C Minor. My Dirty Little Secret.

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Practice, practice, practice. It’s my new mantra.

What, you say? Hold on, you think? Just a doggone moment, you ask? Aren’t you a musician? Isn’t that a regular, normal, expected part of your life?

Well, uh, yes (imagine my averted eyes and shuffling feet here). But I have a dirty little secret.

I don’t practice much.

There are reasons galore. Let’s see: I’m a productive member of society with a 40-plus hour-per-week job. Can’t practice four or five hours a day any more, as I did in college. (Interesting to note, though, that I rehearse with choirs, and I’m all about practice there. Hmm.)

And then: People tend to talk during prelude and postlude on Sundays so I don’t have to be quite so prepared, and I’m able to do some good hymns and hymn introductions with minimal prep, and I’m a self-proclaimed boss at playing liturgy, so I can limit my practice time.

Or: I have some darknesses in my psychological past, and I’m not comfortable with people hearing me practice, whether they are altar guild people returning linens on a weekday, or students waiting for a lesson, or the spouse baking bread in the homeplace kitchen.

My logic is flawed. And here is my solution:

Clifford’s Practice Project (heretofore referred to as CPP)

For one hundred days (thank you violinist Hilary Hahn for the idea) I shall practice the mighty organ. I shall set me some goals (I love me some goals) and work toward attaining them.

CPP limitations:

  • I practice on workdays at the church. Organs are not like violins, thank you very much, and I live a half hour away from the church. I shall practice when I’m there.
  • I include sightreading in every practice.
  • I don’t get stuck on my favorite style period (North European baroque organ works are da bomb, thank you very much… think Bruhns, Buxtehude, Bach…) but I expand to other countries and other periods. Got me a book of trumpet voluntaries on order.
  • I keep pencils and metronome nearby, even though my old organ professor from Arizona State, Dr. Bob Clark, eschewed the use of metronomic devices, claiming they made an organist rigid and non-responsive, or something like that.
  • I shall record my progress in my little notebook, and celebrate my achievements.

CPP expectations:

  • I shall learn some new and exciting organ works, also some drab and boring ones.
  • I will better my technique.
  • I shall re-learn the importance of a daily regimen.

There are other areas of life which benefit from practice. It’s not just for music and sports, y’all. For example: is it possible to use the same discipline and learn to practice truth and honesty in tough situations? Can I be more structured in my daily work habits? Can I practice resisting the all-too-common urge to complain about people? Interesting.

And by the way. C minor Prelude and Fugue, Book 2. I love this prelude, with its sewing machine motor energy. These things are just durned fun to play. The fugue is as I find many fugues… it’s a beautiful piece of work, but doesn’t do much for me. Oh well. At least I’ve practiced and learned it.

 

Hit restart…

 

blue moon

If you’ve been with me a while, and if you’re back after my recent writing absence, you know I finished Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier , Book 1. I even figured out how to post a video of myself playing the C-sharp minor Prelude & Fugue, one of my favorites. Yay me for being so technologically daring! I may have entered the twentieth century!

I do not believe that Herr Bach was doing a restart in writing his Book 2. I believe he had so much fun creating twenty-four preludes and fugues, one in each key, major and minor, that he thought he’d do it again. Did you know the preludes and their corresponding fugues weren’t necessarily composed together? Some were pre-existing works, likely used for teaching purposes. Some were composed as a set, and others were assembled later. I can see good ol’ Johann now, rummaging through his music desk, muttering to himself “I thought I had a d minor fugue in here somewhere. Now what DID I do with that? Sheesh. Likely in the same place I left my carriage keys. Probably underneath my powdered wig, wherever THAT is. Johann Christian? Wilhelm Friedemann? Either of you kids have my d minor fugue?”

I’m not restarting. I’m continuing. New book of preludes and fugues, new music, new experiences. And it begins with Everybody’s Favorite Key, C Major. (An imposing professor of mine used to call it the Moronic Key, but that’s for another time.)

I think we can never truly restart. Classic Star Trek episodes aside, we are not able to find that glorious time portal, go back to the early twentieth century, change the outcome of a World War, and restore our existence. At best, I think, we can learn from our experiences, clean up our messes, and keep moving. (Isn’t there a movie with a fish who just… uh… keeps swimming?)

Today, as I think about life and liberty and my personal pursuit of happiness, I recognize the troubles I’ve seen. There have been plenty, as befits a normal life, I think. Check out this terrific expression of pain in life…

That’s what makes me who I am. And it’s what makes us who we are. I am proud of the scars and imperfections I carry with me, from the marks on my body caused by tangles with barbed wire and violence to the emotional roadbumps of ended relationships and the spiritual confusion of mortality.

And no judgments, please. Let’s not beat ourselves for supposedly bad decisions, or so-called failed relationships, or other such nonsense. There is a certain beauty and logic and peace to simply saying “it is.” Did that breakup cause pain? It sure did. But it’s become part of your story. Is that cancer destroying you? You bet. But it’s a real part of your life, and it is part of who you are. Is that job dragging you down, causing you to lose sleep, ruining your social life? Probably.

Viktor Frankl, in his most raw and beautiful book Man’s Search for Meaning, talks of being stuck in horrible situations, like his concentration camp experience, and he talks of finding hope and keeping alive. If you can get out of a bad situation… well golly, go! Make that change! Take charge! Never stay in a harmful or destructive situation if it can be helped. But also realize that our experiences make us. I may have worked through the pains and pleasures of my past, and I am a different man because of them.

Fascinating. What can be helped? Only current crises. Nothing in the past can ever be changed, and yet we spend so much time and energy trying to fix what was.

And what then? It seems that new relationship, that new job, that new house, that new diagnosis… they may or may not be what we would judge as good. Maybe they just are. And maybe they help us to be who we are, difficulties and pains and problems and frustrations and all. And maybe we just keep moving.

So. Enough of my ramblings. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I must go practice, and continue my journey.

Peace… Clifford

B minor. Half-something. And a video.

Well. It’s taken longer than I expected, for sundry reasons. But I have now played through all of Book I. Well-Tempered Clavier. Boo-yah. Woot-woot. Let the celebrations… uh… continue!

B minor is one of my favorites. The prelude is moving and sweet, and the fugue, although not a truly great subject, has many gorgeous episodes. Interesting, how a weak subject can be bettered by crafty connecting episodes. Wonder if there might be a life lesson there somewhere. Like it’s not all about the job, and the relationships, and the stress, and the debt, and the difficulties. Maybe it’s all about the connections. Make of that what you will. I’m entertaining idle thoughts today.

So the project is half-something. Half-0ver. Half-started. Half-baked. This just means there is more to do! More to learn, more to explore, more to bake. I have already started Book II, C Major. You’ll hear about that soon, you good readers you!

In the meantime, here’s a video of Book I, C-sharp minor. Out of all twenty-four P’s & F’s in that volume, this is my favorite. Scroll back quite a ways to read my comments about it, if you dare.

Interesting thing, this little recording. It shows only one time I played this work. Mistakes are there, and those mistakes are different than any other time I’ve ever played this P & F. The tempo is different. The attitude is different. I am reminded of Maya’s line in the rather messy movie Sideways: “if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day.” Fascinating. That’s like music.

If we play it right, it is always a new, living thing, and always different from the last time (or the next time) we play it. Perfection is for those who build bridges over which I plan to drive sometime. Art demands something higher, something free.

And with that, my happy readers (three of you now?) I sign off of Book I. Book II will follow. After that? Well. I’m not so sure it’s about the actual pieces I play, but the stuff that connects them. Maybe Bach will connect me with a Beethoven series, or a Schubert series, or… heaven perish the thought… a beginning fiddle series. Much to learn out there.

Peace… Clifford

Goodbye Mole.

Goodbye mole.

I am so sorry.

What a shock to see your tiny, furry body lying there underneath my honeysuckle. Those big, powerful front legs that moved a ton of dirt hanging limp and loose, a tiny spot of blood at your pointy snout. I buried you underneath the cannas in my bird habitat. Said a prayer over you, covered your grave with a huge piece of quartz, and drank a toast to your moleness.

I believe in the sanctity of all life. I have been known to protect the spider in the corner of a classroom, to trap a wasp in a coffee mug for release outdoors, to free a mouse caught on a glue trap. I mourn the lives of squirrels dead on the roadways. Life is fascinating, beautiful.

So what happened?

A dog. Little Lola dug you out of your tunnel and killed you. Killed you like she did the fledgling sparrow and tried to do with the juvenile squirrel. And she left you there.

Here’s where it gets interesting, little mole.

I cannot be upset with little Lola. She’s a half-breed. Half Chihuahua and half Dachshund. Beautiful little thing she is, too. From the Chihuahua bloodline she sports the apple-shaped head, the slightly bulgy eyes, and a frustratingly energetic intelligence. And from the Dachshund she has the length, the short legs, and the predator drive. Her ancestors were bred to dig into burrows and dispatch the many creatures people considered “vermin.” She dug, found you, grabbed you, and ended your little life. It’s what Dachshunds do.

I am so sorry.

There is a lesson to be learned, little mole, if I can find it.

Nature has a balance. Sometimes delicate, sometimes blatant. And it doesn’t always work out in our favor. Shit happens. Spiders eat flies. Leopards kill baboons. Killer whales kill seals. Snakes… well, let’s not think about that.

And, supposedly at the top of all that mayhem and carnage is Mankind. But maybe not.

What happened to you was violent, beautiful little one, and certainly unnecessary, although in a different day and age you would have become part of the food chain. It was a perfectly natural thing. Dog is predator, mole is prey. Lola enjoys a very good diet from my kitchen, and once she killed you she had no idea what to do next. Or maybe she merely had no need to do anything. Introduce hunger and the search for food into her mix and you would have been swallowed, justifying your sad fate, like the fates of so many earthworms and grubs you munched.

How many creatures kill just for the sake of killing? Some do. I’ve watched cats with birds. But let’s think about mankind.

We kill our food, and we waste those animal bodies when we throw away what we can’t eat. We kill our environment and doom our future. We kill people who don’t bother us and we allow those who harm us to continue. We kill the dreams of our children and lead them into lives of frustration and anger. We kill healthy relationships. We kill ourselves through socially sanctioned self-loathing.

And do we learn? Hell no. Our bloodlines have given us hatred and violence, but also our intellect. We have the ability to learn, but we just don’t. Seems to me that our intellect should prevail, right? We should understand how to make our world a better place, right?

We like to think we’re the rational ones in the animal kingdom, and we like to think we’re able to change. So why don’t we? Maybe we haven’t really claimed our bloodline. Maybe we wander through our lives oblivious, unaware, perpetually foggy, like herd animals following a leader who tells us how to think and behave. We have such potential, and we give it away for the wrong things. Like power, wealth, status, and I’m-better-than-you-ness.

Little mole. You led a simple life and I might think you reveled in your moleness. Lola leads a simple life, and she is overwhelmingly Lola. My life is complex and overwhelming and confusing. Is this the legacy of my humanness?

Thank you, little mole, for your little life. For the things you contributed to our fragile ecosystem. For sharing the earth with me, even underfoot in your tunnels. For just being. Rest in peace, my little friend.

Clifford

Postscript: part of little mole’s tribute included the playing of Bach’s B major prelude & fugue. Bright and serene, it seemed to help me celebrate rather than lament. There are plenty opportunities for lament in this world, if only we pay attention.

B-flat minor. Inner emptiness.

“She cuts herself so she can feel something.”

These words, spoken by a friend from the pulpit, have stuck with me. And there must be a reason, right? I mean, phrases don’t get stuck in our minds and demand replay for nothing. Sometimes words strike us and resonate. So?

(Stop reading if you want happy talk today. You know, sunshine, flowers, and peppermint. Visit the Book of Face or the Tube of You and look for cute animal videos instead. Goats are fun. Look up goat crossfit. Catch up with me next time. I’m welcoming some darkness today.)

B-flat minor is such a dark, dark key. It feels good to play in this key, being the relative minor of D-flat, with five flats… that means all the black keys for a pianist. Long fingers play the black keys, short fingers play the white. Easy, right?

I find it hard to believe that Mr. Bach, writing his way through the various keys now open to him with Well-Tempered Tuning, was writing only as an exercise. It’s possible, but I feel such depth and despair in both the Prelude and the Fugue.

Or maybe it speaks to me because I need to search for something. Something Bach perhaps did not intend.

We want, we seem to need, to seek for something to feel. Or so we are told.

I think we’re afraid. Afraid that if we truly listen, get still, introspect a while, we’ll discover there ain’t nuthin’ there.

We are decidedly not okay with that. We are told that there are places inside us, thoughts deep within, an inner child, inherent specialness, real inner resources. We are told we are likeable, lovable. We search for meaning.

What if that’s wrong? What if we seek something that’s not there? Have we been duped? Consider these:

The person who Self-Harms. Feeling pain on the outside to fill the void inside?

The woman in perennial Crisis Mode, who creates adversity where there is none. Is she trying to feel alive?

The man who Drinks Too Much after work every day, who feels nervous and uptight until he’s had a few. Is he afraid of an inner empty quiet?

The teenager who steals her mother’s “stash” and gets high with her friends. Is she trying to find a way to be Popular, To Fit In? To make meaning?

The couple in The Affair, afraid to live in dull, stuck marriages and seeking self-worth in the arms of another?

Those who Must Have Music Always? Scared of empty silence?

Compulsive Shoppers? Needy People? Sullen Types? Angry Drivers? Technology Addicts?

A shrink (I love calling counselors that… it makes me smile…) once told me to get friends. Lots of friends. Because humans are meant to be social, and they need to interact with their support groups. Never mind that I’m introverted (he helped me understand that, too). Apparently, contemporary thought views people with many relationships as healthy, and solitary individuals as flawed. Is that right? I don’t think so.

I read an article recently about a woman who seeks a life of mediocrity. Hers is a simple life. She seeks only enough for her family. No bigger houses, no faster cars, no huge theater-style TV screens on the wall. No two-income family. And no pressures to procure and maintain what she doesn’t want or need. Fascinating. It’s like she’s pleased with her status quo. She wants to live an un-remarkable life.

I wonder if that applies to our inner lives, too? I wonder if we’re told what we should feel, and how, and when? And I wonder if we despair when we don’t pass muster?

I think I have made a self-discovery. I think there’s not much inside me. I am a simple guy.

I’ve been inside you see, and I’ve studied myself fairly thoroughly. It’s what an introvert does, yo. I don’t think I have any more lurking surprises in the freshly-cleaned cubbyholes of my mind, waiting to launch a crippling assault. They did that already. I was felled like a mighty sequoia tree, and I still have the axe marks to prove it. I got back up. I talked. I studied. I explored. And I know myself pretty damn well. Really I do. Did some cleansing. And I’m kinda empty, y’all.

Do you suppose there are those who do not feel inner joy? And do you suppose that might be totally appropriate? Are there those who live with pure, remarkable emptiness? And is that okay?

Are there times in our lives when we must just BE, and not TRY TO BE? Should we enjoy the moment, whatever that moment brings, and not try to change it?

Perhaps the beginning of Enlightenment, that fascinating Eastern concept that we, in our hard-driven consumer culture dismiss as “far out.” I don’t know.

A mess of questions, my friends.

Maybe the secret is flow, attentiveness, mindfulness to the present moment. Maybe it’s a matter of not caring about the “stuff” of life, but also not knowing that we don’t care. Follow me? Maybe it’s about choosing a pursuit not for the attainment of goals, but for the sheer experience. Maybe it’s about becoming so lost in our work or our play that we enter that timeless condition and just exist.

I wonder if I’m trying to fill an emptiness that is wholly natural and right, only because I think I’m incomplete and need filling.

Thoughts, those of you not currently lost in goat videos?

Cliff

Subversion 2

my subversive apple blossoms. wanna see more of my garden?

I’m still on the subversion kick. I ‘spect I’ll be on this kick a while. Current ramblings:

Notice people and be kind.

The scene: Whole Foods market. I was waiting in the express lane to purchase some good food for my wife. The man ahead of me was doing his transaction at the card thingy (what are those card thingys called?) and talking on his phone. “Rude,” thought I. He left, and I said to Emily, the nice checker, “how are you today?” She didn’t smile. She didn’t answer me. She said “I wish people would hang up their phones. He didn’t pay me any attention.”

He, a smartphone-wielding Important Person, couldn’t be bothered to hang up his Most Important Phone Call and interact with the checker. Doesn’t that say something about class values? Apparently, since she’s working as a cashier, she must not be as elevated and worthy as he.

Poppycock. Notice people. Be kind.

Subversive? You bet your boots, cowboy. It seems to go against our system.

Just watch. It’s all around. We are so wrapped up in our little bubbles that we forget the underdog.

How, pray tell, does it bother you to pass a kind word on to somebody? “Gee, that’s a great color on you.” “I love how you sing!” “Those teenage boys are yours? Good job raising them, you good parent, you!”

Try this experiment. Say something nice to somebody. Somebody you a) don’t know or b) don’t like very much. Observe this somebody’s reaction. Analyze your own.

In a culture of believing that we are better than everybody else, take some time to realize that we’re really in the same proverbial boat.

Rick Blaine: “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” (What. You’re not a Casablanca fan? GO WATCH IT. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Really.)

Don’t be part of the problems. Be a subversive part of the solution.

Make something.

I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert before. She’s the one who called us, in an interview with Krista Tippett, the “making ape.” We make stuff.

What would happen if you made your own fresh-baked bread? Golly, I can see it now. Not only would you have a good, wholesome loaf of bread missing all the preservatives and hidden added sugars, but a slice of that bread, fresh from the oven, with grass-feed cow butter, is a meal. And just imagine how your kitchen will smell. Nothing, I say NOTHING, smells better than fresh-baked homemade bread.

Never made bread before? Find a recipe. Try. It may fail, and you may wind up with a doughy lump that don’t do nothin’ except lie in the bottom of the mixing bowl. Or it may succeed, and rise beautifully, and start you on your own new adventure.

Grow something. Tomatoes or zucchini or basil. Learn how to tend and cultivate plants, and make your own food.

Paint a picture. Remember those crazy watercolor kits we had as kids? Get one. Try it out. You may discover you have absolutely no color sense whatsoever. Or you may discover you are talented beyond belief. Nevertheless, give it a try.

It’s that infuriating small voice inside that tells us we can’t do something. And we listen to it, and we agree with it, because we think it acts in our own best interests. It ain’t necessarily so.

Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, discusses what he calls “Resistance,” and the way it convinces us to stay safe, not risk, not accomplish, not live. I’m thinking that’s my small voice. It works hard to keep me lethargic and stuck. And it works harder when I try something new.

Find something you want to do, and do it. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. (Wait. Why do we say that? History? Civil War?)

Be curious.

My good mentor, Mr. Diebel, told me, a young whippersnapper of fourteen, to question. It is all well and good if I understand stuff, but if I’m confused? Ask for clarification. If I’m intrigued? Ask for an explanation. Want to know stuff? Figure it out.

I noticed a tattoo on the neck of a postal clerk the other day. It was a music staff with notes, flowers, and hummingbirds. It was stunning. I complimented her on it (see Notice People and Be Kind above), and asked what made her choose such an interesting tattoo. Interesting answers followed, and I learned something about her relationship with her daughter, a French horn player who wrote the song tattooed on her mother’s neckline.

I wonder if it’s acceptable in my neighborhood to replace most of my lawn with white clover? A quick internet search proves that, yes, it is. And I’ll help the honeybees and other beneficial garden insects, too. My little village doesn’t adhere to any homeowner’s association. And Johnny’s Seeds sells white clover seed. I can start sowing this spring. I learned something, and I may be able to help soil nitrogen and pollinator population in the deal.

Wonder what a middle-schooler thinks about current events? You might be surprised. But you’ll never know unless you have some interest in the kid and a curiosity for the way their minds work. Ask the question! What have you to lose?  The worst you’ll get is a well-practiced eye-roll. The best is a glimpse into a young, beautiful soul.

How is all this subversive?

Yeah. Good question. Let’s see:

When we really see people and practice kindness we drop our own shields and become open. We risk a real encounter. We stop seeing divisions like race, status, and creed. Each of us becomes human, and we interact on a very real level, if only for a moment. Tell me that’s what our culture values, Oh Ye of the Small Yards and the Big Cars and the Small Minds and the Fear of the Other. Boo-yah. That’s what I’m sayin’.

When we make stuff we rely less on manufacturers and service providers to keep us going, and we develop self-sufficiency. We purchase less, create more, and strengthen our mental acuity and our very souls in the process. We continue to admire Those Who Can, but we realize that We Can, Too. Seems to me there’s a certain sense of freedom there.

Curiosity makes us open to new ideas, strange situations, alternative views. Ah, how easy it is to think we know it all, and close ourselves to any conflicting ideas. How expeditious to choose a political thought train and ride it blindly. Cultural rhetoric wants us to believe that a certain kind of cat litter is so good at odor elimination we will want it everywhere in our houses, that Mexicans are crossing our borders and committing crimes, that lawns should be weed-free grass to rival any golf course. Curiosity and research might yield different results. Who knows! Maybe cat litter is indeed good for old sneakers. Maybe Mexicans will become friends. And maybe you’ll plant some white clover in your lawn. It could happen.

Have you had the misfortune to follow this blog this far? I would be remiss if I said “gee, do this, try this, experiment with that,” and didn’t do it myself. This week I shall:

  1. Continue being nice to people. It is my biggest fault, being a nice guy. J
  2. Make something outside my comfort zone. I might try watercolors.
  3. Ask some good questions and do some good research.

Welcome to the fight.

Cliff

B-flat. It sparkles!

Do not use one of these. Ever. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere.

Isn’t it great to do something new? Something personally unprecedented? Something so far away from our daily realities that it inspires us, organizes us, fascinates us, and launches us into something beautiful?

It sure is.

Let me tell you of just such a little journey. It began with a house purchase, a cute little mill home, built in 1905. And in this little house was a sad, tragic little kitchen. There was a sink and a dishwasher in a corner cabinet built of quarter-inch plywood nailed to two-by-fours. There were two small cabinets hanging on the wall. And the fridge, vintage 1970’s, was possibly last cleaned during the Reagan administration. (I did find a rather cool beer glass in the freezer. Washed and sanitized it like all heck before I used it, though.) The stove was the best part of the kitchen. Electric, mostly clean, operational, but not inspirational. And my wife a chef. Meals would better be prepared with a kerosene stove and a picnic table out back. Which is, interestingly enough, how the mill workers cooked. Outdoors!

As a kid I had the fortune (or misfortune, as I thought at the time) to assist in the building of two houses. Seems my parents had the great idea that, rather than buy an already-existing home, it would be cheaper and somehow fun to build our own. We built a nice little split-level in the 1970’s, and followed it with a modified Swiss chalet in the early ‘80’s.

How many pianists and organists do you know, my good reader, who can toenail a stud wall? Can wire outlets and switches and not get zapped? Can solder copper pipes with one of those old-fashioned torches that they now sell in antique shops and have banned in seventeen countries?  (Did we really use gasoline for the fuel?) Golly. That thing spit fire like an ill-tempered hemorrhoidal dragon. And do you know how much fiberglass insulation itches? How many of today’s high school youth can lay out a foundation and build a cement block retaining wall? And who can deny the heaven-sent joys of drywall… mudding, sanding, mudding, sanding…

My new old house’s kitchen had to be gutted. And I had the opportunity to rebuild.

I would love to say I did the electrical and the plumbing in my new kitchen. In my advanced middle-age, though, I thought it best to leave those to a professional. I am not a fan of flooding, and house fires are a definite deal-breaker. But I did design and build my own cabinetry (hand tools, y’all. Pianists and rapidly spinning sharp things are not good bedfellows). A new combination gas and electric stove was installed. I re-used the same sink but updated the faucet. Bought a stainless steel fridge. The new space is vastly superior to the old space.

Except for the cabinet doors. Drawers were easy to build (with my hand-cut blind dovetails. Ever see one? I did three drawers with those. Boo-yah). But doors have always baffled me. I suppose, if I had a proper shop, and I had all the power tools, I could make perfectly matched joints. But hand tools, y’all. And I have a tiny space in which to work. My doors tend to be slightly off-square and a little warped. Kinda like some people I know.

So I left the doors off while I waited for inspiration. Wife thought it looked good, the open shelving, showing off our Fiesta table service and all her canned goods (‘cause she’s a madwoman, growing food and canning it in those cute little jars). But quietly, deep within, as a murmurwhisper, I kept hearing “wouldn’t stained glass look beautiful there?”

Nope. No stained glass there. The open shelving concept looks lovely, and we plan to keep it. I was inspired, though, so I managed to order a stained glass kit, and I tried my hand at a few designs. And you know something? I love it.

It sparkles.

I’m hooked.

Anita and Seymour Isenberg, in the introduction to their book How to Work in Stained Glass, call stained glass “imprisoned sunlight.” How beautiful! How fascinating to think that glass, neither a liquid or a solid, can capture the sun’s rays.

I seem to be on the “look ma, no hands!” kick. Do-It-Yourself. Create something. And sometimes I amaze myself that I’m able to do these things. It’s a general fascination with the ingenuity and creativity of us humans.

I hear told that LED light manufacturers are partnering with show biz people so that, as you sit on your overstuffed couch watching “Dancing with the Stars” on your extra-large TV, ingesting chips and beer, the lighting in your very living room will be the same colors and patterns as that on the stage. And others are finding ways to connect scent modules in the same room, so you can smell the forest as you watch Cheryl Strayed trek the Pacific Coast Trail. A former student of mine created a photograph of a tree but replaced most of the leaves with primary- and secondary-colored butterflies. Ever watch an oboist shape and carve her reeds? Heavens. Creativity with a healthy dose of science. We are mightily and remarkably creative, when we open ourselves to inspiration and industry.

Speaking of sparkling, that’s this Prelude. Bach is here in his happy place. It’s a toccata, a showoff, a fantasyland. When people hear it they say “ooh! aah!” Light and brilliance.

It’s like stained glass. How many people can look at glass, with the light behind just right, and say “um… I’m not really feeling it right now.” It sparkles!

So What, you ask?

So What indeed. Let’s get off our collective butts. Let’s write, read, dream, paint, draw, engineer, devise, discover, create. Up now! Off the sofa, turn off the TV, power down the smartphone, reclaim that which makes us… creative.

Peace.

Cliff

 

Welcome back to the fight.

Victor and Rick

Subˑverˑsion  / səb-ˈvər-zhən  noun : the act of subverting : the state of being subverted; especially : a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within. (from Merriam-Webster, thank you very much).

It’s Latin for “to turn from below.” Golly, I like that. I live in the Below. I’m one of those worker drones in the Great Below! One of the crowd, one of the numbers in my society. And I ain’t happy. I like to think that I’m in control of my own destiny, you know? But, like the song says, it ain’t necessarily so. Not with our rather insidious way of life.

Today I become a subversive. (I’d like to say “Subversive,” with a capital “S,” but somehow that doesn’t seem… um… subversive.)

Ah, the areas in which I could work, quietly undermining systems and policies that keep me thoughtless, docile, pliable. Mind you, I never want to be a Victor Laszlo (leader of the underground in the movie Casablanca. Great film. You should watch it sometime). I only want to change my little world in my own little ways.

Ditch the smartphone.

This shall be my first act. Do you know, fair reader, how much time I spend on my smartphone? Checking e-mail, googling odd ideas, watching funny dogs on youtube, listening to Brahms chamber music on iTunes, seeking stained glass patterns on Pinterest? Golly. And let’s not even think about Facebook, my personal, time-sucking nemesis.

I have become one of those people seduced by the glory of a hand-held computer. And it seems to track me and my supposed interests, too. And it gets stuff wrong. (Today, while googling “trade smartphone for flip phone” I kept getting ads for bras. I have never searched for bras on any device. What???)

I pay a high price for having this instant accessibility in my pocket. Not only money (makes my old phone land-line phone service seem like peanuts) but, villianously, it takes my attention. I think of some interesting topic to research, and I become one of those bad-posture folk walking through a parking lot, oblivious to traffic, while I wait for the little wheel to stop spinning and my coveted information to appear. I see a video posted by a former student with her darling child, and I watch ten more videos, none of which are remotely related. I become tethered to this little device, seeking for it to entertain me, inform me, serve me. But I think I’m actually serving it.

So I now have a dumbphone. (Not my term… the nice lady at the phone store named it for me. And I like it.) It takes me forever to send a text. It says there is internet possibility, but that ain’t happening, y’all. It shall remain for calls and texts only. And the camera. It has one, but really. Why do I want a camera wherever I go? I have a perfectly fine digital camera. If I think I’m going to be taking pictures, it’s time to lug that danged thing along.

Those Who Track Stuff won’t have 24/7 access to my smartphone! Gone are the advertisements that pop up whenever I google “pop tarts.” Guess the army of trackers will just have to wait until I’m at my computer.

True, it will make communicating a little more burdensome. I’ll have to adopt the get-up-early-and-do-my-email-correspondence habit. You know? Like those people who used to take a part of each day and write notes and letters to people? It can be done with Mr Computer, too. And I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and respond to an e-mail just because I have a super-powerful computer in my pocket. And how about meeting people for coffee? Or doing a phone call? Old-school for sure.

Eat well.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. We ALL should eat well. A balanced diet. Foods good for us. And I agree. But how, pray tell, can sitting down to a home-cooked meal using whole ingredients and organic stuff be subversive?

Might be just my conspiracy theories, but hang on.

Americans eat crap. Processed stuff. GMO stuff. Golly, that’s the way I was raised. I have fond memories of running to the corner store with my spare change to buy … wait for it … a package of Suzy Q’s and a soda. Wrapped in cellophane, little cardboard base to keep them from getting smooshed, they were chocolate cakes filled with some vaguely intriguing white sweet stuff. Shelf life was measured in decades. And what could have been better than when mom found hot dogs on clearance at the local market? Did they even DO expiration dates back then? Even today I wonder why some hot dogs are so… pink.  Heavens. And the potato chips. The candy bars. The sodas. Something tells me that there’s enough stuff in my body to keep me preserved for a hundred years past my eventual demise.

And let’s not even talk about fast food. Cheaper than real food, so poor people like me can afford it, washed down with sugary, bubbly drinks. And French fries. Holy buckets.

What’s the result? Obesity. Poor health. Doctor visits. Expensive prescriptions. Surgeries to keep us alive. Health insurance that only covers the bare minimum tests required and denies the tests that could really reveal important trends (that’s my personal experience, right there).

I wonder who benefits from all this? Certainly not the consumer. Certainly not me.

I wonder if, by eating clean foods, preparing my own meals, exercising, growing food in my garden, if I can stop being part of the Big American Health Care Machine? And I wonder if, thereby, I can keep money out of drug company and healthcare organization pockets? Hmm. Now we’re getting somewhere.

I live on a quarter-acre lot. I’m replacing my lawn with raised garden beds. (Know what the number one crop raised in the United States is? Grass. For lawns. More on that later.) Current garden bed count: thirteen. My wife grows stuff there. Collards, tomatoes, broccoli, sugar peas, Swiss chard, several varieties of beans, lettuce, spinach, zucchini, squash, did I say tomatoes, basil, lavender, assorted herbs, and much more. And she cans food the old-fashioned way, in little jars, so we can eat throughout the winter. Home-grown food, without the “benefit” of chemicals. And my fruit trees (twenty-four of them at last count) are just beginning to bud. I may get apples and pears this year, and I’ll have peaches if I can convince the squirrels that peaches are bad for them and their children.

None of my money goes to fast food. No money goes to processed food. Less time is spent worrying about health and listening to kick-back-receiving doctors who want to prescribe questionable drugs.

Next step is to find locally sourced eggs, cheese, and meat. Stuff I can track and be certain I’m not ingesting chemicals and hormones that will play chicken with my health.

Seems somehow un-American, huh.

Check facts.

“Faulty research in the 1960’s leads to USDA dietary guidelines restricting fat while downplaying sugar.”

Really?

“Bowling Green and Sweden have sustained recent terrorist attacks.”

Izzat right?

“Singing the blues to your hound dog invites depression and lethargy. For the dog.”

Sorry, Nemo. I never guessed.

It is so, so easy to hear something from a trusted friend, read something on a trusted website, or hear something on the news, and parrot it. Repeat it verbatim. Golly, it sounds convincing, maybe it’s right. And why would I want to go through the difficult process of verifying such information?

Funny. Seems like our schools are doing just that, right? Providing facts and figures, and expecting students to spit them back. (I think I’m qualified to say that, ‘cause I taught middle school for a while, and I believe that inspiring critical thinking in our students, though valued by teachers generally, takes a back seat to preparing facts to be regurgitated for the state tests. What kind of minds are we developing here? Information retrieval systems?)

Information is at our very fingertips. Why, I’ve looked up several things while writing this. (Did you know we use the term “Luddite” improperly? So I’m a Neo-Luddite! More on that later.)

How dare you, intelligent reader, how dare you hear something and just spit it back as truth. Verify it, please. Like my college professor used to say: “Just because one idiot writes something and another idiot prints it don’t make it true!”

Check. Double-check. Form your opinion. Then, and only then, open your mouth and speak.

I fear we, products of our education, are used to taking facts and spitting them up. Please, verify. Challenge. Question. Never, never, never be satisfied with the status quo. And don’t just choose sources that echo your thoughts! Find an alternate point of view to challenge you.

So there we are. Smartphone is gone, and it’s replaced with a technological dodo. I’m eating well, exercising, and becoming healthy. And I’ll be taking my news in several formats.

In the eternal words of Victor Laszlo, “Welcome back to the fight.”

Peace… Clifford

Open apology to Reyburn choir students

a bully

Reyburn Intermediate School Choirland students, 2002-2011: I am sorry. Terribly, terribly sorry.

I was wrong, and I fear I’ve led you down the wrong path.

You see, I adopted the motto “don’t teach music, teach people.” I paid attention to all our school district’s Character Counts! propaganda. I observed you in your adolescent, gawky, how-do-I-fit-in-and-relate-with-others phase. I tried to help you become better young women and young men.

Maybe you sang in my Tenor/Bass choir. Maybe you remember removing your hats when you came indoors. (It was a Reyburn rule, for sure, but not many of you understood that to be one mark of a gentleman. You only thought it was dress code.) Maybe you remember allowing girls to go through doors first, even holding the door for them. And how many of you remember standing tall whenever a girl or a woman entered our choir room, purely as a sign of respect? And how proud I was when you stood up for some of your smaller choir members when they were hassled by boys from another school. Remember my intolerance of popular putdown phrases? My insistence on using positive language when referring to others? I would like to think I was helping to make a difference in your lives.

But I was wrong.

Girls. Remember Choirland discussions with your friends about difficulties in your relationships with other girls and ways to solve them? Remember our Cross the Line activities and how much we discovered about each other? And maybe some of you remember spending entire class periods (when I should have been teaching singing and repertoire and music literacy) in a circle, discussing the bullying that was happening between members of those very same classes? How many of you did I ask to befriend the unpopular, to sit with them during lunch, and assist them in choir? In my humble defense, I only wanted to help you become socially aware young women who would challenge problems and stand up against the wrong of a flawed social structure.

Seems I was mistaken.

I should have been born in an earlier era, in a time when chivalry was valued, when men strove to be gentlemen, when intelligence and fairness were valued.

Do you see my errors? Bullying and injustice have been a part of human history from the beginning, and I’m not even sure my ideal era existed. Hatred of others has been around forever. Violence has always been an acceptable way to solve our problems. Perhaps my own interpretation of goodness has been skewed. Perhaps I live in my personal fantasy world, where people care for one another, bullies are confronted, and goodness prevails.

That’s not our world. Without going into the nauseating details, let me admit, rather depressedly, that bullies win, that rules are changed to benefit the powerful, that those who seek justice and equality are thwarted, that rudeness and pushiness are cultural virtues. It has been so for millennia, and it shows no sign of changing any time soon.

I wonder what would have served you better, my dear choir peeps? Perhaps if we had Character Counts But Only Sometimes? Bullies For a Better Tomorrow? Maybe an elective class called Social Standing Studies, where we study the hierarchies in social structures and discover where we belong, and who are above and below us? All the wealthy white kids would be pleased to know how much influence they will eventually have over the under-privileged minorities and poor folk. Start early and prepare with all the necessary tools.

How about Equality Club, where we promote our own race, religion, and social status while dissing (I think I learned that word from you) everybody else?

I wish I’d thought about that when you sat in my choir room. I would have liked to help you find the tools to survive, even to succeed in the eyes of this befuddling world.

It’s too late for me. I have over half a century of nice-guy thinking and hopeful living behind me. It’s cooked into my very bones. I’m afraid that won’t change. My personal fate is to be a nice, hopeful old man. What are the chances I can learn to bully others? Can I change my concern for the homeless, my care about the environment, and cease to work in my own small, quiet way for justice and peace? I’m afraid I’m stuck in my old-fashioned values and dreams of a gracious, considerate, humane world order.

It’s like I’m waiting at the train station for the Fairness & Justice Express, and I’m at the wrong tracks. The real train, the All For Myself Limited, has boarded and departed. And a few stragglers, like me, are hanging out wondering when the next train will arrive. I hope you, my wonderful and beautiful former students, have chosen the correct train.

Well. There it is. I’m sorry. I truly hope you can figure a way to live in this new world order. Rather, I hope you can figure a way to live in what already is, and has been for quite some time. I wish I’d helped you with the right tools.

Sincerely, Mr. Badgley (a.k.a The Old Man)

Make something, you ape! and A Minor.

It’s what happens when a making ape monkeys around with heavy metals and frozen sunlight. 

Who has the least satisfying job? In the musical world? At least according to some job satisfaction polls?

Ah, the mind reels. Instantly I think of bagpipers. Butt of so many jokes. Only get to practice away from centers of civilization. No… pipers revel in their pipeability. Something about blowing, squeezing, and squeaking is somehow, oddly, satisfying.

Maybe it’s middle-school music teachers. Can you imagine dealing with those little creatures, armed with instruments and developing voices? Heavens. But no… working with adolescents and music brings beautiful, life-changing results.

Pianists and organists, perhaps? Those solo players who spend hours and hours on literature for their beloved instruments, all alone, with very little human interaction. Sounds horrible, right? Nope… most of us adore what we do.

Would you believe symphony orchestra players?

Neither would I. Orchestral players find, one supposes, the ideal spot for making music. Imagine being one of three dozen violinists arching a phrase in Brahms’ first symphony. Or hear the sound of a plaintive oboe delicately and sweetly leading the wind section. And they get to rehearse and practice, practice and rehearse, then don cool-looking black duds and hit the stage.

Here’s the thing. I’ve talked with a number of orchestra players, and it ain’t all sunshine and roses.

You see, they practice and perfect their techniques as young upstart musicians, coached by their master teachers to develop expressive interpretations that speak their souls, and they join the symphony. See that person on the podium with the pointy little stick? This conductor person tells our musicians how to do their jobs, and how they would like that expressive line to sound. And their jobs become rehearse, practice, practice, rehearse, perform. But when does an orchestral artist get to assert individual creativity? (For an interesting solution to this lack-of-control problem orchestral musicians face, read Roz and Ben Zander’s The Art of Possibility)

Fascinating problem, right? And this is why orchestral musicians have some of the lowest levels of job satisfaction. (Well, that and pretty low pay, too.)

This week I’m practicing the A Minor Prelude & Fugue. And I’m having a gas. Golly, but it’s a long fugue, and I’m not finding as many fun sequences as I like. The Prelude? It’s like a smooth, quickly moving sewing machine. (Remember those? Mom had one, and I made a shirt with it once. Even wore it one day. Eighth graders can be so cruel.) It just keeps chugging along, weaving a couple well-placed threads into such cool Bachian patterns.

And I get to play it as I wish, because I’m a pianist and a soloist. I like to play the Prelude a little slower than other pianists. Not because it’s easier to play, but because it gives it a more measured, precise, understandable harmonic motion. And, because I don’t play with a conductor, I get to do it as I wish.

You see? It’s a huge difference. Members of the local symphony orchestra, though admittedly at (or near) the height of their performerly powers, have little control over their artistic destinies. Personal expression is subjugated by one common leader whose musical tastes are imagined by many (usually the orchestra board and the audience) to be superior. So our friendly musicians rehearse, practice, practice, rehearse. And bend to a leader’s will. They are productive, but not necessarily creative.

Elizabeth Gilbert, in an interview with Krista Tippett, calls us the “making ape.” We create. It’s natural and right for us. And perhaps this is a balance many of us lack. It’s a cultural thing, I think. A child of the sixties, all I’ve ever known is a culture that tells me to buy more, to make more money, to do more work, to move to a bigger house, increase my line of credit, get the newest time-saving technology, increase my personal productivity, work like a dog to pay off my debt before I die. It seems to be our way.

It’s wrong, folks.

Did you read of the factory worker who was able to do his boring-as-dirt assembly-line job because of the way he spent his off hours, transforming a vacant lot next to his house with an elaborate sprinkler system which, when he ran the hose from his house to the system and turned it on, produced an amazing array of rainbows in the streetlight? And perhaps you’re familiar with stories of Jews in World War II building crude musical instruments in the concentration camps. And what about those people (called “crackpots” by some) who leave our cultural success story far behind and build adobe houses in the desert using beer bottles, mud, and weeds?

We are a marvelously industrious species. Just think of the advances made during recorded history. Oh, my sweet chihuahua. Who would have thought that you could take reeds, notch them, attach them to a winding system, control it with a keyboard, and make a pipe organ? Or who would have imagined that you could build a sexy wooden box, stretch some sheep gut strings across it, fasten horse hair to a stick, and make a violin? Or that you could melt sand, add some interesting stuff, and make colored glass?

Creativity. It’s what we decide somebody else has, and something we only wish we had.

Bunk. Aren’t we all creative? Haven’t we been creating for … well … for ever? And who exactly are we to just give that all away? It’s right scandalous, I tell you.

I challenge, you, good reader. Make something.

A friend of mine will be making cheese. Cheese! (Holy buckets! How does one do that?) And I’ll bet you a bite of the best brie it won’t be any silly American processed cheese stuff that comes pre-wrapped. Nope. This will be the real stuff.

I hopped out of my truck today at church and a nice gentleman (whom I only somewhat recognized) called my name, ran back to his car, and gave me a CD. A CD which, good reader, he created, with a band of other happy musicians. I asked him why, and he said he’d always wanted to make one. So he did.

I know a soapmaker. And a backyard deckmaker. And a violinmaker. And a glassworker. And a quilter. All these apes are making stuff! And it’s beautiful, all of it.

Been thinking about that novel? Have a fantastic business idea that needs a well-worked-out plan? Think a rock garden would look terrific in your yard? Are you up at 3:00 in the morning pondering your dream of a spiritual retreat center? Think you can repair a broken organization with your innovative ideas?

Let’s get out of the proverbial rat race. Let’s create. And share our stuff.

Peace…

Clifford