Thursday, August 26, 2010

20 Random (RANDOM!) Thoughts

1 - I haven't seen a decent conductor in about 3 years.
2 - My favorite ice cream is vanilla from Dairy Queen.
3 - Hot Dog, or Hamburger? One of each, please.
4 - I have driven my car only ONCE (to the car wash) since I bought that silly van.
5 - I REALLY miss my little Sam. As cute as Lena is, I think about Sam every day.
6 - CC or F; I can't really make up my mind. F, I think. No CC.
7 - If I had enough money, I'd move to Switzerland, tomorrow, or Japan.
8 - I just don't get how people can like football. I just don't get it. Forget about soccer. At least in Hockey & Lacrosse, every one's armed.
9 - iPhone 4.0? Not until they figure out the antenna problem.
10 - I shoulda worked harder at baseball. With all the crappy pitching in the major leagues, I'm POSITIVE I could have made it. To AAA at least.
11 - F**k you, Chirco.
12 - FB has been great for me. I have made so MANY connections, it boggles my mind.
13 - I have an opportunity to go to China next May, but it means getting on an airplane. I may not go.
14 - Star Trek or Star Wars? I can't get enough of 'em.
15 - A Slice of NY on Stevens Creek Blvd has the ONLY decent cannoli I've tasted. La Villa Deli in Willow Glen is a close second (See you Sunday!).
16 - I wish I could get on a train for a month and not get off.
17 - If I were a rich man, I'd hire a cook, a dental hygienist, a chauffeur, a barber and a housekeeper to take care of all the crap I hate doing. Oh, and a masseuse for the obvious.
18 - Making music has GOT to be the best endeavor, except being a chocolatier.
19 - I wish I had more time to read. I have 5 books waiting for me on the shelf. AND I want to reread ALL of the Dune books. All 13 of them.
20 - I wonder what I'll have for dinner?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Conductor Blog

Since I’ve seen a few more conductors than usual the past couple of weeks, I thought I’d share a couple of conductor stories. The names, dates and orchestras will not be revealed because I don’t want to embarrass anybody. But you know who you are!

Conductors are like baseball managers, but backwards. If a ball team is doing poorly, it’s crappy managing. If they are doing well, it’s because they have great players. When an orchestra plays well, I hear, “Wow, that -insert name of conductor here- makes that orchestra sound great.” When the conductor screws up and CAUSES problems in the orchestra, I hear, “Man, the orchestra doesn’t sound very good. What’s wrong with those players?”

In defense of conductors, it is a very hard skill to master. But in the (paraphrased) words of my friend Danny Leeson, “A difficult task does not relieve the person of the responsibility of excellent performance.” Did I get that right, Dan? When a ball player doesn’t hit, he gets traded.

Story #1 – Years ago, I was playing a performance of “Daphnes & Cloe.” In the second suite, when the orchestra is blazing along in 5/4, there is a whirlwind of action; truly a great moment in impressionistic music. Well this conductor starts rushing and in short order, the piece starts unraveling. There are a couple of double forte trombone bursts that I can only describe here as “BOP-ba-da!” Thank God I didn’t play there. As I looked over to my trombone colleagues, I see the ‘deer in headlight eyes’ that we have all witnessed before in a spot like that. They all three had their horns up, ready to go, and out comes one little “boop.” I HAD to put my head down because I just started laughing out loud. “Boop.” I STILL laugh when I think of that.

Story #2 – The Turtle Island String Quartet was the guest for a Pops concert, I think, or maybe a Light Classics. These guys have GREAT time; you can calibrate your metronome to their rhythmic integrity. At the rehearsal, we are playing along and the conductor (not the same person) starts rushing. As you can imagine the piece starts coming apart. The conductor (I’m not saying gender here) stops and tells the Turtles, “You are rushing.” This person is telling The Turtle Island String Quartet they are rushing.

Story #2a, same concert – We are playing a suite of Duke Ellington tunes. The conductor never gets into a grove. The conductor tells Kent Reed, our great drummer, that he is rushing. KENT REED, MISTER time! The whole orchestra IN UNISON yells, “NOOOO!” The stick couldn’t have CUED it better. A GREAT moment in orchestra history. Kent is one of the TASTIEST drummers I know. He is set up right behind me. At the concert at that point of the music where Mister Stick “corrects” Kent, Kent lays into the bass drum, “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!” on every beat. Like story #1, I’m STILL laughing.

Story #3 – New World Symphony, Second Movement starts with a trombone/tuba chorale. The Stick brings both arms up in the air and S-L-O-W-L-Y. Brings them down. No sound. “Trombones, why didn’t you play?” The stick asks incredulously. The Stick does it again. No Prep, no beat, 4 entrances, typical response in this situation. “Trombones, you must watch my beat.” Again, same result, same incredulous look from Doctor Beat. Finally, we decide to listen to Bob Szabo (Principal Trombone) breathe and go with him. Stick, UUUUp, Downnnn, here’s the breath, PERFECT entrance. Stick happy, tubist laughing … again.

Story #4 – Carmina Burana. There is this wonderful sound that tubists & trombonists can make. I’ll call it here, for this purpose a DOINT. You play a note, then raise your tongue slowly to the top of your mouth and touch the top teeth. The movement with the high bassoon solo has these short muted trombone notes on beats 2 & 3. The Conductor wasn’t happy with the way trombonists were playing these notes. In typical crappy conductor fashion, The Stick did not have the vocabulary to describe adequately what he/she wanted. In frustration one (or more) of the trombonists went “DOINT.” The Conductor’s eyes lit up, “THAT’S IT! THAT’S what I want.” Tubist laughing … again.

Story #5 – Piece long forgotten. Conductor, who was not very fond of brass, keeps asking for low brass to play softer & softer. I can honestly say that my colleagues can play pretty damned soft. It is an immense source of pride for me that I can play very softly. I practice some soft playing every day so I can maintain a clear, focused, warm sound in the most extreme, softest dynamic levels. We’re playing in the piano range (music marked MEZZO piano). “Trombones (which I have come to understand means “Tuba, you too!”) Play softer.” We do as we are told. “Softer.” Again, we comply. “MORE!” At which time, we lift our horns and are SILENT! Honest to God, we didn’t even play a note, but did our best Milli Vanilli impression. We got the thumbs up sign and when Dr. Stick stopped, the comment was, “Trombones, that balance was perfect.”

Story #6 – Guest conductor, who I found out later was the WRONG conductor hired because the name was the same as the conductor who was SUPPOSED to get hired. We’re playing Wagner, WAGNER for God’s sake. The part is marked FF! When Wagner marks FF in low brass parts, he wants it loud. Am I right here? The conductor says, “Tuba, play softer.” I comply. It is totally possible that I was a bit carried away and was playing too loudly. “Tuba, play softer.” Now, I’m in the mezzo range. “Tuba, play softer.” One of the ONLY times in my career I have mouthed off at a conductor. I said (yes, disrespectfully), “It’s marked double forte.” “It’s still too loud!” was the reply. Honestly, I WAS in the piano range by this time, honestly. I was playing so softly by this time that I could barely hear myself. The next time through, I just put my horn down; I left the part out. For the concert, I brought my smallest F tuba to play the part so I could play softer still. As I was warming up on stage before the concert, Maestro Dickhead comes up to me and tries to engage me in a discussion, asking me about my horn (EVERYONE know what a horn geek I am) and all I could get out was, “I hope THIS tuba is soft enough for you.” At the performance, the conductor looks my way to give me a cue (first time I was cued all week) at that part and I put my horn down. Next night, I brought the B.A.T., I was totally ignored and I blew my ass off. Prick.

Story #7 - We are rehearsing and I look over to the horn section. One of them is reading the paper. The paper is WIDE open, draped over the stand. It is hanging over the top of the stand and out both sides. The player is intently attending to the news, horn in lap. The conductor asks, “Second horn, are you reading the paper?” Second horn: “NO!” Tubist STILL laughing!!!

I am SURE you have a conductor story or two. Care to share?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Train Blog

Travelling by train has become somewhat of a passion for me lately. EVERY time I get on the train, I don’t want to get off. The last trip, coming home from Seattle, I just wanted to stay on the train to LA, and then turn around and come back. If I didn’t have to work, I would have done just that.
This discussion centers on the assumption that I am getting a sleeper car. While the coach seats are more comfortable and roomier than on an airplane, I haven’t travelled coach since I was 18 years old. It is an inexpensive alternative to air travel, and infinitely better than taking the bus (motorcoach).
There are 4 different types of sleeper compartment; they can be found here:
When I am alone, or if 2 people don’t mind being a little cramped, the roomette is fine for most trips. For longer trips (or if I can get a cheap upgrade) I’d go for the Bedroom. Once I got upgraded to the family room.
Typically, I pack a suitcase that I check for all my needs at my destination and I take one carry on type of bag for my train needs. If you want some good tips for travelling by train, go here:
Or here:
Train travel is not cheap. Round trip to the east coast can easily cost you about $2,000 the trip takes about 4 days, one way. But if you calculate accommodations for 8 days (like you are in a hotel), and 24 meals (8 days x 3 meals), factor in transportation, you are right in the ballpark.
Dining on the train can be good or bad. Here is a sample menu:
The meals are pretty good, considering. Side salads are of the ‘crappy’ variety.
As much as I love the train, here is a differing opinion:
There are a couple of things you have to remember when taking the train:
1 – It’ll probably be late
2 – You CANNOT be in a hurry
3 – It’ll probably be late
4 – If you have to make a connection, make sure there is at least 3-5 hours layover. The longer the leg, the more hang time you should build in.
5 – It’ll probably be late.
Remember, Amtrak does not OWN the tracks, Southern Pacific, or Union Pacific, or Burlington Northern does. Freight takes precedent over passengers. It is entirely possible that you may get sidetracked 2-3 hours while a freight train uses the tracks.
Once taking the Sunset Limited:
There were 15-20 people leaving out of Jacksonville, FL for a Caribbean Cruise. The Sunset was 12 hours late; they missed their boat. Too bad, sorry. SOMEONE should have told those people to plan on getting into Florida a day early and just hang out. Instead all these people lost out. Maybe they charted a boat to meet up with their cruise at the first port of call, but who needs that headache. Did I mention that it’ll probably be late? In Amtrak’s defense, their on time rating has much improved lately. You can go here to check that:

There are problems travelling no matter WHAT you mode of transportation. Here is a brief discussion of problems I have had:
1 – Taking the Coast Starlight to LA. I was bringing a tuba to LA for repairs. I was 8 hours late. Getting a rental car at 2 AM is challenging. No sleeper this time. It was only SUPPOSED to take 11 hours.
2 – Sunset Limited CA to Florida. As mentioned above, due to being sidetracked for freight, 12 hours late. Since I planned on a late arrival it was no big deal for us.
3 – Sunset Limited Florida to CA. This leg was fraught with problems:
a. A hurricane came through and broke the tracks (they are STILL not repaired). They (Amtrak) wanted to put us on a bus from Orlando to New Orleans. 18 hours on a firkin’ bus? No thanks! I rented a HUGE American automobile and drove right through the hurricane. We got to New Orleans a day ahead of the train. Had a wonderful dinner and hung out on Bourbon Street. The refund covered the car rental, the hotel and the dinner. I think I ended up with $35.
b. In the middle of Texas, we hit someone on the tracks. HIT SOMEONE! How the hell does a train in the middle of the desert hit you? We had to wait 8 hours for the coroner to get there. They took some time with the investigation and then we were on our way.
c. Said train was SO late, that in Barstow, they put us on a bus to help us catch the Coast Starlight north. We caught up with it in Santa Barbara (I didn’t build lateness into this leg of the trip)
4 – Last April, on my round trip to Rhode Island, I built in a 4-hour lay over, from CA to Chicago. We got in with one minute to spare. They held the Capitol Limited 15 minutes for the 20 of us that had to make the connection. I had already lined up a rental car to meet the Cap In South Bend, or Elkhart, or Waterloo, IN. Also, there was a chance I could have gotten on the Lakeshore, directly to NY.
So, dear readers, when taking the train, you must remember a couple of things:
1 – It’ll probably be late
2 – You CANNOT be in a hurry.
3 – You’ll meet some cool people at dinner, especially if you put out a little effort
4 – bring plenty to read, or your laptop to watch a movie
5 – Build in plenty of hang time if you have to make connections. If you are taking one of the cross country runs, like the CA Zephyr, or the Sunset Limited or the Empire builder and are taking a train to the beginning of the run. Get there early, like maybe the night before.
Did I mention that you would probably be late?