Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Generational music

I play in a community band and I haven’t talked about it in a long time. Probably not since we did the pop-up concert on the grassy circle of a cal-de-sac in September of 2020!

People who play live music suffered withdrawal during the covid pandemic. And when, in the fall of 2021, the community ed department said we could hold rehearsals at the school again we were happy even though we would have to wear a mask at all times, even when playing, and the bells of our instruments would need to be covered as well.

We sent out a survey to our members, asking who and what instruments felt they would be able to play with these restrictions, while knowing covid was a risk. About 50% of the band felt they wanted to play, and so we began, last fall, to plan our season.

Instrumentation was rough. We had, in the beginning, only one percussion player who lugs his personal drum set to and from rehearsals and another to play all the rest of the instruments back there. We had a handful of clarinets, some came most rehearsals, some came some rehearsals. Sometimes it was just one young man and me. We had no trumpets to speak of and only two trombones.

But as the weeks went by we began to fill in the vacant parts. Tenor sax players played the trumpet and cornet music. The tuba players wrote timpani parts into their own music. Everybody played all the cues written, to cover what would normally be played by someone else.

Individuals stepped up. People who never before played first parts gained confidence with practice. Often I’d say to the young man seated next to me in the second clarinet section, “It’s just you and me tonight, but we’ve got this.” and he’d give me a thumbs up and it turned out we did.

And a benefit of being short handed? You get to play really loud most all the time.

In the end band members and other people recruited musicians for us, and with only a couple rehearsals left before our concert we gained two trumpet players, both of whom play beautifully, a baritone player, and some high school students to fill in on clarinet and percussion parts. We even got a community band alumni, now a music major away at college, to come play timpani for us the night of the concert!

So, how did it go? Did this cobbled together group of retirees and working adults and busy students pull it all together in time? Well, we played fun music, music from old television shows like Gilligan’s Island and Perry Mason and MASH and Dragnet and Leave it to Beaver. We played music from the Beatles, and from movies like Chariots of Fire and The Way We Were and Gone with the Wind and Star Wars. We played bits of Send in the Clowns, Another Op’nin, Another Show, Let Me Entertain You, You Oughta Be in Pictures, Hooray for Hollywood and more. And of course we threw in a march or two, because what’s a community band without marches? We did Red Skelton’s Red’s White and Blue March. We ended with the original Overture to West Side Story, and for our encore we played The Stars and Stripes Forever, because, as our conductor told the audience, we needed to hear it.

Yes we pulled it together. And what a fun concert it was to play! Not easy, it’s never easy when you only rehearse once a week and the cast of musicians changes every time you meet. But fun because we were together.

And, in fact, that’s the real purpose behind a community band. Playing in our concert Tuesday night was a man in his 80s who hadn’t played in decades and who considered not preforming that night, worried that he’d make a mistake (he didn’t) and a freshman in high school who stepped in to help us and who got to play his very first concert solo, who did a beautiful job.

That’s the age spectrum, in a community band, people who love to play, from 15 to 80 something. Making mistakes and flubs and blats and ringing tones and harmonies beautiful enough to make your eyes water while you’re playing, a community band is a bunch of people pulling together, even when it’s hard, to make each other smile, and to make our audience smile too.

“That was so much fun to listen to!” I heard one woman say to her musician on our way back out to the car that evening. Yep. And if it was fun to listen to, just imagine how fun it was to play.

If there’s a community band in your town, make a point of attending their next concert. They’ll have a website, you can find out times and dates there. And if you play, but just haven’t in a long time, dust off that instrument and go see how it feels to be in the middle of something pretty amazing.

It’s been a long time since most of us felt amazing about anything. Go listen. Go play. It’s bound to make you smile.

Guaranteed.


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Barn music

I’m having trouble with my clarinet. Some of it is me having to play through a mask. But most of the problem revolves around sticky pads. For several notes when I move my fingers there’s a delay in the movement of keys.

This farm was the reason I got off the freeway.

In normal times that might not be a huge problem, as I’d be one of twelve or so clarinets. But at Tuesday night’s rehearsal we only had two clarinets so I could hear myself, and it wasn’t good.

These two caught my eye right away.

Wednesday I drove my clarinet to a music store about an hour away. Of course nothing was sticking when the technician checked it out. I told him the problem only becomes noticible when the instrument is warm, after I’ve been playing for half an hour or more.

Snow and red barn.

He nodded and took it into the back room, I guess to give it a stern talking to.

I loved the little dormer.

In a few minutes he brought it back, saying the pads were dirty and he cleaned them. Of course, until I try to play it for awhile I won’t know whether the issue is fixed.

I guess I should get to practicing.

I turned around to get this image.

So where do the barns fit in? Well, I drove through farm country to get to the music store, and had my camera with me. I got off the freeway and wandered around those snowy fields for a little bit before hustling home.

Sitting alone on a corner.

I figured that way I wasn’t wasting all that gas just to get a couple key pads cleaned.

Right?

Right.


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Masked magic

Our community band has been rehearsing since September for last night’s Christmas concert. It hasn’t been easy. As librarian I sit on the board and we met numerous times, over the long months when we couldn’t play together, to access the situation.

Getting ready.

When we finally could meet again it was under the strict rules of the school system whose buildings we use. Everyone needed to be masked, even when playing our instruments. The instruments themselves had to have bell covers. And our audience had to remain masked at all times too.

Last minute instructions.

This fall we polled our members, asking whether they felt comfortable playing together under these guidelines. About 50% of the band agreed to play. I agreed too, but with trepidation. I am still uneasy being around other people in a closed space. Even if we are all masked up.

A special guest arrives.

But we all tried to be careful, and it was so good to make music again. Even if we sounded a bit ragged, given all the parts weren’t covered. Even though we only had one poor lonely percussionist, and holiday music is full of percussion!

Some rehearsals made me wonder if we’d get our stuff together in time.

We were lucky to have some high school players come in at the last moment to help us. Lots of percussionists, three clarinetists, and several others helped fill in the holes and our sound filled out.

Sleigh Ride isn’t right unless Santa conducts.

And, as is usual in community bands, when everyone shows up for the concert we show up focused, and we played so much better last night than at any one of our rehearsals.

You wouldn’t have been able to tell, because we were wearing masks, but I think every one of us was grinning by the end.

Making music is magic. We are so lucky that we were able to do that last night.

Thanks to our guest conductor, Paul!

The audience gave us a standing ovation. I don’t know if they were just anxious to leave, or glad to hear live music again after such a long break.

I think I’ll just assume they were grinning behind their masks too.


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Practice makes perfect

Our community band headed back to rehearsal this week. Tuesday night was the first time we’ve played together since March of 2020. Though we normally start up again in September after the summer break, this year we delayed starting so that the school system could decide what the protocol for our playing in their buildings would be.

We are required to where a split mask while we play, and our instrament bells must be covered as well. It’s kind of crazy, because, at least for woodwinds, air blows out through all the keyholes too which remain uncovered.

Several people protested that playing band instruments while wearing a mask was ridiculous. I suppose it is. I’m on the board and we decided early on to send out a survey, telling our musicians what the requirements would be and asking if they would be playing this season. About 50% decided they weren’t comfortable and opted out.

I understand, I waffled myself.

But in the end, for me, the chance to play overrode lingering fear of contrating covid again. Though I have to tell you, playing while wearing a mask is not easy. Playing while wearing a mask when you haven’t played more than a handful of times in the past 18 months is really hard. Playing while wearing a mask when you haven’t played much in the past 18 months and while wearing glasses that fog up is really really hard.

We’re practicing Christmas music; our first concert will be in December, and Santa will be there, so we’re motivated. I’ll be practicing this week while wearing a mask so I can figure out how to breath without fogging up. And so I can blow for longer than one measure without getting winded.

Santa from another concert, another year, another lifetime ago.

Yep, I have a lot of work to do. But we’re playing music again, a sure sign that the world is beginning to right itself. And that makes me smile. I hope you have found reasons to smile this week too. Even if you’re wearing a mask and fogging up your glasses.

Change is hard.


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2 smiles, one weekend

I’m a lucky lady, I got to experience two big smiles jammed into one weekend. Plus we are experiencing beautiful weather, warm and sunny with the trees starting to turn color. The morning and evening light makes the trees just glow.

But that’s a different blog post.

My first smile of the weekend was Saturday evening when I got to play in a pop-up concert with some of my Clarkston Community Band mates and several professional musicians who came to fill holes in our orchestration.

The neighbors came out to listen to us play on their cul-de-sac.

We haven’t played together since early March. Many of us haven’t played at all since then, though most of us frantically practiced these past few days trying to get our lips back in shape. The professionals sightread the music and sounded wonderful. I was grateful to get to play with them.

Thankful for these guys coming to help us out.

It was a lovely night and we are reminded again why we play long after school ends. As our Director, Ms. Roland said, tonight we’re not talking about politics or bingewatching silly shows on TV, we’re not thinking about virusus or worried about the future.

ALl about the music.

Tonight it’s about the music. And what a relief that was.

Keeping us in time.

I hope the neighbors who came out of their homes, sat in lawn chairs and waited while we did a little rehearsing before we began, I hope they had as much fun as we did.

Making a big sound.

But I don’t see how they could have had more.

He’s played with us since he was a kid, now grown up and still making music.

Then this morning I did a virtual 5K with my friend Tami who lives in California. So that we could run/walk together she went out at 6 a.m. while it was still dark, and I waited until 9 am. here, an hour or more later than I would normally go out.

At the turn around point.

It was a compromise on both our parts because we wanted to motivate each other. Compromise works, I wish it was something that happened more in our world, but I’m not going there in this post.

Nope, this post is all about smiles. I hope you had something fun to do, or pretty to see, or beautiful to listen to this week.

As we march toward November we all need to remember to smile. And that’s as political as I’m going to get today.

Trombones all in providing the bass sounds.


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Live music in a different way

Last night I attended, in a manner of speaking, the Detroit Symphony playing their opening concert of the new season. They played in Orchestra Hall, just like they have every season for years.

But it was very different this year.

This year I ran across an ad for the concert on Facebook. The concert was due to begin live streaming in four minutes. Tickets were $12. I spent three of those minutes finding my purse and credit card and entering all the data to get my virtual ticket.

At the last moment I tuned in to watch.

A lone violinist stood on a partially dark stage playing the National Anthem to a lit flag. Something about the lonliness of the performance had me feeling blue. No one was singing, so I softly did, off key, alone, with tears in my eyes. The last note was swallowed up by the empty seats, the silence deafening.

And then the opening piece, Fanfare for the Common Man by Copland began. Near the back of the otherwise empty stage were three percussionists, dressed in their concert blacks, with black masks, spaced at least 10 feet apart, playing a gong, the bass drum and a timpani. At the front of the stage was the conductor standing on a raised podium. And behind him, spread across the balconies, were the brass, high above the empty main floor.

The piece was electrifying. They played it, said the conductor later, to honor the Covid victims and because it is filled with hope. It certainly made me feel better, though it was so odd that when it was finished the conductor bowed to the empty house and exited, stage right just as he would if we were all there, wildly applauding.

They played several other pieces, all relatively short. My favorite was Gabriel’s Oboe by Morricone, which was played to “provide some peace to all of you during this time.” It’s just beautiful, if you have time, sit somewhere comfortable, close your eyes and listen.

The whole concert was a little less than an hour. Watching was a bit surreal, even the fully orchastrated pieces had at most 15 people on the stage. Those playing strings wore masks. The woodwinds had plexiglass sitting in front of them, and a cloth on the floor to capture any drips. At the end of each piece the solists were recognized; they stood and bowed slightly to the empty house.

I was grateful to watch a live concert but I wonder how the musicians felt playing it. Did it seem strange to have no applause? Could they feel us out here, our faces lit by the glow of a screen, leaning forward and letting the music fill us up? Could they sense the emotion we were feeling? Did they feel something similar?

I hope they did. I hope the music filled them up as well. And I hope someday we get to sit, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, in a packed hall. I hope we get to spontaneously and as one rise to our feet with applause at the end of a piece. I hope we get to grin at each other and shake our heads in wonder.

I hope we get to clap until our hands hurt.

Until then I’ll gladly spend $12 to watch them on my laptop. It’s money well spent.


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Music decompression smile

You know how astronauts, when they come back to earth, need a period of time to adjust to their normal lives again? Though I haven’t been orbiting the earth that’s how I feel now that I’m back in Michigan after twelve lovely days in the sun.

Not to say there’s never any sun here. But it seems to be rare. And it hasn’t stopped snowing since we arrived home. Today the windchill temperatures will be in the single digits, and the driveway needs to be cleared of last night’s snow. Perhaps we can just wait until it melts sometime in April.

I’m still battling the major cold I got while I was out there enjoying the sun. I’m not blaming Arizona for my cold, I figure I got it on the plane ride home from Washington DC the week before. I almost always get some sort of sniffle after I fly, but this one is a doozy.

I’ve been taking over the counter drugs every four hours for more than a week. The cough is low in my chest and the tickle in my throat is constant. I should buy stock in Kleenex and my nose is raw.

I’m pretty miserable.

We took the red-eye flight home from Phoenix on Sunday night. Our plane left at midnight and we arrived in Detroit at 5:00 a.m. By the time we got our luggage and got out to the car we were looking at driving home in rush hour traffic. Yep, that was fun.

I got a couple of hours of sleep at home, then went to pick up the Princess from camp. I hoped that she would be exhausted from all the fun she had and we could all settle down to a long winter nap.

I was wrong.

So anyway, by the time Tuesday night’s community band rehearsal came around I was really dragging. And I still couldn’t breath well, was still taking drugs to function. And I hadn’t practiced in almost two weeks. I really wanted to stay home.

But have I told you that we have a concert in one week?

So I went, not expecting to be able to stay the entire two hours. Uncertain if I could even play. And guess what?

The music filled me up with such peace. Even the hard parts. We didn’t sound too bad, and though there are definitely places we each need to work on before next Tuesday, some of the time we sounded quite beautiful. And my head cleared and my throat stopped hurting and I only coughed once.

That’s the power of music.

So this is a long post to relay a simple idea. If you’re feeling down, emotionally or physically, if you’re stressed and tired and worn out, if you need to get through another cold, dark, snowy day, well…play some music. Whether it’s on the radio, or your mobile device or an actual instrument or your very own voice, play some music.

It’ll make you smile. And that’s the first step to feeling better.

Guaranteed.


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Cello Tales

A year ago, January 9th, 2019, I posted a list of fun stuff I hoped to do. Better than resolutions, these were things that I’d thought about doing over the years but just hadn’t accomplished.

Making a sound on a cello was one of my crazier ideas. It was so crazy in fact that I could never successfully explain just what I meant – or even why it was a thing for me.

A cello at rest.

Probably because I wasn’t even sure myself.

But as of Wednesday, one day short of a full year later, because of two lovely ladies who went out of their way to make my wish come true, I can check hugging a cello off my to-dream list.

Learning the basics, with Joan, our host, standing in the back and Carol with her cello.

And I’m not so sure I can find words to share the experience with you.

Joan got a lesson too.

Our host was a professor from my days at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. We’ve kept in touch off and on over the ten years since I graduated and last month she read about my cello hugging dream and knew that she could help me realize it.

Learning how to hold the bow.

She coordinated with a cello playing friend of hers who, it turns out, didn’t mind at all letting some novice stranger sit with her cello and hold her bow while making noises unrelated to music.

Carol was so patient.

There’s a lot to playing a cello. Two hands doing different things, one bulky instrument leaning against you, knees and arms encircling it’s girth. Fingers to grip the bow just so, relax the shoulder, movement from the elbow only, the angle of the bow on the strings, how the fingers of the left hand press down just from the tips. What to do with your left thumb.

Turns out Joan’s husband was a natural.

So much to remember.

But when I got everything right a low round tone would swell out of the instrument. Not as beautiful a sound as when our instructor played, but still pretty nice. And each time I played a clear note I could feel the sound reverberate right though my soul and fill me up.

Not quite a virtuoso, but smiling.

Amazing.

There was so much to remember that I couldn’t take my eyes off of my own hands to look at music. Which is just as well. Because, well, cello music!

I thought it was written in base clef and it often is. But when the notes get high enough it switches to treble clef! So you could be reading along and suddenly your brain would have to switch clefs? And to make it even more insane, there’s also a tenor and an alto clef!

Carol played for us after we were finished making noise on her cello.

I saw at least three clefs on one of the pieces of music she shared with us. The different clefs are needed because the cello has such a wide range of notes, from very low to quite high. All those notes won’t fit on any single staff…so the composer can just include several different clefs in a single piece, and those talented cello players deal with it.

Mind boggling.

The next time I’m enjoying cellos playing in the symphony or a quartet, or even in a DC subway, I’ll have a better understanding and admiration for their talents. The sounds are spectacular. The brains and hands of the artists are astounding.

Those fingers on the left hand had no clue what they were doing.

It was so much fun. I am indebted to the women who willingly shared their lives and time with me just so I could learn something about an instrument I have always admired. If everyone could hug a cello the world would be a better place, and I’m grateful to have had the experience.

I drove home in late afternoon sunshine under fat, purple bottomed clouds that were chasing a three quarter moon. I tried to pinpoint what the experience had felt like.

It felt round and strong and deep and soft, sort of like the golden light falling all around me as I drove.

It felt beautiful.

The moon rises over a wonder filled day.


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Holiday smiles

Trent is still hosting the Weekly Smile, and though sometimes I don’t get moving fast enough to include my smiles in his recap, this week I wanted to make sure I shared. This week’s smile is all about music, specifically the Christmas music our community band played last night at our annual holiday concert.

Getting ready for the concert.

I love it when our concert is early enough in December to feel like it kicks off the holiday. This year it seemed perfect, just after Thanksgiving and with a few weeks until the big day.

We shared the stage again this year with a high school choir group. They add just the right touch of elegance to the music, with their formal attire and lovely soaring voices.

Look who arrived!

And of course we had a visit from Santa, who showed up right after the children in the audience came up on the stage and rang their jingle bells as we played Here Comes Santa Clause.

The little ones were in awe of the big guy in red. We kind of like him too.

Children ready to shake those bells? OK, let’s go!

And he stuck around to conduct our last piece, Sleighride, the perfect way to end a fun evening.

A perfect way to end a lovely evening.

You couldn’t count all the smiles that were in that auditorium last night. And that makes it my smile of the week.


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Sharing a smile – musically

You ever have one of those weeks that just flies by and you’re pretty sure you had plenty to smile about but you can’t really remember anything specific? Well, that’s been my week. So this week’s smile comes to you from this very afternoon, the last afternoon of the week.

Today I attended a band concert at our local high school. But this isn’t just any band – it’s made up of band directors, private music teachers and a few assorted graduate music students. Talk about talent filling a hall!

Though the house wasn’t full (and it should have been, all the students of all these teachers should have been there) those of us in the audience were serious appreciates of good music. During one piece I noticed a guy up one row and to my left conducting along with the music. And there was plenty of head bopping going on all around me. Yep, the place was filled with musicians and musician’s families.

And in the middle of their last piece, Danzon No. 2 by Marquez, where the piece gets extra wild and a bit raunchy, (about 7:38 into the piece, see link above.), I actually got goosebumps.

That was definitely cause for a smile.