Athlete, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician, Runner

Showing you still know how to do it

Ever find yourself in a situation where you have to tackle a specialized task, and flex muscles that you haven’t used in a while? And imposter syndrome starts to set in?

Maybe it’s helping your child with his algebra homework.

Maybe it’s cooking or baking a complex recipe for company coming over.

Maybe you’re taking the field/pitch/gym/rink as an athlete for a sport you abandoned years ago.

Maybe you’re up in front of others and you have to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, like teaching a class, leading a group exercise, or presenting at an event.

Maybe you’re showing off a talent of yours in a performance, like singing or dancing or acting, but it’s been a long time since you last took the stage.

It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn how, you can always do it… right? You know that you know how to do it. Well at least, you knew how to do it, once upon a time. You’re pretty sure you can do it again. All the evidence shows you can do it. And yet, deep down inside, there’s a tiny but convincing voice saying oh my god what are you thinking you haven’t done this in forever how dare you think you can do it again oh god oh god this is crazy you know you can quit now and you won’t be embarrassed this is nuts stop stop STOP…

There’s joy in re-discovering that yes, you can still do it.  And in the satisfaction of telling the tiny but convincing voice of your lizard brain to shut the hell up.

Father, Musician

Admiring perseverance

Sometimes we run into people or things that should be more flexible, but instead become obstinate obstacles. We can accept them as they are. Or, we can decide to do something about them.

Case in point: my 9th grader received a vibraphone rental for Christmas this year. However, being a cheap rental, it did not come with an adjustable height frame – a problem for my 6′ tall son. Grandpa to the rescue!  But… not without lots of experimentation and failures. The holes drilled in the stilts weren’t wide enough. When they were wide enough, they didn’t deal with the curve of the frame. Then he stacked them to get the height right… but the adjustable pedal couldn’t reach the ground. I was about ready to give up and lobby for acceptance. Instead … we got this masterpiece:

There’s joy in seeing others persevere to overcome an inflexible obstacle.

Athlete, Father, Friend, Husband, Marketer, Musician

Self-care and recovery days

There’s a lot on the calendar some weeks. It could be fun stuff like holiday celebrations and gatherings of friends. Or it might be a nonstop schedule of family chauffeuring. Sometimes it’s long hours at the job for a crunch week.  Sometimes it’s an array of previous commitments (choir rehearsals, weekly basketball, networking events) — chosen responsibilities that individually are worthwhile but eat up a lot of combined time.

Even for those of us who love being active as much as possible, over time all that activity adds up, like sleep debt. That’s when self-care comes into play. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves so that we don’t devolve into a harried state that prevents us from enjoying our chosen activities.

Over time, we learn where our limits are. Over time, our limits start to pull in. Over time, we begin to recognize when we need a power nap, a day off to vegetate, or a quiet weekend to recharge our batteries.

Be joyful whenever you have the luxury to take that hour, day, or weekend of self-care to recovery.

Human, Marketer, Musician

Finding the Opportunity

Finding opportunities out of obligations is about more than the old optimist’s creed of “making lemonade from lemons.”  It’s about efficiency.  It’s about attitude.  It’s about shaping your reality.

Once my dad was told to attend a dinner event 3 hours away to represent the company, accept an award, and shake hands with the governor for a 5 minute photo-op.  My dad’s initial reaction was annoyance – this disrupts my work day and takes me away from home, there’s so many other things that need to be done, why me, and so on.  Then he realized that he was doing this anyways – why not make it an opportunity?  He decided that he’d use those 5 minutes with the governor to draw his attention to a project that wasn’t getting attention.  There’s evidence that those 5 minutes actually contributed to that project’s approval.  He created value out of what could have been a waste of time.

The chorus I sing with is requiring its members to do 9 holiday concerts this year instead of 7.  Like many, my initial reaction was a mixture of panic and disappointment – especially since the news was communicated without fanfare, gratitude, or acknowledgement of the change. How could they do this to us? How much more will this cost our family to ‘volunteer’? And so on.  Then I realized that the holiday concerts have really changed from years ago, when they were perceived by many as a burden, an obligation, a mandatory exercise with a substitute conductor and a high temptation to mail it in. The new approach is to treat each concert like a music-making experience, and the rehearsals and pedagogy associated with them are basically a voice lesson for me every time.  I’ll take two more cheap voice lessons and performances this December, especially given that this may be my last season if I’m not in the chorus after next spring’s re-audition!

Life is more enjoyable when you reframe obligations as opportunities.

Father, Musician, Uncategorized

Metallica

I am not a heavy metal fan.  I rank it just above gangsta rap and country music in my mental list of “least favorite music genres.”  I tend to dismiss the songs as so much noise, much as a connoisseur on the other side of the spectrum would be dismissive of an operatic aria.

Perversely, my 13yo son is now a huge Metallica fan.

It’d be too easy to slip into the role of doddering father, shaking my cane and muttering “turn that crap down” and “kids these days” and “back in my day”, even though technically I’m pretty sure Metallica was “back in my day.” I’ve been humoring his excited explanations of why he liked certain songs. I’ve marveled at his ability during drum practice to capture the patterns of some of his favorites. I’ve been perplexed at his recall of song names, albums, lyrics, band member names as they’ve come and gone… these are from the 80s.  I guess it’s the equivalent of if I had been a teenage fan of alternative 50s music — not Elvis Presley, but perhaps Tony Bennett or Mitch Miller.

(Of course, play a symphonic piece and I can almost certainly name whether it’s from 100, 200, or 300 years ago, if not the composer and the piece itself, but I digress…)

Today he played me “Spit Out the Bone” on the way home from soccer practice.  As I was adjusting to the percussive assault on my brain, he explained the lyrics and the post-apocalyptic man vs robot setting.  He pointed out how Lars Ulrich is achieving those sounds from the drum set, and the different “fills” involved. He mentioned it’s from a recent album rather than something from the 80s.  He noted the patterns and rhythm and how there’s actually some music and chord structure going on. That evening I read up more on the song.  I learned about the philosophy of transhumanism which is, to some degree, advocated by the song’s narrator, implying criticism by the band given that said narrator is trying to convince humans to give themselves over to technology and essentially commit suicide.  It’s commentary on our smart watches and faces buried in iPhones and desire to stay plugged in all the time.  Given that context, the music makes sense, and I understand the emotion behind it.  And suddenly I have a glimpse as to what a lot of heavy metal is about, and why it’s music, and why he likes it.

In short, I got a music lesson from my son.  That was awesome.

Musician, Son

Someone in the audience

No matter what stage you’re on, when you’re performing, there’s always a special joy if you know someone in the audience.  It makes everything more real.  Maybe because there’s a witness.  Someone there to hear the tree fall, so that the noise it makes matters.

A performance isn’t a performance without an audience anyways; otherwise, it’s a dress rehearsal.  Part of the energy generated when performing live is connecting with the audience.  But when you have a connection already–co-workers, classmates, family, those two random elderly ladies you met in the parking garage on the way to the concert–it turns the thrill of performing live up to an 11.  Even if it’s those two elderly ladies who dutifully wave at you from their seats as if they’ve known you for decades.

But having your parents in the audience is always a special treat.

Especially if they drove for 12 hours to get there.

Musician

Finding Triumph in Lord Nelson’s Mass

Cross-posted from my blog about singing, Just Another Bass

Our final choral performance this weekend is Haydn’s Missa in Anguistiis, known more commonly as the Lord Nelson Mass.  Of the 14 different mass settings Haydn composed, this one is considered his greatest — in fact, his biographer calls it “arguably Haydn’s greatest single composition,” though my vote would be for The Creation, which he had just finished writing.

Haydn started writing the “Mass for Troubled Times” at a time of intense fear.  In 1789, the terrified public knew that Napoleon Bonaparte had defeated the Austrian army in four major battles, even crossing the Alps and threatening Vienna itself.  (One effect – his patrons stopped paying for wind players, so he was down to only strings and a few hired trumpets and timpani!)  The opening Kyrie, in a dark D minor, echoes this public mood.  By the time the piece was first performed, however, Britain’s Lord Nelson had dealt Napoleon a stunning defeat – and when the work was performed in Nelson’s honor during his visit in 1800.  Since then, the piece has been more about the triumphant victory over that menacing opening movement, as D minor becomes D major in the later, more celebratory movements.  And with the smaller orchestra, it means that our smaller roster is more than adequate for the sound – we’ve had double this chorus size for pieces like the Mozart Requiem before.

Our conductor for this piece is the 91 year old Herbert Blomstedt.  We can all only hope to be as active as Maestro Blomstedt at that age, given he’s conducting 90 concerts a year. in venues around the world.  His devout lifestyle is all well and good, but as a chorus we wondered coming into the week of on-site rehearsals at Tanglewood: would this be like Boston’s beloved Harry Ellis Dickson conducting Holiday Pops in the twilight of his career (i.e., “don’t watch him, watch the first violinist”) Any concerns we had were quickly abated when he took the podium and immediately began shaping our sound.

Maestro Blomstedt’s strong opinions ran counter to many of our initial musical instincts. For instance, he is vehemently against vibrato in the chorus, especially in the upper voices, making it vocally challenging for our sopranos to hit those high As and Bs. His rationale is that senza vibrato produces stronger harmonies, and allows the soloists to stand out over our tapestry of sound.  He also favors rhythmic intensity over natural melodic lines, urging us to add marcato stresses — for instance, we now heavily break up the syllabic Ky-ri-e-e-le-i-son motif in the first movement rather than the legato shaping we had been rehearsing.  I personally find it harder to maintain the lighter, cleverer sound that one expects with any Haydn classical-era piece when we’re pummeling the rhythm this way, but as basses we’ll continue to fight to be more about rhythmically intensity (and less about elephantine plodding).  Blomstedt has also created great things with special moments in the piece, like taking the chorus way down during the text of cum sancto spiritu so that “the spirit” (a flautist playing a lilting tune) is audible as if it were a flute concerto for about four measures.  He is always about driving the tempo forward, even barking at some BSO second violinists (“TEMPO! KEEP UP!”) at one point in the orchestra rehearsal.

It’s always tempting, for these well-known chestnut pieces that could be sight-read at a summer sing somewhere, to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the musical ride.  Between conductor James Burton’s prep work, and Blomstedt’s urging, we have the luxury of not having that luxury.  That means we can take it off autopilot and really dig into the music, focus our concentration, bring to bear our copious notes scribbled in our scores, and shape its direction to create a performance that can make an audience sit up and listen.