Sunday, September 25, 2011

About me: In music

I broke the chain. I haven't posted since Tuesday so I must have some semblance of a life. You'd think I could get that thesis done. Especially with how long this is.

Since I've been talking about myself so much (which I love to do) I thought I'd put in this portion about my music history. I've liked music as long as I can recall. I remember singing as a little kid on the backyard swing. Mom tells me I hated pre-school but I would go for the singing time. I'd sing those songs all day.

Mom played cello up through college and she pulled it out once every few years and we'd look at it. She sang in the church choir and led the church primary songtime for a while. Dad was pretty good at piano back in the day, but he got busy and didn't really have time to learn new songs, but I remember as a kid dancing around the coffee table to some polka he knew and selections from the Warsaw Concerto.

I started piano lessons from my mom who started me in the very most basic reading music and middle c and a primer book. I did ok, so in 5th grade I started lessons from my older brother's teacher. He didn't really get mad at me when I didn't practice and I'm very stubborn so after 5 years or so I wasn't that great. I'd practice a piece long enough to memorize it and then play from ear. Reading music still isn't my forte.

I'd been to my older brother's jr high band concerts and thought the saxophones in the jazz band were awsome. My mom knew sax was pretty popular and the band needed trombones so she convinced me that trombones were better. Thank heaven. When I got to 7th grade I signed up for beginning brass with my friends who were going to be trumpet players. My folks took me to Riverton Music and picked up an old 80's King trombone for $250. I've been playing 'bone ever since.

In piano after years of stagnation (not a country with male deer) mom told me I was changing piano teachers. To Barbra Willey (dun dun dun!). She had been John Gittins piano teacher for years and I knew she was strict! I was still stubborn but she got me to practice more and let me play a bunch of rags and fun charts so I could enjoy playing more. I practiced more but I still wish I'd done better. I love playing but I'm terrible at sight reading and it takes me a lot of practice to really learn a chart, but I play piano a lot. I took lessons from Barbra all through high school and am now very glad I did. I can play for church once in a while though I have to practice a hymn before its presentable.

In the school bands I did pretty well. Mr. Eddington let me play in the jr high jazz band as a 7th grader (which was completely unprecedented). I played in that band for 3 years as well as the concert band.

In high school band changed. It was no longer a fun class. It was a way of life. Oh yes I was a band nerd. The worst kind. I remember staying in the bandroom after school till 5pm. For no reason. That was where we would hang. Lunch time, before school, after school. Anytime. I didn't play in the jazz band my sophomore year but every year after. Marching band all summer and every fall. Symphonic band of course. It was a large part of my identity. We had all sorts of shenanigans but that will be another post someday. I did well through band and played in honor band and stuff. Trombone became what I considered my primary instrument. My senior year Mom and Dad got me a Martin Urbie Green Special. I love that horn and still play it today.

Then there was the Neighbors Upstairs.  Bad grammar? No, it was a band. James King, Matt Gittins, the Lewis Brothers Pat and Jeff later Brian, and Mike Dunkley. They were all guys in the jazz band and they had their own garage band. We'd always hang around when they practiced in the band room. One day they were writing a new song and I pulled out my horn and said you should have a horn lick like this in it: *horn lick*. That song became "Everything I am" and I (and my lick) became an integral part of it. Therefore I was part of the band (some debate that but I'm fine with it. I think I was in the band). That song (in part) made them win the Fremont High Battle of the Bands against the "senior band". They won many of the Battle of the Bands and even went to a state PTA battle of the bands, played for the state fair and opened for... Jericho Road (not a joke, but still funny).

I could go on all day about that band. Maybe I'll do a post someday. It was way too dramatic for what it was but we had fun and I got a taste of the stage and traveling and stuff. I liked it. We even made a cd. (Horribly mixed but the content is actually pretty good but we sold 500 or so to the highschoolers). They broke up after graduation as everyone had different agendas for the band and then they trickled into missions. I was a year younger so I was still around.

My senior year I and my older brother and Dunk tried to start a ska band we called Returned Advocates of Good Sound. It was pretty bad but still fun. We covered Reel Big Fish's cover of "Take On Me" in one show and never played again.

Another high school group we did was the 3 Amigos a wannabe mariachi band. I first played with them "Feliz Navidad" in a Neighbors Upstairs set as a gag for a Christmas show. That was their second gig. There were 4 of us all gringos with various staff changes. We played for peoples birthdays and to ask people to school dances and during transitions of the high school band concert. It was a fun group.

At the end of high school I started playing guitar. Dad had an old classical guitar with a broken peg. I bought a steel string replacement peg that got the job done and took an old string off James King's guitar (it is there today). I tuned it to an open chord and played "Wild Thing" and the "American Woman" riff for a while. Then I learned how to do chords with standard tuning and began with Neal Diamond songs and a few Beatles licks.

Then I got to college.
I recieved a scholarship for music. $250 if I played in marching band and concert band and probably something else. It wasn't compelling. I was too busy with engineering coursework for all those groups. I only wanted to play jazz. Unfortunately I could only take the 12:30 rehearsal due to a 1:30 physics class. The 12:30 group is the Jazz Orchestra, usually reserved for upperclassmen. I told the conductors of the two groups and they told me to tryout. I did.

And I made it. The jazz orchestra transformed my musical life. Suddenly music I played was alive. The band could really play. It was awesome. I got in because all the seniors had graduated and the 'bone department was understaffed. But it was amazing. That first day we played "The Cheese that Time Forgot" to audition rhythm section candidates and the first time the trumpets blasted the barn-burning opening lick I stopped playing it was so good to me. Dr. Gudmunson was a great conductor who pushed his students and band to do their best. He's also hilarious. I also played in a jazz combo he coached where I really learned about changes and arrangement and stuff. I learned more about music that year than any other time in my life. I was playing in several groups with people much better than I, going to jam sessions once a week and loving it.

At this same time I started playing guitar a ton. I kept the old classical next to my computer in the dorm and since I didn't have a piano to express myself with I'd pick up the guitar all the time. I found the old axe wanting so I started borrowing and playing the neighbors seagull or electric. At one time I had 3 guitars 2 amps and a bass in my dorm room. One of them was actually mine. I loved it and it came easily since I already knew music.

I'd also become timid in jr high about singing. My voice was changing and so my policy became, "only when others are singing to cover me up." I still sang in the shower and mowing the lawn and in the car and pretty much whenever I thought no one could hear (though I was usually mistaken:).  But that freshman year, I'd discovered karaoke. It was fun and I got a lot of attention. I began to think I was an excellent singer. Yes. I am egotistical. My voice was (is) unpracticed and untrained but I hold my own, I think. I began letting loose and performing without care of what others thought.

Which got me prepaired to join the Viewers Like You. After jazz orchestra before scurrying to physics spring semester, Matt, a trumpet player asked if I'd want to play in a ska band. I said, "of course!" and he gave me the number of Zac Taylor, a trumpet player in the 2nd jazz band. I talked to him and he told me when practice was. I went to the first one and met Jer, Devin, Paul, Fathead, and of course Zac. I forgot all their names honestly except Zac whom I knew from jazz and Fathead because, well, for obvious reasons. They'd been together for almost a year. In that first practice they were rewriting the song "Super-Ninja-Motorcycle-Gunfight" and working on the new "Find the Life." I chipped in a bunch of the arrangement ideas I'd picked up from combo and they liked them.

Our first gig was the night on the quad where people build cardboard shelters and sleep in them in the middle of campus. We went on around midnight and it was freezing. But I remember the skank circle. Tons of people dancing and Zac and I jumped offstage right into the middle of it and danced like crazed men. I don't recall any more gigs before I left on my mission but I loved playing with them. It was only for a month or two.

I left on my mission and sang a lot since the rules said I shouldn't take any musical instruments (I'd even packed the harmonica but took it out). I played piano in and after a lot of meetings. Mostly I sang. I began to love singing even in front of people. We'd do quartets at night during training.

I got home and to my delight: an email! Subject: Viewers Like You wants YOU! They hadn't broken up and they didn't have a new trombone player. So I saw Fathead in the music department and asked him where Jer's place was (and therefore practice). I showed up to everyone (except Fats's) surprise. There was a new bass player (their 3rd) but I wasn't really sure. It didn't help he was Patrick and I remembered Paul as looking a little differently. I finally figured that one out and eventually learned everyone's names. So sad. But true.

First gig I remember back was the homecoming dance. That was a fun gig. I had to learn all the songs they'd written in 2 years time. Then we covered Clapton's "Lady in Red" ska style which was awesome.  Somehow 7 years after formation Viewers Like You is still around. We played a house show last weekend and we practice nearly every week. I love playing in a band and Zac's and my wild dancing antics became a well known part of our shows.

When I got home I moved off campus and one of my roommates had his brother's Jasmine guitar. I played that thing more than anyone has before or after. I loved it. Again since I had no piano it became my everyday musical outlet. The next summer mowing lawns I made my first big purchase: A Takamine GS330S solid top cedar acoustic from Guitar Center. I've worn the black off the fretboard from playing so much. Its a great guitar. Since getting married Rachel has bought me a casio CDP 100 digital piano and a killer Kaman GTX 23 electric guitar. Never heard of em? I don't care. I love them. What better wife could a guy ask for than one who buys him an electric guitar? I also love that it was $35. The piano's another story but she got it for me. Love that girl!

I also played in the Jazz Orchestra every semester save one (class conflict. I joined the 1:30 band, totaling 5 years of jazz amazingness) Until my last year of grad school. Now with the twins I figure I should spend the time at home. Or working on my thesis. I played with the combos up until I got married and went to every jam session. I lived and loved jazz. Its a whole culture. Rachel says I start talking like a hipster whenever I get around jazz. But she doesn't use the term "hipster". Eh. Its true. Nowadays I mostly play at home on my keyboard or guitar.

I'm trying to get into recording because I've had songs floating in my head for YEARS. Its time to get them out. I learned a lot recording with Viewers Like You (recorded 2 years ago, still waiting for the release. Mixing takes SO long when DIY) and I've read a lot about it. I bought a condenser mic for santa to bring me, but I need a real audio interface. The laptop soundcard isn't cutting it. I'm sure to have lots of posts about recording later.

This has gone on long enough. I don't mind if you don't finish this post. I'm writing it mostly for me and for my kids to read someday. So thats most of my adventures with music. This IS the condensed version. Its such a huge part my past I want to keep talking about it all day. But I'll let you go. Be free.

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