Da St. Louis Blues

I am headed home.  What can I say?  All good things must come to an end, and I got the St. Louis Blues.  But what better way to end the trip than with music and dinner at BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soup, where we rocked yesterday evening away to a blues set by Big Rich McDonough & Rhythm Renegades.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning, it was raining heavily outside the 7th floor apartment.  Sheets of water were pouring down from the dark sky in bursts.  Luckily, there is not much planned for the day.  The National Blues Museum is located downstairs in the apartment building and I was going to spend the day there (with an interruption in the middle for a trip to the dentist to look at an ulcer that had formed in the mouth (now healing!) after the surgery).

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The lady at the counter told me that I could spend 45 minutes to an hour there, but I ended up spending a few hours trying to soak in all the details, very little of which I can remember a few days later.  It is interesting to recognize and understand how this music of the downtrodden black people not that far back in time became the foundation of the present music form over the years.  And the music is still relevant today.

Angela was going back to work on Wednesday and so I accompanied her to the free Boeing museum (which is called Prologue) located at her work place.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am addicted to technology related to flying, and, once again, I spent more time in a museum than predicted by other people, immersed in the information.  When I was young I used to look for and read anything I could find about flying.  (I even found a way to get to the local airport to see the Boeing 747 when it came into town for the first time.  I would also have studied aeronautics had it not been considered a less desirable engineering pursuit at that time.)  The details of what I read and learnt as a youth get lost in the backrooms of my memory over time, and today was the time to try to remember stuff – about commercial and military aircraft history and development over the years,  about space travel, about other “stuff” related to moving through the air through unnatural means.  They had great information for the curious.  They even had full size capsules from the Mercury and Gemini programs (that helped launch man into space). These were set up in the then McDonnell (now Boeing) facilities for training and testing purposes.  These were fully functional even though they did not go into space.

I found it easier to follow the developments in commercial flight than those in the military realm.  People will spend more money and effort to experiment in the military realm so that there ends up being much more variety in the end-products that result.  Nothing much has changed in this regard over the years.

Since I had more time to kill that day (since Angela had a few more hours to work),  I drove to St. Charles, a little town on the other side of the Missouri river.  Lewis and Clark spent some time here in the past on their way west.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese days, the main street has been developed for the tourists.  It seemed lively at lunch on a week day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is an Art Center at the end of town which supports local artists.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe art center is set in a location where there is also a big factory that runs along the river called the American Car and Foundry Company . The company is still operational, but the sections that one can see from the trail that runs along its side look run down and abandoned.

And then there is the Katy trail that runs past St. Charles closer to the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found out that the Katy trail considers itself the longest rail-trail in the country.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe name comes from MKT, the initials of the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad, whose right-of-way has been transformed into a comfortable biking trail of crushed limestone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABiking this trail may be something to consider in the future, but days like the one I spent in St. Charles would be too hot for an endeavor like this.  A plus for the trail is that it seems to include support services and B&B’s for overnight stays along the way.

And then it was time for the entertainment.  We ended up going to an establishment that all of us in the family (except for Angela) had gone to on a previous trip through the city. It was the only place having live entertainment that day at a reasonable time. It was within walking distance, and we convinced ourselves that it would be a safe walk from our apartment later in the evening even though it was located a short distance from downtown in an open area that was full of empty parking lots.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a great time.  Both the food and the music were great.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe band mostly seemed to be a bunch of local artists who had come together to play that evening.  The drummer was a college kid – could not figure out if he was a graduate or undergraduate student.  What a thrill for a young man to be able to play music for the public in this environment with people who are so skilled in the art!  Much of live jazz and blues is improvisation, with the band following its leader as he plays what he is feeling at that moment.   It looked and sounded like the band was having fun.  It was Angela’s first visit to a blues bar, and I hope it will not be here last.

And then it is time to head home today.  All good things must come to an end. I got the St. Louis blues…

 

Harmony College East 2018

I attended Harmony College East last weekend.  This was my first time attending  technical classes related to barbershop music.

This event was conducted by the Mid-Atlantic district of the Barbershop Harmony Society.  There were classes on various topics that were conducted by experts in the field; there was individual coaching if one desired; the entertainment in the evening was provided by the choruses and quartets that were being coached, and from award winning groups, and finally from an awesome youth ensemble; and finally there were various opportunities to sing.  It turned out to be an awesome experience.

I was definitely putting myself outside my usual comfort zone with this experience, and for many reasons.

The event took place is a college campus in northern Maryland.  I stayed in a dorm room and ate my meals in a cafeteria, sharing a suite and a common bathroom with folks that I did not know.  (Also pay attention to the paragraph below in this context.)  It has been several years since I did something like that.

The barbershop scene is not very diverse.  A significant number of the people attending the event were white and old. Even the people who were not old were mostly white.  Being an introvert, I had to make an extra effort to engage with folks. Fortunately, they all turned out to be nice people, even if many of them were unlikely to share my interests and viewpoints.  Having said all of that, the young kids who were there for the youth camp seemed to be a more diverse lot.  Perhaps there is hope!

With no background in music, I did not know what I was getting myself into.  I ended up learning a lot about performing for an audience in general, and barbershop in particular.  I learnt that the unique craft of barbershop music is based on a singing technique that encompasses four parts that come together to emphasize different harmonics of a fundamental frequency in order to create “barbershop chords” that have a unique and pleasing sound.  (And it is not always the melody that constitutes the fundamental frequency.)   I also learnt that pianos are tuned in a way that is called “equal temperament”, which allows music to be played in various keys, but which essentially makes them out of tune – in that they do not play the harmonics of a note properly.  In order to play harmonics properly the piano has to be of “just intonation”, but then you lose the flexibility of the musical instrument, be it a piano or a guitar.  You cannot create barbershop harmonics with today’s piano because the notes are off.  Wow!

I stumbled into barbershop music several years ago by chance.  It is only now that I am gaining a proper appreciation for the technical aspects of the craft that I have taken up.   I understand why it is most important in barbershop for the vowel sounds created by the four different parts to match perfectly to create the perfect sounds.  I understand why it is important for the four different parts in barbershop to be sung at different volume levels corresponding to their place in the chord being created (something that can even change from note to note) to create a good sound.  This is more difficult than I originally thought.  But it is also awesome to be always learning!

I will end with a video that was shown at one of the classes illustrating what a good performance may look like.   This was a song sung in competition.  (For anybody interested, the order in which the quartet is on stage is – tenor, lead, bass, baritone.)

Incidentally, the group had points taken off for the break in the performance.

Bang On The Drums All Day

I have one of these childhood memories that I am not quite so sure about these days.  It could be a figment of my imagination.

As a kid, for some reason on the other, I had a fascination with music played by bands.   I must have been in either elementary school or middle school when I recruited my brother and sister for a session of playacting where we pretended to be members of a band.  We had no instruments and had to make the sound of the instruments through other means.  In the case of the guitar, it mean pretending to be strumming a guitar while making guitar-like sound with the mouth.  I think we had a fake trumpet also.  But the centerpiece of this fake performance was a piece of borrowed furniture that played the part of a piece in the fake drum-set.  I think it is called a pouf, or maybe an ottoman, in the western world.  It looked like a beanbag but was better designed to keep its shape.     It was covered with stronger material than on a beanbag, perhaps leather based, and stuffed with material that allowed it to better maintain its shape when sat on.  It was quite tightly packed, and one could bang on it with a stick and produce a deep sound.

The siblings were assigned their roles in the faux band, and off we went.  I think this “tribute to music of the west” only happened a couple of times, and it only lasted  a couple of minutes or so when it happened.

But I was reminded of this when I listened to some big band music recently. Perhaps it was music like this that was my inspiration as a kid, but I cannot be sure.

Lida Rose – Friends of Yesterday

We had a couple of new guests at our chorus practice last Sunday.  One of them was an older gentleman who said he had been a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society for fifty years!  He had maintained his membership while not being active in recent years.  When he mentioned the name of the quartet he had been singing in in the seventies and eighties, Friends of Yesterday, our director noted that they used to be one of his favorite groups.  They had even won a few championships in their heydays. After practice that evening he proceeded to to look for their old performances on the Internet.  He sent us this link.  The song being sung is an old barbershop classic from The Music Man, and it was the same song I sang in a quartet that night.

Listen carefully to the four parts coming together to create chords that ring.  Even the simplest of songs can sound amazing when sung properly in the barbershop style.

The gentleman’s name is Richard Bentz.

Music From the Good Old Days

Barbershop is one of two unique American styles of music, but unlike its more famous cousin, Jazz, this style had been dying for the last few decades.  The number of people who still sing barbershop is small, and when you go to conventions you can see that most of the population is aging.  But there has been a move more recently to try to attract new young blood to the craft, and towards that goal there have been more contemporary songs that have been arranged for barbershop.  But the core rules that govern the definition and use of the barbershop style, especially in competitions, has progressed more slowly.  Songs that tend to be sung at barbershop conventions for competition tend to be from past decades, and you have to be really careful that you are following the barbershop rules if you are going to try to arrange a more contemporary song for competition.  One of the competitors at a recent event sang the following song in this regard.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time

Time is an integral part of almost everything that we experience in our lives today. Almost everything that we do takes into consideration the time factor, whether it be the time taken to accomplish the task, or the time at which the task is expected to begin, or where it should end.  The modern world also has an insatiable need to be as efficient as possible with regards to how time is spent.  We always seem to be in a hurry.

Perhaps it is useful to understand/recognize that the pervasiveness of the “time-factor” in human experience is something that has changed over history, and that time was not this important in times past.   (Some of you may already know the interesting story of the role played by the railroads in establishing time zones.)  These days the concept of time has been taken to its limits, with even fractions of seconds becoming significant in our experiences.  Athletic events are judged and winners determined by time differences that lie in the order of 100ths of seconds.  The timing of signals in the electronics that we all use today is at the nanosecond level.

I cannot help feeling that the human entanglement with the concept of time is at an unhealthy extreme today, and that this is perhaps the result of the advancement of technology and also what we call progress.  The way we interact with time today forms the basis of our continued existence as a civilization.  There is no escaping it.  (As an aside, it is interesting to note that physicists today are not even sure whether time exists at the most fundamental level of physical reality.)

But if we step back and and look at time from a more philosophical perspective, we can go in so many different directions with the theme!  Time may sometimes be defined by a state of mind.

The atmosphere in the pictures below gives me a feeling of time slowing down.

The pictures below make me think about the impact of the passage of time on the lives of people.  What happened to these people?  Why did they abandon these homes and did they go to a better place?

The pictures below remind me of the damage caused by humans to the planet over time.

Finally, time is topic covered in a lot of music.  Here is an oldie that I still enjoy listening to.