On Monstrously Large Music Festivals

Don’t Quit Your Day job


That sheet in Karen’s hand?  Actual spreadsheet mapping out all the bands she wants to see, and when and where they are playing.  This thing exists.  I cannot make up that level of fan girl madness.

What else exists?  That blanket.  Flannel quilt. Best.  Thing.  Ever.

And Karen, honey?  If you see this, please put down the Giant Tube ‘O Margarita.  You will thank me in the morning.  ❤


On the tenth day of Christmas…

We interrupt this crafting blitz for a musical interlude.

I mentioned the oboe that had to make it through airport security.  The reason it had to come with me at all was the potential trouble I would likely be in had I not.  You see, I am named for each of my parents’ younger sisters.  One is The Crafter, and the other is The Musician.  Aunt Musician came to visit while I was up the mountain.

Aunt Musician was the child prodigy, picking out the tunes my mother and her older sister were learning in piano lessons before she was tall enough to actually see the keys on the piano.  She is, needless to say, an accomplished pianist, and really likes making music with the various and sundry musicians in our family.  I’m sure she would have understood if I didn’t want to cart the thing all the way up there, but I’ve been looking for a good excuse opportunity to play, and we always have a good time together.

I was very silly and neglected to bring along any of my sheet music with accompaniments, so we made due with Mom’s collection of old church hymnals and a quick lesson in playing Beatles tunes by ear.  The latter was moderately successful, as she was kind enough to transpose into playable keys and largely picked out the songs with easier melodies.  (As a side note, “Because” is not nearly as easy to pick out on instruments as voice.)

We did not make it very far into the usual Christmas carols before she started trolling the hymnal index for interesting composers.  I have to admit, I had somehow missed that a few of the hymns that had become staples in my church growing up were composed by Gustav “y’know… The Planets guy” Holst.

Then she got all excited finding the Ralph Vaughan Williams hymns.  For the most part, they weren’t the most familiar songs.  While I was impressed by their musicality, and had little trouble sight reading the music on the oboe, I couldn’t help but notice that some were rather difficult to sing.  Then a nagging sense of familiarity finally floated to the surface, and I realized where I’d heard these before.  The minister at my old home church is also a classically trained musician.  I’d always assumed that he wasn’t intentionally picking out the hardest hymns for us to sing each week, but I figured they must be old standards from the churches he grew up in.

As I sat there listening to my family – many of them seasoned church choir members – stumbling over these melodies, I realized that our dear pastor must have used the very same method of choosing hymns that Aunt Musician was demonstrating.  The old band nerd probably flipped back to the index and picked out his favorite composers, too.

Besides my moment of revelation, the evening was well spent.  The eclectic music selection and familial revelry made for great entertainment, and I really can’t emphasize enough what a special treat it is to play with my aunt, since we live so far apart, but collaborate so easily.

I was even pleased to see that my poor unpracticed embouchure was able to hold up for more than thirty seconds, and my fingers could still find all the right keys.  Now I just need to find more time to practice, and remember to take the bloody sheet music with me next time.

Traveling with a musical instrument

My vacation has officially begun.  I am off work until the new year, I have finished the vast majority of my Christmas gifts, and I have a virtual stack of pictures waiting to become new posts for you.  But right at this moment, I am sitting in Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, waiting for my flight to my parents’ little slice of frosty paradise in the Appalachians.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a quick and easy pass through security this morning, despite my usual worry when carting a netbook, a baggie full of *potentially dangerous* cosmetics, and a little rectangular case full of oddly-shaped metal and wood.   To the real eyes of other musicians it is obviosly an oboe.   However, on an x-ray screen viewed by your average TSA agent, it could be… well, most of them correctly guess musical instrument without demanding a further inspection, but I’ve had a variety of reactions.

Granted, the easiest solution to the security problem would be to simply put the damned thing in a checked bag, but between the sentimental and monetary value of that horn, I would just as soon check my firstborn child.  I accidentally left it in a gate-checked bag once, and spent the entire flight in a state of mild panic, breaking into a cold sweat as I wondered what the temperature was in the cargo hold, and if the pressure difference would damage the reeds.  No, I just have to brave security when carrying my precious oboe.

I once had a screener stop the belt for a good thirty seconds while she stared at my bag.
“Is that a… flute?”
“Ohhh…  Oboe.  …Right.”
It has been my experience that the vast majority of the human population does not actually know what an oboe is.  It’s a crossword staple, so most people know the word.  Some will show a degree of familiarity when you say, “It’s the duck from Peter and the Wolf.”  Others will look quizzically at the small case because they are picturing a bassoon.  I once had an Abbot and Costello-worthy conversation with a trumpet player in my high school band as he excitedly told me about the “double reed” he had seen at a concert.  I was thinking he’d seen something unusual like an oboe d’amore or one of those cool foreign instruments.  Finally he said, “No!  The one you play!”
“You mean an oboe?”
“No, not the big one!”

I once found myself going through airport security fairly late at night when there was no one else around.  They decided I needed a full bag check, so I sat and talked to a couple of agents while another took my shoes and another three or four opened my bag.  I was mid-thought when I quickly leapt up and launched myself toward the table where my suitcase was opened.  Someone had pulled out the oboe case and started to open it – upside-down.  I had a terrifying vision of the pieces rolling out over the purple velvet, then falling down the stacked contents of my bag and finally the fatal three feet to the floor, where the keys and springs would be bent and rendered unusable.  It later occurred to me that it was very lucky those agents weren’t actually armed or otherwise trained to react to sudden acts of aggression.  By all rights, I should have been treated as a threat, jumping up like that.  Instead, they stepped back while I gingerly turned over the unlatched case and politely explained that the contents were worth more than I was.

Today’s pass through the TSA checkpoint was quick and uneventful. Shoes off. Netbook and baggie extracted from my backpack.  Everything else went before the backpack, so I was slipping my shoes back on as the woman looking at the screen squinted a little then turned to me and asked, “Do you have a clarinet in there?”
“Good guess. It’s an oboe.”

The Best Shows Always Go On

I once heard an interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber in which he talked about how the secret to the long-time success of Phantom of the Opera was how people would attend multiple performances, not to see the same thing happen perfectly every time, but to see the screw-ups.  The nights that someone completely missed a line, or one of the many effects misfired were the most memorable.  Mistakes make variety, and variety is, to borrow an old and overused cliche, the spice of life.

Yesterday the Boy treated me to a most excellent benefit concert in Dell Diamond (home of the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A feeder team for the Texas Rangers, which you may have heard of recently).  The lineup included the Gin Blossoms, Five for Fighting, Collective Soul, and Tonic, which is enough to excite any good alt-rock fan who came of age in the 90s.  The first two were excellent, got the crowd properly wound up, and generally put on a high-quality show.  Tonic closed the show with a melt-your-face-off rock show like I could not have imagined.  But before that was the Collective Soul set.

When it was time for Collective Soul, the crowd shuffled forward toward the stage in the outfield, the techies shuffled equipment, and we waited.

After about half an hour, only two musicians appeared.  Lead singer Ed Roland and lead guitarist Joel Kosche tumbled onto the stage, slightly disheveled and sporting guitars borrowed from one of the opening bands.  As best I could figure, there had been a scheduling snafu and they just barely made it, fresh off a plane.

For about two seconds there seemed to be some confusion in the crowd.  “We love you Joel!  We love you too, Ed!  …where’s the rest of the band?”

Then they started playing, and we all remembered that even at half-force, these guys are amazing musicians.

The real coup came as Ed proved that he is also a hell of an entertainer.

Early in the set,  he turned to the audience and asked, very earnestly, “Now this is serious guys.  Does anyone here play the guitar?

Random dude wearing a Ghostbusters shirt in the front row was the first to raise his hand, and was promptly dragged on stage and handed Ed’s guitar.   He introduced himself – Brandon.  Joel made sure he knew how to play December while Ed literally let his hair down.  They played the most epic acoustic rendition of the song the world has ever witnessed.  Brandon was having a complete runaway with himself.  Ed was having a complete runaway with himself.  Joel was… well Joel doesn’t get all that excited usually, but he played the hell out of every note and rolled with every wacky turn Ed threw at him from that point to the end of the set.

The audience went nuts.  We cheered wildly for Brandon when he finished playing.  We threw out requests when Ed couldn’t remember how to play one of the planned songs.  We sang along to every song – even the impromptu (acoustic) Metallica cover.

Ed messed with Joel.  Ed messed with the audience.  Ed messed up his hair.  A lot.

But when the set was finished – this set that should have been a total disaster with just two dudes and two guitars – we all knew we had witnessed something great, and we loved it.  We were entertained.

This is the duty and the art of the performer.  Engage the audience, no matter what.  It’s not about playing every note perfectly.  It’s about playing every note to the audience with complete abandon.  It’s acceptable to miss a line if you do it gracefully.  It’s more than alright to play only half a concert if the audience has a really fucking good time.

Would you like a little tea with your lemon?

The weekend was a smashing success.  I got up to Austin early enough for a lottery improv show where the boy’s name was drawn from the hat to go be foolish on stage.  Class went well on Saturday and we had our student showcase on Sunday.

It’s been a very long time since I did any sort of performing in front of people, and longer still since I performed without an instrument to hide behind.  Somewhere around high school graduation I developed a truly unhealthy stage fright habit (this after 10-plus years of music and theater performing with nerves of steel – what gives?), and that definitely returned on Sunday, but somewhere within the first thirty seconds on stage it just totally disappeared and we had a grand old time.  Between the comfortable chemistry the class has built up over the last few months, and the instructor blatantly screwing with us as he directed the show, I guess I just forgot to be nervous.

My immune system was kind enough to wait until all of that was done before it mutinied.  Tonight, I am doing battle with seasonal allergies with a piping hot pot of chicken soup, a piping hotter pot of tea (with a bit more lemon juice than I intended to add), and…

a healthy dose of charcoal dust thanks to my sudden urge to make messy doodles:

Well, I tried to help myself, anyway.  There are only so many creative endeavors one can pursue in near-dark while avoiding the glaring light of a computer screen and -err- lights.

As a side note, working through the early Beatles albums will do surprisingly strange things to the brain while grasping for doodle ideas.