come, but the landlady is going to put the house on the market.

Although my landlady isn't planning on putting the house on the market until four months from now, I decided to start looking around for a new apartment. I would rather take my time and find a good place than wait for months and then start scrambling.

As luck would have it, I found a nice little place after only a few days of searching. I had been poking around and sending out some feelers. I posted a message on the Oakhurst Facebook group. Only one person responded, but it was the right person. He was showing an apartment the next day. I made an appointment, took a look, and fell in love with it. Several others were also looking at the apartment. I filled out the rental application and crossed my fingers. The next day, he texted to let me know that I could come over and sign the lease if I still wanted it.

If my current apartment is a treehouse, my next one is a hobbit hole. It's a basement apartment, but it doesn't feel like a basement. The house is on a slope, so the ceiling is high and there is a lot of light. The place is fixed up to feel like a home and not just someone's basement. It looks like there may be a little less floor space than the treehouse, but the hobbit hole has a very open floor plan, so I may actually have more flexibility in where I put my furniture.

I hate moving, but I like the possibilities that a new setting can bring up. While I'll miss the treehouse, the hobbit hole has new advantages.

  • It'll put me about 5 minutes away from Oakhurst, where I do most of my teaching.
  • It's quieter. The treehouse is close to a busy street, not far from a fire station. The hobbit hole is in the back of a house that is on the dead end of a quiet street.
  • My knees. Yes, my knees. To get to the treehouse, I have to climb a flight of stairs. My heart and muscles are strong and healthy. My knees? Not so much. My aching knees are the reason I don't run anymore, and I have to be careful when I climb stairs. I don't have to climb any stairs to get to the hobbit hole.
  • Walking! I enjoy walking, but the treehouse is not in a walkable area. The hobbit hole is in a quiet neighborhood with lots of streets for walking. I'm looking forward to putting on my walking shoes and hitting the road again.
I move to the hobbit hole in less than a month. I'm looking forward to settling into my new digs, and I'm excited about new possibilities.