I've been reading Edmund Morris' Teddy Roosevelt biographies over the past month and am floored. I started reading the first book 'the rise of theodore roosevelt' on the plane to and from Alaska during the holidays of 2011-2012. I read too many books at once and ultimately ended up drifting out of it and into something else. Anyways, throughout December I finished it, the middle book (theodore rex) and will probably finish the final book tomorrow morning (colonel roosevelt).
THIS GUY WAS THE GUY.
These books can hardly even be described as biographies- they are closer to extreme home fitness. Roosevelt lived with an intensity that's difficult to fathom. I find myself constantly thinking "this cannot be true." I mean look at him- HE'S RIDING A BULL MOOSE like it's no big deal. His presidency might have been one of the least interesting things about his life (bold exaggeration). If you like presidential biographies, these are among the best. I've got mine.
This picture needed to be here.
I just returned from a 16 day trip to our family cabin in Roscommon, Michigan. Several years ago somebody asked me for a recording and since that initial request I've yet to find a sound I am comfortable with. Part of this year away from teaching was to be spent focused entirely on music. The big plus to focusing on music is that one can't really break any bones while playing a banjo or blowing into a horn.
One of my favorite things to do as a multi-instrumentalist is to multitrack record music where I cover all of the instruments. So I packed my tiny car full of instruments, stuffed my essentials into my bass drum mic hole and headed north. North is a nice direction.
Through dozens of weekends, a spring break and two visits to the cabin I now have over 70 minutes of recorded music that I am beginning to feel comfortable with. Would you like to hear it? Absolutely not. I'm barely considering sending it to the patron. Maybe someday.
Here are just a few things I thought about throughout that time up north:
(maybe you can relate to some of these thoughts- as an artist, or a human, or a wildebeest)
-I will never find a sound I am comfortable with. That's part of the fun.
-Self doubt will presumably exist forever (also part of the fun). There comes a point when we learn to sludge through the doubt and create. We're all packed to the brim with ideas, but doubt often eats away at my initiative and leaves me idle. NO MORE! You can avoid this by avoiding it.
-I am a rest stop and gas station celebrity because of the Alaska plates. Folks usually say "boy, you're sure far from home!" and then I run into the woods. I would also estimate that 75% of passerbys on the interstate look into my car to see what an Alaskan looks like. I don't disappoint.
-My grandma was my age in 1952.
-Wild turkeys love cabins, and wild turkeys smell really weird. I dig it.
-Chickadees are friendly birds that will eat out of your hand if you are patient.
-I believe there are strong connections between musicianship and personality.
-The 27th year is very tricky. If you don't believe me, ask a 27 year old.
-The first Remy to come to the United States was a French indentured servant. He lived in the same county as George Washington and was also a surveyor.
There's a lot more but it's time to practice mowing the lawn.
Because I hear and record gunfire. Ugh.
I'm not kidding when I say this: I would guess that at least 65% of Billy Wolfe's conversations turn to harmony. Not Dalai Lama or field full of sunflowers sort of harmony, but the nuts and bolts of music sort of harmony. Billy, in and of himself, is a minor ii-V in all 12 keys. I most recently had a chance to spend some time with him at a friend's wedding and really enjoyed seeing him again, in every key.
He is a gem.
Billy Wolfe has always been an idol of mine and for good reasons. I first met Billy when I started as a freshman at Capital University in the fall of 2003. He and I clicked immediately. From the moment I first heard him, I was dumbfounded by his playing. It gives me the shakes. I remember following him late one night after a "jazz in the cru-club" asking about how he got to be so great. In that first meeting I received the definition of Billy Wolfe. First, he told me that he practiced as much as he possibly could and that it didn't come easily to him. Secondly, he told me that he really liked my playing too and asked me what I was working on. I tried to act really cool, but on the inside I was losing it.
The next day, I hit the practice rooms early. I played through the Wolfe-recommended Omnibook all morning. Because he was always practicing, it didn't take long for Billy to overhear me and stop by my room to give me a "yeah, guy!" Every meeting with him is a "yeah, guy!" Billy is the best saxophone player that I know, but even greater than his playing, is his desire to share his love of music with anyone who happens to be nearby. I try to be nearby whenever I get the chance.
As educators, we have to strive to be more like Billy Wolfe. He's the sort of teacher that seems to get behind something in everyone he meets. He's enthusiastic about growth and finds it in every nook and cranny. If you meet Billy, you're instantly his student for life. He recognizes a very important part of being an educator and a musician: that each of us has something very special to offer just as we are. When Billy hears me play, he doesn't hear the pathetic squeals of someone he has conquered (and believe me, he has), but instead hears a uniqueness in my playing that he can encourage and even learn from. We all have a lot to learn and I think Billy helps us to see that education comes from all directions and in all shapes and sizes. Billy is a great teacher because he sees through the eyes of a diligent and disciplined student looking for growth like a starving wolf(e) on the prowl. I'm proud to know him and if you don't know him, now you will.
I just came up with an itinerary that is 8700 miles. Do you ever spend more than an hour at a time on Google maps?
I love teaching music. Without a doubt, this is my calling.
This career ages nicely, like a cheese or something (?) As we age, we stumble upon former students and catch a glimpse into our collective past. Although I have only been teaching for five years, this is still a very special experience. Our memories, like our relationships run deeper than most. As a music teacher, I am blessed to spend years upon years with students. I am so proud of so many. I can't imagine what it's like to be 60 years old with thousands of former students out and about in the world, making differences. I imagine at that time I'll be sitting in a rocking chair and convulsing in joy for the rest of my days.
The other thing that is very significant to me is the concept of family within the classroom/field. As musicians (and people), I believe we are apart of a large, rambunctious family. There's a collective joy and suffering that we experience through music. These things expand to our everyday lives, making our music family a very important asset in dealing with everyday triumphs and toils.
Our first objective as music teachers/musicians should be to grab the hands of many and welcome them into this family. The way I see it, everyone is already a member anyways. Music is for everyone and within everyone, yes? As a teacher, my job is to lay a giant welcome home mat at my classroom door. The experience of walking into a classroom should feel like plopping into a warm bed at the end of a long day. What a career! Going to "work" is like coming home.
I've had this forever, it goes with me wherever I go:
I have hurt myself once again. Last summer at this time I was in a motorcycle wreck that fractured my scapula. This year I sustained a fracture in my foot and had to go home after my first day on the Appalachian Trail.
Let's go back.
In February, I made the most difficult decision of my life to leave Kodiak, Alaska. I did this for a few specific reasons:
1) to hike the Appalachian Trail while I am still young
2) to know whether or not I was to settle indefinitely
3) to pry myself entirely out of my comfort zone in order to force-facilitate a different kind of growth than I had been experiencing.
(avoid doing this if you are truly content. sometimes it's hard to know.)
#1 is on hold as I wait for my foot to heal, so I can't comment too much on that. But I feel as though I've grown in leaps and bounds with regards to #2 and #3. I had to leave in order to realize this growth. Settlement is not resignation and there are healthier ways to encourage self growth than to completely uproot.
This has been a dreadful summer. (Although I just watched a raccoon dangle from a beam to our bird feeder about 10 feet away from where I am currently sitting).
It was destined to be. Leaving Kodiak was hard. I was shocked at how many folks came to say "goodbye" at the ferry dock. I was reminded once again at how incredibly special Kodiak is, even as I was leaving it. I seriously contemplated jumping off of the side of the ferry and swimming back to shore as we sailed away. It hasn't grown easier with time and distance. In addition to the painful departure, we experienced significant car trouble on our way home, went a week without power during a record breaking heatwave and now my foot looks like an eggplant. But...
This summer is not over.
If you're reading this Summer, let me tell you something. You cannot beat me. Sure you may be hot and sunny, but I am quick like a fox in the night!
The sun is but a morning star!
3 July 2012: George Washington never stayed in the hotel room I'll be sleeping in tonight.
I'm in Massachusetts, in route to Baxter State Park in Maine.
The plan is to hike Katahdin on July 4. Afterwards we'll stroll down the hundred mile wilderness and be done with it. I'll then leave the AT and take my friend back to Ohio, tie up some loose ends and go forth from there.
It's been a struggle considering a life where I am not teaching music.
Is it ever a good idea to take a break from something you love? Is there a time and a place for this sort of separation?
Have you ever had a really good slice of blueberry pie?
You probably didn't notice that I removed all of my previous blog posts. They were terrible. Don't worry, this one is too.
Tonight I am sitting beneath a maple tree on the county square.
It's just now starting to cool off from a sweltering day that often teetered right around one hundred degrees. Unfortunately for my family and two thirds of the state, this was coupled with a power outage as a result of gnarly storms that occurred last night.
My concept of a storm has changed as a result of living in Kodiak, Alaska.
This storm was on par with a regular storm in Kodiak. The wind blew, the rain fell. The only difference is that Ohio is now in a state of emergency.
Ohio is weak and unprepared for extremes in comparison to Alaska.
The trees whine, moan and eventually snap taking out mailboxes, stray dogs and an occasional power line on their way down. The electricity gives up at the slightest change in weather, and so do many Ohioans.
I remember sitting around the radio as a youngster and doing the macarena (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlzwuFkn88U) as the broadcaster rattled off school closings after nearly every snow, regardless of accumulation. This year, I sat by a radio 5,000 miles away as feet and feet of snow accumulated without a single closing.
Things are different here, in almost every possible way.
We can't forget where we come from though. My parents were the first to be married on this square, about 25 feet from where I sit tonight. My first residence was across the street. The first memory I can recall was there- dancing in diapers and watching a record spin. We moved back to this square when my parents bought a restaurant here 9 years later. We lived above that restaurant and for two years the court square lawn was where I played. I even won the heavyweight championship of our pretend wrestling league literally right here. And now I write to you from beneath that same maple tree (still reigning heavyweight champion). I wonder what it was like when you grew up. Do you ever visit the places that make up your memories? Do you ever walk an old but familiar path?
Only squares flee the square. bye.
You learn a lot about your mom when you're stranded alongside a desolate logging road 100km away from the nearest town in Alberta. She is caravanning with me from Kodiak, Alaska to Coshocton, Ohio.
We were traveling to Jasper yesterday when a flashing light appeared on her dash. We pulled off immediately and right away the van started spewing steam and fluid all over the road. We know nothing about the inner workings of automobiles (although, I recently changed my own windshield wipers!). While I pretended to look for something wrong, semi trucks hauling freshly chopped logs soared past us kicking up gravel and debris into our faces. It was brutal.
After a two and a half hour round trip by the tow truck, we await a new transmission and hope to be on our way by tomorrow.
This was about as stressful as it gets for lower 48-Alaska road trips, and my mom handled it pretty well. She immediately looked at the scenario in a positive light. She's always been a proponent of staunch realism. "It is what it is" has always been a common expression in our home and this was an opportunity for me to see it in action. She realized right away that the scenario could've been far, far worse. For starters, this happened to be the first time I had cellphone reception since Whitehorse, YT (1500 km)! Although it's an expensive and obtrusive inconvenience, I am delighted to have spent this time in Grande Prairie with my mom. Let's hope we are out of here by tomorrow!
This move has been the most difficult thing that I have ever done. These recent days have been somber and bittersweet. I know that this place is my home now, and although I am leaving tonight this is not a long goodbye.
I take off in just a few more days and am busy packing and preparing for my long trip back east. There will be more and it will be soon. In the meantime I have a bottle of 409 that's getting cold and a suitcase that's hungry.
Do you ever sense that your life is moving? I recently turned 27 and for the first time I can sense where I am in the natural progression of my life. It's a bit like seeing an enormous boat moving in the night and not fully understanding it's girth until it starts to pass an obstacle on the shore. I can sense what ten years feels like, and presumably only have 40 or 50 ten year periods left. It's a weird sensation. I look forward to living another 500+ years, but boy is it flying by! My parents left this morning to drive here (4200 miles) and help me drive back (4200 miles) with my things. From there I plan to hike for a bit (2200 miles) and then who knows: Sumo wrestling? Insurance salesman? Professional horse grooming? Let's be grateful for movement, eh?
Recently, I've taken up the trumpet. Even more recently I've become quite serious about the trumpet. The big band I work with here has a gig and our second trumpet player has a dance recital that same night. There are few musicians on this island to fill her shoes, and so I've decided to make an attempt. While she is pirouetting and grand jeté-ing all over the place, I'll be trying to squeak out some double c's and maybe even taking a few solos (but I'll only solo on flugelhorn- it makes me sound way better than I am).
Two weeks is not enough time to learn 20-25 big band charts on any instrument, let alone one that you were relatively unfamiliar with just a few weeks ago. I'd like to share some of the things I've learned throughout this process:
1) the trumpet smells like a chainsaw
2) it's way cooler to play trumpet than any other instrument in a big band.
3) at my experience level, trumpet forces me to use my ears more than I typically do while improvising on saxophone, piano, guitar, etc. I have to be very deliberate about what I want to play so that I can hit the correct partials.
4) trumpet changes lives.
TRUMPET CHANGES LIVES is the title of my newest book/philosophy/energy drink series. I now think that the thing this country needs more than anything else is more trumpet. If a presidential candidate would run on this platform, he or she would surely dominate. If you start a speech off with a couple of ARBAN's exercises, you're sure to sway some votes. The trumpet puts an end to all self doubt. I now know that I can literally do anything. Thanks Heinrich Stolzel for changing my life.
I'm going to start a new style of fishing. I predict that it's going to take off. It's called stare-fishing. You stare at the water until the fish die of natural causes and then you harvest! Ideally the fishermen would be on the shore, but a boat could work as well. To be successful, a fisherman MUST STAND! Also, the fisherman should be wearing a full body lure suit and standing shoes. See you at the river!
In a lot of ways, being a music teacher is a lot like being a short order cook with a grill full of burgers. The students are the patties, sizzling away- each one with various needs and wants. At any given time a burger is on the brink of being overcooked and if you're lucky you'll have flipped it just in time. There's a lot of pressure and the stakes are often high. (steaks?)
This time of the year is terrible for a cook like me. Seniors are busy tying up all sorts of loose ends in order to graduate, spring sports teams are traveling, others head off on early vacations and those of us who are left are antsy for the freedom of summer. It's disastrous. As we creep into May, I always hope to keep up the momentum we've established from a year in full force but sometimes it's best to just let the burgers be burgers.
I'll be especially sad to scrape the grill this year as I've grown close to these burgers. I've helped to mold them into the patties that they are. I covered them in ketchup and even topped a couple of them with onions and mushrooms. And now the waitress is on her way to deliver them to booth 4 (the older man with the wispy mustache and yellow eyes). For the rooted teacher, there will always be fresh patties to replace the cooked. But for now, I must pass the spatula onto another as I head onto something else for awhile. Flip with care.