Summer Kick Off

After all that rain and cold, summer arrived full blast, just in time for Memorial Day weekend. It was in the upper 80’s and maybe even the 90’s the whole weekend. This is the earliest I can ever remember putting in the air conditioners.

I worked a half day Friday, and it seems like the first time since the new year I didn’t have something on my todo list that needed my attention. I managed to do some shopping: bought a new pair of shoes and a couple shirts suitable for work. Jeannie was with Lizzy in Philadelphia for a class trip on Friday, so Michelle and I had some time together to ourselves.

Saturday I had a gig, my first live appearance in quite some time and my first ever as a guitar player. It was a coffeehouse kind of scene, at the BeanBerry Café in nearby New Rochelle. Nice place. Erik and his cousin Jerry had worked up a set of music in the unplugged classic rock vein. I’d jammed with them a few times around the campfire, so they asked my to join in. They’d rehearsed together, but I was winging it. I gave Erik a list of songs I knew and he told me which ones he know too. And so I led a few songs including I’m Only Sleeping, Friend of the Devil and Wish You Were Here, and followed along with a a bunch of others. (Sorry, no Elvis.) The first song was a bit rough for me, cuz as soon as I started singing I realized the mic wasn’t set up right, but I (unlike with keyboards) I couldn’t take my hands off the guitar for even a second or so to adjust it. Erik and Jerry did a few originals from an album they’re writing. After The Fall was a standout. For me the high point of the show was Erik doing Wild Horses. I’m not really a huge Stones fan, but he really sang the hell out of that song. I didn’t know he had it in him.

After the set, Erik suggested we come back and do a set with me on keyboards, which is much more my main instrument than guitar. This got me thinking. More on that soon.

We went to a barbecue on Sunday at our friend Nick’s. Good time, but I got eaten alive by nosee’ums.

I bought a new digital stage piano Monday. I’d been meaning to for some time, and after months of spending my shopping cycles on utilitarian things like snowblowers and cars I finally had the opportunity. Spent the evening working on music. Felt really good.

Riders on the Storm

We had exactly a week of pleasant weather a week ago, and now its been back to cold and rainy every day for a week once again.

My next-door neighbor put in a new driveway. It looks really nice, but it sidles up right against the property line, and is edged with stone blocks that make it a good deal higher than his old driveway. I was concerned about the possibility of the watershed patterns changing, creating the potential for flooding on the side of my house, where I re-concreted the foundation a few years back and re-graded the earth. But seven days of solid rain have pretty much shown it’s not going to be a problem. Still, it motivated me to do a bit of landscaping on the shrubs on that side of the house.

I finished a few longstanding tasks. For the first time in a while there’s no big pressure to get stuff done. Even work is at an even keel these days. Summer’s coming soon.

We finished the project of painting the trim in the house: all the baseboards, door frames and window frames. Started back in February, the whole thing took eight sessions. Now everything is clean and shiny. Starting the fall we’ll paint the doors that need it.

Jeannie helped me put a new hard drive in my computer. I bought the drive last December but I’ve been too busy to get around to it. Then once we got into it, what was supposed to be a simple task took three days because of difficulties doing the backups.

Got my Origami e-book done. Hooray! Look for announcements about its availability soon.

Been continuing to get to know the Pilot Hoban. Lots and lots of buttons for the heater and the radio. Last week for the first time we took it further than the train station or kids’ school. Had fun with XM radio working my way thru a zillion station. They have about 20 rock stations, cracked into subgenres like petroleum distillates, but apparently no prog station and no steely station. I noticed an Elvis station and a Grateful Dead station. I want a combination of the two. “Fire – fire on the mountain, where you can be lonely, uh-uh-huh, yeah-eah!”

We watched The Blues Brothers movie with the kids, since Lizzy had done the song Soul Man in honor band, and I’d played her some of the Blues Brothers records. She was surprised it wasn’t a documentary. Michelle was upset that Jake and the rest of the band ended up in jail since it was Elwood was doing all the driving and Jake was just in the passenger seat. And besides, the light was yellow in the first place!

Two New Songs: Rocket to the Moon and Sea of Tranquility

Here’s the rough mixes of two new songs: Rocket to the Moon and Sea of Tranquility. I’ll bet you thought I forgot all about Rocket to the Moon, after posting the lyrics a while back. Well what happened is it took me a while to finish it, and while I was deciding what to do I went ahead and made a second song. I find that it’s sometimes better to work on songs in pairs.

Rocket to the Moon is a straight-up, upbeat, uptempo, rockin’ number. The arrangement features electric guitars (a first for me) and now a horn section consisting of a bari sax and two tenors. The original concept was to go for something reminiscent of classic Chicago, but once I got into it the sound morphed into something like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or They Might Be Giants. Anyway here it is and I think it sound really good.

Sea of Tranquility is sort of companion piece, a b-side if you will. (Do they even have those anymore?) And, apart from being just about the same length, a bit over three minutes, it’s a study in contrast. It’s an instrumental, soothing and hypnotic, based on a minimalist piano ostinato that begins in 5/4 time but dances around different meters throughout the piece. Meanwhile the orchestration builds slowly but insistently, as in a bolero. The first half is just piano and percussion, then the second time thru the instruments enter one by one to create a layered effect. In addition to piano, guitar, and some synthesizers, I used a saxophone quartet, with each voice double-tracked for a full ensemble sound. To top it off, Lizzy appears a guest artist playing the flute.

These songs are pretty much complete. All that remains is put some EQ and compression on the tracks and do the final mastering. I’m planning on releasing these songs on iTunes as singles for digital download, rather than wait for an album’s worth of songs to be completed. This means I have to figure out what software or technology I want to use for mastering. I think for a first pass I may just run my stereo mixes back into protocols and see what I can do with them in there.

Michelle Communion

One thing I can tell you is the kids are growing up fast. This weekend was Michelle’s birthday and first communion, and so we had a big celebration for her rite of passage. My parents came into town for the weekend. Got caught up on life and their recent trip to Hawaii. Martin and his family came down for the day, as well as lots of Jeannie’s family from NYC and Long Island and some good friends too. It seems you never get to spend enough time with family, and sometimes I really miss not having mine close by, but Jeannie’s are all such excellent people it goes a long way to make up for it. Anyway, it was a great party and beautiful day. Lizzy and her friend Ella played a duet for Michelle on flute and violin. Lots of good vibes all around.

‘Tis the season, and next weekend we’re going out to Long Island for Abby and Phillip’s communion.

May Flowers

Back to the ol’ grind grind. Turmoil at work. Ah, the impersonal slings and arrows of working for a large corporation. I lost my private office recently in yet another reorg, and moved to a new location. Which is fine as far as it goes: I’m in an open area now with my actual colleagues, so the arrangement makes sense and is more social and congenial than it was before when people were scatted all over several floors. And we’re on the sunny side of the building. The thing is, my location has a built-in desktop that was several inches too low (I’m 6’6” tall). Before I left on spring break, the building services people came by and said they’d raise my desk, but when I got back they’d done nothing and closed the work order, declaring the problem solved. So I had to go after these people, which was a drag. When pressed they refused to fix it as a matter of policy. Picking up a screwdriver would cross an uncrossable line it seems. So I moved to another location nearby with an adjustable desk, causing lots of annoyance to my neighbors I’m sure.

Some good news: it was a lovely weekend. The first really warm weekend of the spring, with hint of summer. The girls had their dance recital on Saturday, and both did really well. The studio puts on a really nice show every year with acts and costumes and music. Sunday we did some more yard work, planting and edging, and I went skating and took the Mustang out for a ride, and we made a barbecue.

Also: getting used to the new car. At first I was just relieved to be done with the car shopping ordeal, but now I’ve driven it a few times, mainly to the train station and am starting to get a feel for it. It’s certainly much quieter and less falling-apartish than the old car. Plus the color is really nice. Blue with hints of purple and green when the light strikes it the right way. The stereo is weird. It has subwoofer, so the bass tends to be muddy and indistinct. Also all the bass is coming from the back of the car. It took some time, but I adjusted it to sound better. Next up is figuring out how to set the clock and the radio presets.

I figured out “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on guitar. Don’t ask me why. The song’s been stuck in my head since the 70’s. Needed to get it out. Lizzy asked my why all songs about disasters are so long (she’s heard me play American Pie too). I figured out the secret for WotEF: it never resoloves. The first and last chord is an A sus, so you never know if it’s in a major or minor key. There’s not a C or C# anywhere in the tune, just a void.