Monday, May 15, 2017

Motorcycling Beefs

Ok. Here are my beefs for today, and they relate to motorcycles.

First – since I am embroiled in the lifestyle, I am acutely aware of people’s concern and complaints about motorcycles, and motorcyclists. Friends, please realize that bikers account for ONE PERCENT of all licensed drivers (riders) in California. I can’t speak about other states because I simply do not possess the data. In 2015, there were 25.5 MILLION drivers; and only 250 thousand bikers. There are 800,000 bikes REGISTERED, but very few of us only own one bike. Jay Leno has like 400! Even if EVERY BIKER ON THE ROAD was a scofflaw, we are WAY underrepresented in the population at large. Here is an article that talks about who is riding in California:

Second - people are talking to (and around) me about the safety of motorcycles. In my 30+ years of biking, I have gotten to know, literally, THOUSANDS of motorcycle enthusiasts, from dirt bikers, to long distance Iron Butt-ters. Of ALL the biking people with whom I have come in contact, I know of NO ONE who has been fatally injured in a m/c crash. ZERO, NADA, the EMPTY set. Compare that to my experience with airplanes. I have had THREE close friends killed in airplane crashes. In MY admittedly limited experience, airplanes are WAY more dangerous.

Third – Lane Sharing. To the uninitiated, it is called “lane splitting.” A single track vehicle, by definition, cannot physically SPLIT a lane, we are SHARING the lane. Some time back, a man Named Harry Hurt investigated over 900 motorcycle accidents, and 3600 police accident reports involving motorcycles. His research PROVED that it is SAFEER for motorcyclists to share lanes in high traffic (stop & go) situations, than to stay in between cars, like a sitting duck. Further, it is SAFER FOR US to go 10-15 mph FASTER than the flow of traffic. There are guidelines (unofficial, unpublished) that are suggested by the California Highway Patrol to make these practices safer. As bikers, we are naturally drawn to motor officers. I have NEVER met a policeman who was not willing to take some time to talk about m/cs and motorcycling. You can get a copy of the Hurt report (almost 900 pages which I have read cover-to-cover) from the Department of Transportation. It comes in 2 documents, numbered HS-805 862 & HS-805 863.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Train Blog, May 2016

Many of you know that I am a seasoned rail rider. I have spent days, nay WEEKS aboard Amtrak trains. Truth be told, if I NEVER got on an airplane, it'd be too soon. Having said that, there are number of things about rail travel in the US that is NOT good. I will write my thoughts here in hopes of making your train experience more pleasurable, or to help you go in knowing what to expect. I will try to organize them by topic.

Packing - You should have 2 suitcases; One IN your sleeper for all of your needs while you are aboard, and the other you can check through of items you won't need until your arrival.

Things you will need while you are aboard: Clothes you will need. Do not plan on anything formal. Casual, around the house clothes are fine. You will drop food on you when you are eating, you will splash on you in the bathroom, and if you are drinking something in your room, I guarantee the train will lurch just as you are raising your glass and spill all over you. I travel with camo pants. They have lots of pockets for wallet, glasses, iPhone, money, whatever. Plus, WHEN I spill something, you can't see it. I bring one shirt for each day aboard. I sleep in sweats and t-shirts. I bring a sweatshirt (not a hoodie) for if/when it gets cold in my room. I bring my dopp kit with shampoo, toothbrush, shaver (use an electric aboard, trust me), and other personal items. You want all these in a dopp kit of sorts so you can bring everything to bathroom all at once.

In your room: There is a temperature controller in your room, but don't count on it actually doing anything. The car steward actually controls the temp in your car and their concept of warm and cold always seem to be different from mine. In each room, there is an air vent that always blows cold air. There is a lever that "closes" the vents, but it won't. SO I always travel with a roll (or more) of duct tape. If it gets too cold in my room (which it usually does), I cover the vent(s) with duct tape. If it starts getting warm, I remove ONE strip of tape at a time, until I get the temp right. I can very accurately adjust my room temp this way. Works every time. Once, I taped over both vents completely, and cold air came pouring out the lighting fixtures; I taped over them, too. I travel with a ratcheting screwdriver and wire cutters. Once, the speaker in my room would not turn off (again, there IS a controller, but don't count on IT working). I unscrewed the speaker and clipped the wire. I repaired the "fix" before I got off the train. If light keeps you from sleeping, bring a sleep mask. In a roomette, it is impossible to block out the constant hall lighting. It's easier in the bedroom, and in the family room, light comes in under the door, at the floor; you can block this with your shoes. If you want to read, there are plenty of reading lights, and each room has has an overhead light that toggles with a night light that glows a soft, blue light. There is an electric outlet in each room. I bring a power strip and multi outlet charger for my iPhone, iPad and Jambox. This keeps my devices charged up and ready to go. THERE IS NO WIRELESS IN THE SLEEPER CARS. There was a wireless network on the Southwest Chief. I was able to hook into it, but it didn't work. On the Coast Starlight there is intermittent wireless in the Parlor Car and sometimes in the observation car, but don't count on it. Make sure your phone has a personal hotspot so you can link your iPad (or lap top) to the phone. In many places the train goes, there is NO phone service. This would be a good time to get your shower. On the train, you must wear shoes at all times. Not in your room obviously, but this is a good policy. There is a treacherous joint where the cars join. I couldn't IMAGINE getting my toe caught under that. I have a pair of hard soled, fleece line slippers that I wear, with no sox. They are plenty warm, comfortable and slip right on and off.

In the shower: If you are on the train for more than a day, you'll want to shower. Amtrak supplies towels, soap, shampoo. May 2016: no shampoo on the Empire Builder. You probably should bring your own. Unless you are really sticky about what you put on your hair, you can use what they provide; it'll be FINE for one or 2 days. I promise your hair won't fall out. In some showers, you punch a button, and the water runs for 2 minutes, then you punch the button again; I haven't seen this in awhile, I guess they fixed that. Sometimes, it takes a REALLY long time for the water to get hot. Be patient. One interesting thing to note, the shower water dumps right onto the tracks. Once there was no drain cover and I could see the tracks going by right under my feet! There is one shower per sleeper; it is downstairs. The best time to shower is right after breakfast, or right after dinner. I have never had to wait for a shower at these times.

In the bathroom: Many car stewards keep the bathrooms clean and fresh smelling. This is not always the case. If it's not, tell your steward. They may or may not do something about it. If they don't, go in another car. Chances are the steward in that car does. When you use the basin (especially the small one in the bedroom) put your hands at the very bottom of the basin. The water squirts out fast and you will get splashed. Some of the fixtures have been changed, but many have not. I don't want my only pair of pants wet at the crotch for the duration of my ride. If you are particular about what forestry products keeps your bum clean and fresh, bring your own. The septic system aboard the train is very fragile, so they use septic system safe paper products (read: single ply, thin). If you are going #2, line the bottom of the bowl with toilet paper before you do (trust me on this). As with the toilet tissue, the paper towels that are supplied are very thin, fold them in half before you use them. You'll use less and they will work better. Bring some baby wipes (wet wipes). You can freshen up, and you can wash your face with them, too. PLEASE, do not put ANYTHING (except the aforementioned paper product) into the toilets. This can be a REAL mess. Also, after you go, if you have other business in the bathroom, put the seat down, they don't sell toothbrushes on the train. Men, put the seat up. And when you miss (and you will) take a paper towel and clean up.

In the dining car: Please, don't expect gourmet food. Aboard the Coast Starlight there is the parlor car, where sometime they serve something special. Typical breakfast fare is a couple different eggs dishes, oatmeal, continental. If they have it, try the French Toast. Bacon or sausage on the side is included. They don't always ask if you want it. If the people sitting with you at breakfast don't get theirs, ask them if you can have it. You can never get enough protein. You will be offered biscuit or croissant. Sometimes, the biscuits are dry. Grits are always available, and are sometimes offered. Don't expect Starbucks coffee. Last I heard, they make the coffee from a liquid concentrate. It isn't terrible. If you hate paper cups, bring your own mug; I do & it is ALWAYS a conversation starter. There is always a lunch special, a burger (overcooked, get the cheese & bacon, it'll help, & add catsup & mayo), a veggie burger, and some kind of salad. You can ask for a side salad, and sometimes you can get one (see tipping below). Recently, aboard the Coast Starlight, I had a wonderful pork shank for lunch, they had it on the Empire Builder, too. For dinner, there is always a special, a chicken dish, pasta dish, fish dish and a flat iron steak. I've had them all, get the steak. Although, on this time out of SJC on the Coast Starlight (May 2016), there was a wonderful smelling & looking chicken dish (I got pasta). Dinner comes with a salad (of the crappy side variety), veggies du jour (steamed, I think, it's hard to tell), and a starch. There is always Newman's Own for salad dressing, 4 choices; mix the ranch and Italian. I don't THINK they have changed the menu in at LEAST 15 yrs. For breakfast, you can sit any time as they serve from 6:00-9:00; there's always a seat. For lunch and dinner, you need reservations. I haven't gotten this figured out yet. I'm either not hungry yet, or I'm starving. Dessert is included for lunch and dinner. Make sure you ask for it if it is not offered. You will have to share a table, you will be seated with 3 strangers; this can be a GOOD thing, or a BAD thing. You'll find a different breed of person on the train. Nobody is in a hurry. They sit. They talk. They hang out. Everybody has a story. Be prepared to chat. I have met some phenomenal people on the train. If this disturbs you, you can get your meals brought to your room by your car steward, but be prepared to tip a little extra, which brings me to my next topic:

Tipping aboard the train: While the stewards and the dining car workers are union members, their union is not as strong as the engineer's & conductor's union (yes, they are different). This harkens back to the day when the car workers were all African-Americans, and the others were Caucasians. The accepted tip for the car attendant is $5 - $10 per day, per person. I always double that and I tip the attendant BEFORE I get on the train. As I show my ticket, I hand the steward the tip and I say, "This is for you, in case I don't see you when I get off." These overworked Amtrak employees are on call 24/7, and they have to be as bright eyed and bushy tailed at 3 AM in Chico, California, as they are at 11 AM in Ottumwa, Iowa. Tip 'em. Learn their name and use it. They will put up your bed when asked, & take it down. "Do you need anything, Mr. Clements?" is the way I'm treated on the train. With the cost of train travel, what's a few extra bucks to get good service? In the dining car, you calculate your tip on the actual cost of the meal. When you get a sleeper, meals are included. Figure your tip (use 25%) at the time you order your meal (don't forget beverages & desert). I always tip a minimum of $5 for breakfast & lunch, $10 for dinner. I always get great service: that extra order of bacon or coffee and soft drink at meals (for which you have to pay, normally). I always learn the name of my server and use it liberally. I give them mine and we develop a nice rapport that makes meal time very pleasurable. On the Empire Builder this time, I knew all of them (Kevin, Connie, Katrina & Liz) and we hung out at long stops. If I get outstanding service by my car steward, I'll tip them AGAIN when I get off. This happened ONCE.

Selecting your accommodations:  If you decide not to go coach (HIGHLY recommended), you'll need to decide what type of accommodation you want. I have been in all types, so I'll comment on my preferences, and why. I suggest you go here to read what Amtrak posts about accommodation choices:

Roomette: This is suggested for one or 2 people. This is 1/3 of the width of the train (on the site I think it gives the dimensions of each room). Honestly, for me, this is too small. For 2 people, with the room set up for day use, you will be bumping knees all day. You can't sit side by side, or lay down together. It has two bunks, one lower & one upper. There really is not room for your stuff. There is a small closet to hang your coat. There are 4 of these on the lower level, and 10 on the upper.
Bedroom: This is for 2-3 people. This is a good choice. There is plenty of room for you and your stuff; tuba & suitcase. It includes a bathroom & shower, it is 2/3 the width of the train. This is the most expensive of the accommodations. I guess because of the private bath and shower. Honestly, for me the shower is too small. Also, I'd rather not poop in my room. I'd rather do this down the hall. It IS good, however, if you reach a certain age and have to tinkle during the night; the loo is right there. There is a shelf right above the single chair to put your suitcase on, and room under the bed for a THIN suitcase. The cool thing about this option is that there is a sliding panel so you can adjoin 2 rooms to make a suite kind of thing. I have never done this, but it seems like a cool option. These are on the upper level, 5 per car.
Accessible: this is for people who have mobility issues. Before I had hip surgery this was a good choice for me. There is only ONE of these rooms per car, so if you need one, better book early. And it is on the lower level.
Family Bedroom: This is my choice. It sleeps 2-3 adults plus 2 kids. I travelled with 2 suitcases a tuba & my backpack. PLENTY of room. It is the entire width of the train so if there is something to see on either side, you won't miss it. The nearest bathroom and the shower is only 12 steps away. Even in the middle of the night, this ain't bad. The only thing "bad" about this room is that it is on the lower level. At many stations, people can see right into the room. Make sure you draw the curtains if you are changing. Sound like the voice of experience? There is only ONE of these rooms per car. Again, book early. Oddly, even with the size of this room, it is cheaper than the bedroom.
Upper level or lower level?: This in an interesting question. You have this choice only on the roomette. On the upper level, there are people walking around all the time. This is the passageway between cars. If your car is near the dining car, you will get a lot of foot traffic walking by your room. Plus, the upper level sways a bit more. Imagine the wheels being the center of a circle and the roof being on the circumference. So if the motion bothers you, this might be an issue. The lower level has virtually no foot travel, and it sways less. BUT if it is the last car the train (like I had on the City of New Orleans, a notoriously BAD section of track) it can be a bouncy and rocky ride, kind of like the last car on a roller coaster. On the lower level the track noise can be louder. Then you got that "looking in the window" thing. I prefer the lower level. At stops you can get right out and back on.

Cars on the train - In addition to the engine(s) and baggage cars, there are these types of cars:

Coaches. There are airplane types of seats, but better. There are 2 on each side of the aisle, and there is LOTS of room between seats; plenty to recline and sleep. There is an overhead for your bags. In each car there is a large space behind the last row. Traveling with a tuba, I put it here for the duration; it was safe. Most people travel on the train in coach. Fare is reasonable and it is easy to get tickets. One caution: while the attendant will keep track of where you have to get off, once they didn't and I ended up 3 hours beyond MY stop.
Lounge - This is sometimes an observation car. This is the BEST place to look at scenery. It is all windows and the seats are comfortable. Many times, there is a ranger on board giving great information about the area through which you are traveling. Food is sold on the lower level, but don't expect much, and it is not cheap.
Diner - Where you get your meals. Details above.
Sleepers - Where the accommodations are.
There is no figuring where each car is going to be. GENERALLY, sleepers are right behinds the baggage car, followed by the diner, lounge car (if there is one) then coaches. Having the diner in the middle, prevents coach passengers from entering the sleepers. On the Coast Starlight, the parlor car is between the sleepers and the diner. 

Other considerations: When making plans, plan on the train being late, VERY late. I was almost late making a connection from the California Zephyr to the Capitol Limited. I left 7 hours to make the connection. Literally, I made it with 4 minutes to spare. Taking the Sunset from LA to Kissimmee, Florida, we were 18 hours late. There were a train full of folks in the next car that were going on a cruise; they missed their boat. They had to CHARTER a boat to the next port of call to catch up with their cruise ship. SOMEONE should have told them. I always plan a day between legs of a trip. You're on a train, what's the hurry? On this trip, we hit somebody. We were stopped for 4 hours while everything was sorted out.
Bring everything into your room that you will need in transit, jacket, sunglasses, snacks. There is a luggage storage area on each sleeping car, lower level, but frequently accessing your bag is a huge hassle. If you've checked your big bag through, you cannot get to it until you arrive.
This trip will not be cheap, adding accommodations will triple the cost of the fare. Plan on it. There are no shortcuts or discounts. There is a small AAA discount and your NARP (National Association of Rail Passengers) membership MIGHT help.
There are some "smoke stops" along the way. This is to slow the train down in the REMOTE chance that it actually gets ahead of schedule or to change crews. (The train will NEVER leave a station before the printed departure time). Take the time to go outside and smell the air in different locales. It's one of the things that makes train travel SO good. If the conductor (or car steward) says, "Stay on the platform," Stay on the platform!!! Once in Eugene (on the Coast Starlight), 12 people went into town, the train left them. They had to get 4 cabs to bring them to Albany to catch up. 4 cabs ain't cheap to go 43 miles.
When walking THROUGH the train, walk with your stance as wide as possible. You will minimize the getting thrown around effect as the train rounds bends. Use your forearms as outriggers against the walls & windows.
Remember, the train is quiet. Please respect your neighbors and make the kids use their inside voices. Quiet time is 10 PM to 7 AM.

Bring mouthwash. You will be sitting up close and personal with people at dinner time. And deodorant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What happened to top 40 music?

I became acquainted with top 40 music in the 1960s. My brother, Les,  was very current with all the new artists. I heard tunes like "Baby Talk" by Jan and Dean, "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" by Elvis Presley, "He’s a Rebel" by the Crystals, "Another Saturday Night" by Sam Cooke, "Be True to your School" by the Beach Boys, "18 Yellow Roses" by Bobby Darin, and other tunes by artists such as the (Young) Rascals, the Ronettes, Leslie Gore, Bobby Vee, Jay and the Americans, Roy Orbison, the Rondelles, and many others. I heard, also, a LOT of "Do-wop," by what had come to be known as Rhythm and Blues and street corner artists.

My own interest in top 40 music covered about a 12 year span from roughly 1966 through 1978. My 45 RPM record collection included titles such as "Along came Mary," "Never my Love," "Cherish," and "Windy," by the Association, "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas, "I am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel, "No Matter what Shape your Stomach is in" by the T-bones, "Sloop John B" by the Beach boys, "A Little bit of Me," "Last Train to Clarskville," "I'm a Believer," "Not your Stepping Stone," and others by the Monkees, "Let's Live for Today" by the Grass Roots, "On the Eve of Destruction," by Barry McGuire, "The Happening" by the Supremes, "I just Dropped In" by the First Edition, "Stoned Soul Picnic," and "Up, Up and Away," by the Fifth Dimension, "Young Girl," and "This Girl's a Woman Now," by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, "Dizzy" by Tommy Roe, "The Letter" by the Box Tops, "I think we're alone Now" and "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells, "Rain in the Park and Other Things" by the Cowsills, "Incense and Peppermints" by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. And many other hits from that era. Not to mention all of the albums I bought with my papar route money by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago, and the Monkees. Even after moving to Los Angeles in 1975, I listened to KRTH which was the local top 40 channel. I kind of tuned out about mid-1976.

After that, I became a serious student of classical music and kind of lost touch with popular music. I learned about Bach and Brahms, Bruckner and Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy and Stravinsky. It was during this period that I was also introduced to jazz. My favorite artists were David Brubeck, Stan Kenton, Don Ellis, and Jaco Pastorius. During that period I purchased albums by those artists but remained completely out of touch with what was called top 40 music at the time.

Recently, I became aware of a group of GREAT studio musicians that flourished from roughly 1959 through 1981. This was a group of musicians who played on virtually every top 40 song during this time. A rough roster is below:

Guitar: Glen Campbell (yes, THAT Glen Campbell), Barney KesselTommy TedescoAl CaseyCarol KayeBilly StrangeRene Hall, Don Peake, Howard RobertsJames BurtonJerry Cole, Bill Aken, Mike Deasy, Doug Bartenfeld, Ray Pohlman, Bill Pitman, Irv Rubins, Louie Shelton, John Goldthwaite, Al Vescovo.
Saxophone: Steve DouglasJay MiglioriJim HornPlas JohnsonNino Tempo, Gene Cipriano
Trumpet: Roy CatonTony TerranOllie Mitchell, Bud Brisbois, Chuck Findley.
Trombone: Lou BlackburnRichard "Slyde" Hyde, Lew McCreary
Percussion: Julius Wechter, Gary L. Coleman, Frank Capp

It was after doing some internet research about these great artists that I renewed my interest in top 40 music. I went online to look for local top 40 radio stations. There were none listed in the AM band, and there were only three listed on the FM side, one comes from, oddly, Ohlone College, which is very weak in the South Bay. I programmed them into the sound system in my van and since that time I have been listening to a lot of top 40 music. Thus my initial question, what happened to top 40 music? Most of the songs that I have been hearing are by rap artists who seem to be remaking the same song over and over, or young artists whose music seems to sound all the same. I don't hear any of the excellence, craftsmanship, or artistry created by producers such as Phil Spector. Nor do I hear quality compositions by quality composers such as Jimmy Webb and Billy Strange, or the symphonic epics, such as "MacArthur Park," "Layla," or Mason Williams' "Classical Gas."

So for now, I'll continue to listen to my three stations, and welcome the relief I feel from the commercials, plugs, and advertisements.

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 in review

January – I did a lot of playing this month; Symphony Silicon Valley, California Symphony, Santa Rosa Symphony… I spent some time with doctors discussing my chronic pain & my hip. I spent a GREAT weekend in LA visiting with Jim Self. No matter where you are along the musical path, it is always good to connect with one’s mentors. We talked a lot, we played together and I left there with some wonderful thoughts.

February – First up was the BCMW composition reading session. I ALWAYS enjoy playing new, fresh music and this contest was as good as always. We were able to add some wonderful new music to the BCMW library. Spent some more time with doctors and worked a lot at Lynbrook High School. Mike Pakaluk inherited a HUGE program from John Felder and is doing a wonderful job there. End of the month, I started in the Pain Management Program at Kaiser Hospital.

March – I had THREE concerts to conduct, OWO, OCB & MPBB and a recording session with OWO. SSV played a concert, and a series of Children’s’ concerts, which I always enjoy. I taught a lot of lessons this month, as well as some students at Stanford. Continued at Kaiser with the PMP. Took three bands to Fresno the 24th.

April – I sold my Bruckner to Alex Lapins in Arizona; we met at Bakersfield for the hand off. I got booted out of the pain management program because I missed too many classes. At this time, I am seriously considering a hip replacement, as the chronic pain is sometimes unbearable. I cannot conduct a 2-hour rehearsal standing. As much as I HATE this, I have to run rehearsals from a stool. I played several rehearsals with the Diablo Wind Symphony, preparing for a May solo appearance, and had several rehearsals with our brass detect, and judged a music festival. The Tuba Ensemble did a concert in Livermore, and the brass band played its spring concert. I went to hear the SF Symphony play ‘Romeo & Juliet” one of my FAVORITE pieces. I got reinstated in the Pain Management program with a modified attendance policy. I am moving towards coping with the chronic pain. More work with the Lynbrook bands and I taught a TON of lessons this month.

May – I had my breakthrough with the Pain Management Program. May 3rd to be exact. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was a life altering experience for me. I came to some wonderful realizations, and like magic, my back pain all but disappeared. If you want more info, contact me offline. Concerts: Symphony Silicon Valley, OWO, MPBB, solo with Diablo Wind Symphony, OCB. I auditioned to conduct the Watsonville Band. Played with the Monterey Band and I started a long run of Mary Poppins, bass trombone and tuba. Had a BLAST playing this show and made a ton of dough! Notes that my dear Phil Zahorsky had left us one year ago, on May 18. To celebrate his life, we have a band campout at Big Basin State Park that weekend. A grand time was had by all. A decision was made to have the hip replacement surgery; I asked for a MEDICAL leave from Music in the Mountains. I have been playing this festival since 1983.

June – Finished a long run of Mary Poppins. Man, I loved playing that musical. Great part, great orchestra, wonderful conductor. Did some Pain Management classes, prior to my June 19 surgery. SSV had a bass trombone audition; we hired a young trombonist from LA, who’s parents were classmates of mine at Northridge. I taught a lot of lessons before the new hip. June 19th – surgery. The surgery itself was pretty painless. It is really draconian what they do to you, but it is better than chronic pain. The next day, was HELL. I have never had pain like that. They get you right up and walking, but apparently (come to find out MUCH later) I was under medicated because the pain was UNbearable. One of the physical therapists FORCED me out of bed, and I was in tears, I never felt pain like that. June 22, my 25th wedding anniversary, home from the hospital. With drugs (morphine is GOOD!) I am able to control the pain. My extended family (read Ohlone & BCMW) was wonderful, with people bringing over food for 3 weeks after I am home. Thank you to Phil Pollard for coordinating all of that. MANY people stop by to see how I am doing. There is such a HUGE outcropping of visits, support and helping, I feel BLESSED to be surrounded with so many truly extraordinary people.

July – Against doctor’s orders, I play a July 4th gig with the Oakland Park band; THAT was a mistake! The pain was awful. Linda and I buy a new trailer for BCMW and it arrives the 10th. I see my surgeon for the first time since the surgery and he is thrilled with the results. I’m still hobbling with a cane, and medicated (no more morphine, though). Again, against Dr.’s orders I go to BCMW. It WAS a challenge, but with SO much help, it went off without a hitch. I had to hire a last minute coach for week 2 because I can’t go a whole day without pain meds and I can’t concentrate on coaching when I am medicated. I am supposed to play “Tubby the Tuba” with the symphony, but I bailed because there is no way I can do that. Rod Matthews agrees to fill in for me last minute.

August – I continue with the Kaiser pain class and teach a ton of lessons. Ohlone bands start up end of the month. It is great seeing my musical family after this weird summer. I play the POPS in SLO the last weekend.

September – HEART ATTACK!!  Yep, I suffered a heart attack on September 5th. I’m home alone; chest pain, dial 911 and they haul me out of here. I almost croak in the ambulance as my blood pressure goes through the roof. It was pretty scary; a life changing event for sure. They put 3 stents in and they find no damage to the heart muscle. I was back to work 3 days later. I’m not going let a little thing like a heart attack keep me away from my tuba ensemble, AND the first rehearsal of the newly formed Ohlone Clarinet Choir. I need to change my eating habits. It feels so good to be in front of my Ohlone Ensembles again, teaching my lessons and working with the Lynbrook kids. There is a pain management potluck on the 28th and it is WONDERFUL re-connecting with my pain management family. Symphony concerts and children’s concerts at the end of the month. And I start teaching three OUTSTANDING students at Stanford. I am given the position of ‘Interim Director of Bands’ at CSU East Bay, when their band director resigns.

OCTOBER – I play one of the most unique gigs I have ever played: 6 tubas in the Ann Hamilton Tower on Oliver Ranch. Google it, it is fascinating. I GET ON A PLANE! I go to my hometown (Lindenhurst, NY) for a 40th HS reunion. Although I did not go to Lindenhurst HS, I went to elementary school and junior high school with many, many of these folks. I was not going to go, but I was encouraged by more than a few people to go, so I did. AM I GLAD I DID! Not only did I really enjoy the trip, but also I reconnected with childhood friends and realized that truly, my childhood connection was something I really missed in my life. I am so grateful that the people with whom I spent time made me feel so at home. I reconnected with John Geheran and Bobby Arndts, 2 of my closest childhood friends. While I am there, I meet a wonderful horn player/composer/improv artist, Lydia Busler-Blais; more about her later. As soon as I get home, Jimmy Latten comes out from PA to conduct on the MPBB concert. It was great having him and he did wonderful rehearsals with my bands. At the end of the month, I begin rehearsals with the Santa Rosa Symphony, playing “Symphonie Phantastique” with Rod Matthews in the new Green Center in Santa Rosa.

November – That first weekend I played a series of incredible concerts with the Santa Rosa Symphony. I don’t think I’ll EVER tire of playing ‘Fantastique.’ That new hall is awesome, and I love playing with Rod. My rehearsals with the CSUEB band go well and I am teaching a ton of lessons. Nov 16, Lydia comes out here to make some connections. She is SUCH a talented artist; I want to try to get her out here doing some concerts, lectures, and demos. She comes to my clarinet & tuba concert and meets some of our Ohlone family and in NO TIME, she is being pressured to coach up at BCMW. I KNEW our guys would love her! She’s supposed to go home the 21st, but gets sick. She ends up going home AFTER T’giving, missing the holiday with her family. My first concert with the CSUEB band goes rather well. The musicians make TREMENDOUS progress in the quarter. I am looking forward to the rest of the year.

December – SSV concert, Tchaik 6th. STILL one of my favorite pieces to play. George Cleve does a GREAT job of rehearsing and conducting this masterpiece. GREAT performance by the symph. The next week, NUTCRACKER. With the upheaval at Ballet San Jose, there is a new production, reconstituted score and a new conductor. Dec 8, Ohlone Christmas Spectacular. All 5 groups play, OWO, OCB, MPBB, TE and CC. Great concert. Had a wonderful time and the groups played their hearts out. Tom Johnson VIDEO’D the whole thing, and I JUST saw the BLURAY version, YOWZA!! I played “The Legend of Zelda” at the SJ Civic Auditorium with the Skywalker Symphony. WOW, what a band!!! Played a wonderful gig with the Modesto Symphony and I saw an OLD friend of mine, Julie Rydelius, with whom I went to Jr. College. She is still a professional hornist in Florida. Finished up ‘Nutcracker’ and spent Xmas day with my father, who will be 92 on January 26th, 2013. Dec 31, spent New Years’ with my dear friends Phil & Susan Pollard, and Neil Bliss and Wendy Tran dropped by to play some Uno. They say, how you spend New Years Eve is how you spend your year. If I eat a wonderful meal, and am surrounded with friends for 2013, it WILL be a great year!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Making music

I love playing concertos. If I could play a concerto a month, I would be a happy camper. Playing music that I love truly, the way I want to play it. Also, as a soloist, you can pick your own clothes. I wear a tux so often and tails and suits. When you solo, you can wear a pair of nice black slacks, with a silk (I love silk) shirt and a vest. Elegant, simple, comfortable. Standing (or sitting) up front, you can hear your sound out in the hall. One can connect with an audience in a way that is impossible sitting in the back of the orchestra. When I was younger, there were but a handful of tuba concerti; now there's a bunch. Gregson, Broughton, John Williams, Jager, Arutunian, Golland, Steptoe, Lundquist, Aho, Holmboe, the list goes on and on. Great fun!

After that, I'd love to have gig full time with a brass quintet, or a tuba quartet. Never have to deal with conductors, having real input into the musical product and kind of selecting my own gigs & venues. I love playing brass quintets. The repertoire is so much fun & challenging. I don't think I'll ever get tired of playing "Just a Closer Walk" or "Ain't Misbehavin." there are some serious works I like, too, Ewald, Arnold, duBois, Renwick "Dance," and others. I miss the old SJSBQ+1.

As much as I love sitting next to Phil, and see my friends at symphony, soloing and chamber music is really where it's at for me, musically.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Losing Friends

RIP Ross Sears.

I lost yet another close friend this weekend. As I look back at my life, I have lost some really extraordinary people who were in my life on an almost daily basis. It is a small wonder I feel so empty many days. Here’s the list:

Morrell Pfeifle. Mr. Pfeifle (pron FIFE-lee) was one of my conducting mentors. He conducted the ‘second band’ at Cal State Northridge. He was really the first of my teachers who encouraged me. He let me conduct the college band and even as a 21 year old, he had enough faith in me to let me conduct ‘Music for Prague 1968’ by Karel Husa. Not only was he my teacher, but also he was my friend. I only hope I have made him proud. He killed himself, his 3 kids and the family dog in a plane crash.

Ned Truelfels. Ned was a horn player, with whom I played in Debut, and American Youth symphonies. Later, we were both members of the Theophilous Brass Quintet. He had a brilliant career ahead of him. He was just starting to make inroads into the LA freelance scene, getting some excellent studio calls and getting a toe into the great symphony gigs in the southland. He was smart, funny, a great looking guy and always fun to be around. I’ll never forget our all night session, with Stan Friedman, about the merits (or lack thereof) of the minimalist movement. I have his picture (still) on my bulletin board in my office; I think of him daily. He died of a brain aneurism driving to work on the freeway.

Vic Steelhammer. Vic was one of those once-in-a-lifetime meetings. I met Vic under such odd circumstances, and the reality of the situation is that we really didn’t like each other so much. For some reason, we were drawn to each other and in spite of our differences, we became as close as 2 men can become. I felt like his brother and indeed his family welcomed me into their homes and their hearts. I always wished I could be a Steelhammer. He died in a plane crash. I went to the morgue to identify the body. I don’t think I’ve EVER cried so much. I'll never forget the look of horror he had on his face, as he crashed one of his prized, hand-made RC airplanes. I miss his calls, I miss his stupid jokes, and I miss his company.

Phil Zahorsky. If I had to PICK a brother, Phil would be him. He sat next to me 5-6 days a week for 30 years. I can’t begin to tell you how much he did for me professionally; I could write a book. When the SJ Symph went belly up, I didn’t see Phil as much and I felt real grief not seeing him. We talked almost daily on the phone. When he past May 18, 2011, I was overwhelmed. I wept for weeks; some days I couldn’t get out of bed, completely encased in debilitating grief. I have never felt loss such as this.

There have been other people who passed who I miss, Betty Steelhammer (yes, Vic’s mom) Ted Brown, Sam Comfort, Harald Peterson, Tommy Johnson, Mike Villegas. Every loss, a piece of you goes away.

Please take a moment today and tell a friend how important they are to you in your life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

College Music Blog

As I look back at my 32+ year professional playing career, I am thinking about the preparation I had as a young artist to prepare me for this field. I will endeavor to discuss the classes I took that helped, classes that I took that really didn’t prepare me for the career path, and other offerings that really would have helped.

Classes that helped

Sight singing and melodic dictation. This is the class that really helped my sight reading ability. ANY performance major should be required to be in this type of class their entire college career. I am having all my pupils sing their lines before they play them. How can you play anything, without knowing exactly how you want it to go before you put your horn on your head? Jake said it BEST: ‘Song & Wind.’ Hear the song, blow the horn. Really, after all is said and done, this is the essence of being a musician.

New Music Ensemble. (Thanks, Dr. Kessner). I played SO much new music that any new music situation in which I find myself, I feel totally prepared because I played some pretty wacky shit in college. PLUS, I got to play some really bad music that I composed; teaching me a GREAT lesson: Tony, you are NOT a composer, give it up!

Orchestra and youth symphony/training orchestras. When I auditioned for the San Jose Symphony, I had performed all the works on the list for conductors like Mehli Mehta (and his famous son, Zubin), Myung-Whun Chung, Jaja Ling, Toshi Shimada, not to mention that extremely talented college musician, Lawrence Christiansen.

Conducting. Believe me, I have seen such crappy conducting in my career, that by knowing what these guys were TRYING to do, I was able to survive even the most harrowing experience.

As much as it pains me to say this, Marching Band. NOTHING helped me more with my rhythm than trying to walk around the field with my sousaphone and play in time, NOTHING!

Band. The parts in band are SO much harder than most orchestral music, that I HAD to sharpen my skills just to cover the parts. I had to work even HARDER to play the parts well.

Strings, woodwinds, percussion classes. No only did this give me a little insight to what other musicians are up against, but as a conductor now, I have a wonderful understanding of all of the instruments of the orchestra. While I can’t play the cello, I always got an “A” in tuning. At least I could play those 4 notes in tune! Also, as an orchestra musician, I can listen to other instruments knowing their pitch tendencies and adjust on the fly if I find myself doubling a part with another instrument.

Classes that didn’t

Music History. I know I am going to take heat for this, but let me explain. SOME of the classes were SO hard, that I had to take hours away from my tuba just to keep my head above water. I had one class that was a ‘drop the needle’ type of class. We had listening assignments, then at the exam, the Prof would drop a needle on a ‘record’ (yes, I am THAT old!) and we had to write as much as we could about the work. This really helped me learn how to identify composers, eras, styles, and performance practices. This was DIRECTLY applicable to my career path. The big thing about THIS approach, was it taught me to listen. I learned to love Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Vivaldi, Gesualdo, Buxtehude, Hindemith and Strauss. What could be better than whiling away the hours listening to great masterpieces? To Doctor Eleanor Russell: Your class was a total waste of my time, I learned nothing, was WAY over stressed, you took my valuable time away from my tuba, and you were cruel in your daily dispersals of, “I’m sorry you are unprepared. F?” You seemed to delight in giving us undergraduate performance majors an F for our daily preparation. I’d like to see YOU prepare a tuba lesson with Maestro Bobo and waste hours of time trying to memorize Grout for your thrice-weekly abuse. Her specialty was the study of Spanish Renaissance music, including the work of such composers as Cristobal de Morales and Pedro Rimonte. No wonder she didn't mind wasting MY time...

Piano Proficiency Exam. Holy shit! What a nightmare! These were some of the requirements at Northridge: All of the major and minor scales two octaves hands together; ALL of the theoretical cadences in all major and minor keys, with correct voice leading; a Bach 2 part invention; The Star Spangled Banner in ANY key, asked by the panel; reduce at sight a 4-part score in soprano, alto, tenor and bass clef; play and conduct at the same time; accompany someone on a solo; improvise on a chord structure given to you at the exam; improvise a harmony of a melody given to you at the time of the exam. You could do these one at a time. But still. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Piano majors routinely failed this test. I have NO keyboard skills. I went in to take the scale part of this test and Eleanor Russell (again!) said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Clements. This is unacceptable.” I calmly stood up and addressed the panel and said, “When your piano majors can play ANY of this shit on the tuba, I’ll be back here to take this friggin’ test.” THIS is the SOLE reason I have no degree. NO WAY I would EVER, in my wildest imagination, pass this test. How about requiring 2 or 4 semesters of piano class for us performance majors? Wouldn’t this suffice?

I wish I had access to these classes

Chamber music. I have made a ton of dough playing brass quintets, brass gigs and other small ensemble jobs. At Northridge, there was NO organized chamber music. ANY small group playing I did, I organized. And there was no faculty to coach the ensembles. The skills learned playing chamber music are DIRECTLY applicable to ANY gig I have ever played. San Jose State, no chamber music (I put together a tuba ensemble). Cal State East Bay, no chamber music anymore. WHY NO CHAMBER MUSIC??

Choir.  See Sight singing and melodic dictation above. I just didn’t have time. EVERY music major should be required to sing in a choir for AT LEAST one year (2 semesters, 3 quarters). ARE YOU KIDDING? This is a no brainer!!

Jazz Band, Improv. For every Mahler Symphony I’ve played, I’ve played 3 pops concerts. When I first started playing in the San Jose Symphony, I felt so underprepared to play pop music that I signed up at a local college to play trombone in their jazz band. This gave me the confidence to read those damned jazz figures (with which I had little experience) and that crappy manuscript that I had to read. Learning to improvise is the only TRUE way you can get in touch with your instrument. The jazz guys have a HUGE advantage to my ‘handcuffed to the music’ colleagues. At 57 ½, is it too late for me to learn?

Teaching seminar. One way I’ve made money was by giving private lessons. I would have loved to have Tommy Johnson, or Jim Self, or Roger Bobo, or Loren Marsteller observe me teaching and offer comments on how to make me a better teacher.

A reading band/orchestra. Most semesters, we worked all semester (3 rehearsals a week) to play ONE concert. I have NEVER had this luxury in my career. Usually, rehearsals start Tuesday and the concerts are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yes, I get my music ahead of time and I get to the first rehearsal with my part prepared. MANY times, we get the music for a pops concert Thursday and with 2 rehearsals, open the weekend series on Friday night. NOTHING in college prepared me for this kind of “READY, AIM, FIRE” concert preparation.

Audition prep. Get a list, work with my teacher, play a blind audition behind a screen. This is probably THE most uncomfortable playing situations for musicians seeking employment. No one likes auditions. Do one a semester, NO QUESTION. By the time you are on the audition trail, you've done 5-10 mock auditions in real life settings.

More recitals. I love playing solo & ensemble repertoire. I didn't discover this until I put one together myself several years ago.

I hope some of you college professors out there take a moment to consider this and maybe, just MAYBE we can start moving to helping our young artists.

I may add to this later, but it’s a start.

I welcome any and all comments.